I like to think of myself as an “improvisational” cook; whatever I find in the frig and hanging out on the spice rack, I figure out what to do with it. For this week, spring is helping out a bit with some gorgeous Rainbow Swish Chard turning up at the local markets. For a heartier dish, you can use kale instead, but for spring time, the light texture of the chard mixed with the leek and Shitake gravy makes for a promising main course.
Don’t get thrown by the length of the ingredient list. The big four are the chard, leeks, Shitakes and potatoes. The rest is for multi-levels of flavor in each forkful.
- 2 bunches Rainbow Swiss Chard
- 1 pound Shitake mushrooms
- 2 leeks
- 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
- 3 large baking potatoes
- 5 cloves fresh garlic
- 1 TBS ground cumin
- 1 TBS dried oregano
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 lime
- 2 TBS red wine vinegar
- Salt to taste
- 1 TBS cayenne pepper
Crank the oven up to 425 and put the washed potatoes in whole. They’ll take about an hour, while you’re making the gravy and getting the chard cooked down. If you’re in a hurry, you can peel and boil the potatoes in chunks, but I find that makes them soggy and they don’t hold up when mixed with the chard. You also don’t get that nice roasted taste when you pull the skins off. Try using a different type of potato, like a Yukon Gold or a Red Bliss for a change in texture.
Leek and Shitake Gravy
The key to getting most flavor from the mushrooms is to make a nice, syrupy gravy for the potatoes to absorb. Slice the green tops off the leeks and freeze them for use in your next soup stock. Slice the white ends of the leeks into small rounds and wash them thoroughly since dirt and sand have probably worked their way down to the root.
In a large stock pot, cook the leeks and the wine on medium high heat, adding water a cup at a time as the liquid evaporates. As you’re adding more ingredients to the pot, try not to add too much water since the chard is going to add a lot of moisture near the end.
Strip the leaves off the rosemary and toss them in the pot with the leeks. While those are simmering, chop the garlic in little rounds and put them in the pot.
Here’s a little tip for you beginning cooks. Use the side of a hammer, or if you’re really cool, a meat pounder, to break apart the garlic head. One good whack will bust them all loose. You can then grab what you need (in this case, 5) and whack each one individually. This will make it so that the outside skin slips right off. You can thank me later.
With the leeks, wine, rosemary and garlic now in the post, sprinkle the mixture with ground cumin, oregano and a little salt. Cook that down until the leeks have a translucent look, but not browned. There should be a little liquid left in the pot as the leeks are finishing.
Slice the Shitakes. I like them in large chunks to start. Like the chard, mushrooms have a lot of liquid so they are going to add to your gravy.
Stir the mushrooms into the pot with the leeks, coating them with the sauce, simmering for about 10 minutes.
You’re not going to believe this one unless you’ve done it before, but put ALL of the chard into the pot after slicing and washing it in a bath of cold water. I like to let the chard sit in the cold water for about 15 minute so that it crisps up before throwing it into the pot.
Your kids will love helping with this part. Anytime it looks like you’re overdoing something, they want to be part of it. It looks really good as it overflows your soup pot.
Put a lid on top. It might not fit yet, but put it there anyway. As the chard releases it’s moisture, the lid will move into place. Keep the heat on medium high, stirring the chard every five minutes so the leaves on top get cooked. They will cook down within 15 minutes.
While the chard is cooking down, pull the potatoes out of the oven, peel them and slice them into large chunks. Be careful not to burn the crap out of yourself in the process. While I’m thinking of it, maybe you’ll want to bake the potatoes earlier in the day so they’ll be easier to handle. Just a thought…
Put the chunks of potatoes into the mushroom gravy and stir well with the heat turned down to medium Add the juice of the lime and the red wine vinegar. For a final little punch, put in a tablespoon of your favorite cayenne pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes to mix the flavors.
This dish is a full main course with little need for anything else. Plate it in a white bowl, and the colors really pop as it sits, steaming in front of you with the smell of the leek and mushroom sauce making you drool before your first bite.
Have at it! Better yet, have a helper in the kitchen with you, preferably a 10 year. For me, there’s no better way to spend a leisurely, relaxing afternoon in the kitchen, making things up as I go.
Cook slow, have fun and invite me over the next time you’re in the kitchen. — Mark