I don’t know about you, but I find that writing grocery shopping list is pretty much useless when living outside of United States. I have tried on multiple occasions to head out of the door with a specific list of ingredients in mind for that one recipe I’ve been planning to make all week. As you can already guess, on most of these occasions, I’ve been coming back with entirely different set of ingredients that do not resemble the original items even remotely. If you think this happens because I load up on ‘unplanned’ junk food, you are mistaken (although I admit to occasionally giving in to buying smelly goat cheese made with raw milk or organic whole-grain kamut roll on a whim, I believe many people would agree that this hardly counts as spontaneous ‘junk food indulgence’). No, what usually happens is that the produce I was planning to get is simply not there.
Unlike giant grocery stores in US that sell strawberries and watermelons all year round, my little neighborhood shops in Munich sell mostly seasonal food grown in Germany and south Europe (Italy, Spain, Turkey). (Disclaimer: Although Munich also has large grocery stores that sell pretty much everything, I usually go to small organic or family-run stores). Despite having access to wide variety of vegetables and fruits throughout the year due to mild climate in those regions, I often don’t know what I will find until I get there. For example, this morning, as I was walking through quiet streets filled with cold winter sunlight, I kept thinking that I should really get around to making that vegetarian Mexican mole (note: ‘mo·le’: a highly spiced Mexican sauce made chiefly from chili peppers and chocolate, served with meat). Yeah, right.
When I entered the little Turkish shop where I load up on vegetables, I saw bunches of rainbow Swiss chard spilling from the top rack and bright red bell peppers haphazardly occupying the shelf across. It was almost like the chard was reaching for those peppers but the distance was too great to make that relationship work. Obviously I had to do something about it. With the mole entirely forgotten, I walked out with both chard and peppers, which were joined by other unexpected companions including fat purple aubergines, plump mushrooms, and juicy Sicilian oranges. That’s one of many beauties of nature- it’s ability to always surprise us and offer us its gifts of fresh produce when it feels its the right time. I am sure many people prefer having access to imported strawberries all year round and that’s their choice. However, I find it exciting to experience only a handful of vegetables and fruits at a time, so that I could explore their full potential and appreciate their flavor at peak of harvesting season.
Consequently, this is how this post came about. I actually never plan what to cook so that I could post it on Blushing Beet (not that I haven’t tried but I always seem to fail somehow) and all recipes I’ve posted so far ended up being random despite my efforts to prepare something consciously. In this recipe, I simply saute strips of bell pepper with chard stalks and leaves in a bit of ghee with smoked Spanish paprika and aged balsamic. It only takes 10 minutes to prepare and, topped with poached egg and some tapenade, it makes a light and healthy lunch. Most chard recipes include garlic and red pepper flakes, probably in attempt to make chard more appetizing to people who are not used to eating just a bunch of leaves. However, I recommend that you try to venture off the beaten path and try appreciating sweetness and freshness of chard without strong spices or herbs that will inhibit chard’s mild flavor.
Smoky Swiss Chard
– 5-6 Swiss chard leaves with stalks
– 1/2 red bell pepper
– 1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika
– 1 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
– 1/2 tsp ghee
– 1 egg
– 1 tsp tapenade from black olives
Heat ghee in a skillet. Wash the chard and dry thoroughly. Trim edges of chard stalks and discard. Chop bell pepper horizontally into thin strips and saute with chopped chard stalks for couple of minutes. Add smoked paprika and continue to cook for another couple of minutes until softened. Add chard leaves and balsamic vinegar to the skillet and cook for one or two minutes, until the leaves have cooked down but still remain dark green color. In the meantime, poach an egg or boil it. (I won’t go into details on how to poach an egg since I still haven’t quite figured out how to do that properly). Top vegetables with the egg and the tapenade and eat immediately.
P.S. Oh, and I still plan to make my vegetarian Mexican mole sometime soon because I have an abundance of dried organic chipotle chilies that deserve my attention…