Pickled Chard Stems

There’s a certain movement afoot not only to make whatever you can from scratch (at some point, people will be forging their own cast iron skillets), as well as increased consciousness about anti-gaspillage, or not letting food go to waste.

I seem to be cooking or baking 24/7 and if I used up everything that came my way, from the whey used from making labneh (which could be used in soup, although I’d have to go shopping for vegetables and beans, then cut them up, then prepare it, then find room in my refrigerator, or freezer to store it), to the butter I accidentally melted when baking cookies in a jetlagged state the other day (which I turned into clarified butter), I’d need to dial those numbers up to 26/8. But I don’t have the power to add another hour to my day, or another day to my week, even though I’m thinking most of us could use an extra one of either, or both.

Recently I was making a recipe that I found in the newspaper for using the rainbow Swiss chard that I scored at the market, which instructed me to “discard the chard stems.” I rarely throw anything away that can be used and spend 90% of my time using stuff up (however I’m learning not to bake while jet lagged, which should reduce that even further), and since rainbow chard is still an oddity in France, I didn’t want to let any of it go to waste, so decided to pickle them.

I’ve seen jars of beautiful chard stems packed in neat rows, in jars, but my chard stems were curly and as unruly as the cowlick on the back of my head that haunted me until I was 50, then finally fell out altogether. And boy, do I miss it now.

Hence I ended up using a lot more brine that I normally would for this amount of stems. But white vinegar is super-cheap in France (about 45 centimes a bottle) since we use it in, well,….everything, and most of us keep plenty of it on hand.

I suppose you could be OCD with your DIY and cut every stem to the perfect size to fit in a jar, but I had to let it go that I might have a little extra brine leftover. I suppose I could’ve pickled more vegetables with it, but then I’d have to go out and buy radishes, or carrots…and then I’d have to use the radish leaves for soup, or the carrot greens for pesto, etc…

But I’d rather have you mad at me for having a little too much brine, rather than having not enough. Actually, I’d rather have no one mad at me, but I don’t think that’s going to happen, so you may have a little leftover brine and we can leave it at that.

And lest you think I’m not a dedicated DIY type, I picked, and used, fennel that I ripped out of a friend’s garden and dried the seeds myself. Then I stripped them from the stems, which was quite fun, and the fragrance that wafted forth from the exceedingly fresh spice as I toasted them made it worth the investment in time.

So if you find yourself with some Swiss chard stems, here’s a recipe to help you use them up. Feel free to slip a few chiles into the mix. I added a split Thai chili, but you could toss in a slice or two of jalapeño, although you’d have the rest of the chile to deal with. But then again, if you buy a whole bag of them, you could pickle those, too.

(And in case you have any leftover chile seeds, those can be sowed in your homemade window planter.)

Pickled Chard Stems
Print Recipe
8 to 10 servings
These are quick pickles and not meant to be kept a long time. If you want to can them, check out the USDA complete guide to home canning. I'd say it's best to eat them within a few months, as they'll fade the longer they're kept. You can vary the recipe by using rice vinegar or white wine vinegar, although I wouldn't use anything too fancy because the spices and other flavors will overpower it. The chile adds a bit of heat but you can skip it if you want to.
Swiss chard stems from one large bunch, about 12 ounces (340g) stems, washed
1 Thai chile, fresh or dried, split lengthwise (optional)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 cups (500ml) white vinegar
1 cup (250ml) water
1/3 cup sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons kosher or coarse white sea salt
1. Trim the chard stems of any bits of leaves and put them in a large jar that has a lid (mine was about 1 quarts/2l) along with the split chile (if using) and sliced garlic.
2. Toast the seeds in a skillet, stirring them frequently over medium to medium-high heat, until they're fragrant, which will take just a few minutes. Set aside.
3. In a small, nonreactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt, stirring until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat and let the brine cool 5 minutes, stirring a couple of times as it cools.
4. Pour the brine into the jar, add the seeds, and cover it. Let it sit at room temperature for about an hour, agitating the jar every so often. If after an hour, if some of the stems aren't submerged in the brine, open the jar and press them down, so they are. Refrigerate the Swiss chard stems for about one week before eating them.

Serving: These pickles are very good with charcuterie (smoked or cured meats), or pâté, as shown in the post. They can also be slivered and used as part of a rice bowl, on sandwiches, or anywhere else you'd serve pickles.

Don\'t throw those Swiss chard stems away! Make these crunchy, lively Pickled Chard Stems

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  • Wendy Picot
    November 2, 2017 6:30pm

    Quelle bonne idée! Merci beaucoup!

    I usually cut them up in little spears, toss them with a little olive oil and salt and roast them ’til they are crispy. They are a great garnish or crispy side with anything.

  • Morgan
    November 2, 2017 6:32pm

    I don’t know how I’ve operated this long and not found you before. Very much enjoy your writing style, and this recipe is approachable and useful. Looking forward to digging more into your story and following along.

  • November 2, 2017 6:38pm

    I mince the stems with onions, add herbs and some crème fraîche and grate cheese, and use it as a filling, wrapped by the chard leaves. Very yummy.
    Have you seen the Anthony Bourdain film “Wasted”?

  • June Bower
    November 2, 2017 6:54pm

    The photos are works of art. Really fine. Thank you.

  • tim
    November 2, 2017 7:09pm

    sharing this on the reddit pickling sub

  • Janet
    November 2, 2017 9:01pm

    David, today we had breakfast at Maison Landemaine. Absolutely lovely. Tomorrow we’ll be trying the hummus place you suggested a while ago. Had coffee again at Izbrik, and the woman next to us was there because of your post too. She recommended the restaurant Ellsworth. Do you? Thank you for making our Paris sojourn so nice, although my clothes may not fit by the time I get home.

  • Marianne
    November 2, 2017 9:25pm

    Thanks, this is a recipe I really need as I grow a lot of chard. I usually use the leaves for making Greek horta vrasta or in soups and don’t know what to do with the stems. BTW, whey can be used for making bread. It’s traditional in Sweden.

  • Amber
    November 2, 2017 9:59pm

    How do you normally eat pickled swiss chard stems?

    • Bebe
      November 11, 2017 12:00am

      Pick them up with fingers like pickles? Or with a fork if dainty?

      Seriously, this may be one of the most amusing things dear David has written. Ever. The photos look like a science experiment. And knowing him, these are delicious.

      Would try to make them but would then have to figure out what to do with the chard leaves because DH hates it. Ah, me.

      One question: What is the brownish thing lying on top of them in the bowl?

      I needed a chuckle today. Thank you so much.

    • Paul Underwood
      November 28, 2017 4:10pm

      You could eat them like any other pickle, of course, but I think they are a terrific garnish to a duck liver pâté or any rich terribe. Color, crunch, and sweet acidity — everything you could want.

  • Patricia
    November 2, 2017 10:48pm

    What is that delicious looking bread pictured with your finished pickles?

    • November 3, 2017 2:35am
      David Lebovitz

      That’s actually a duck confit terrine that I bought at my local market. I’m not sure exactly how they make it but I recreated it (well, my version of it) in my book, My Paris Kitchen. But it certainly goes well with bread!

  • Karen Brown
    November 2, 2017 10:54pm

    Goodness me! Not in a million years would it have occurred to me to pickle the stems. It’s spring here in NZ, and I have rainbow chard all through my garden. I have more than I can eat, although I’ve made a great chard and goat cheese galette. I confess I grow it mostly as decorative foliage between my roses.
    Curiously, the white stemmed variety was always called “silverbeet” when I was young, (a long time ago!), was served by shredding, then boiling the leaves and stems, finally coating them with a gluey white sauce. Truly repulsive, and a hard memory to erase.
    Will try the pickle today, so I can declare myself a member of the anti-gaspillage movement. Cheers from the South Seas, Karen

  • Margery
    November 2, 2017 11:00pm

    I am with Morgan Took me a while to discover you. You probably cooked for us at Chez Panisse . Have been there several times but not recently.ible to me
    I love your writing style, love Paris and know it well. Wish it was more accessible to me or I wasn’t getting old and disabled. But i can and do still cook and love reading about the

  • Marketmaster
    November 2, 2017 11:56pm

    Nice idea. I must say that usually use chard in a dish that uses onions, so I cut up the stem and sauté them with the onions.

    The instructions in many recipes that say something like “reserve in the refrigerator for future use” usually becomes, “discard when you find them in the refrigerator weeks later.”

    I will try pickling them.

    • Bebe
      November 11, 2017 12:01am

      Or “discard when furry”…

  • Conda Walsh
    November 3, 2017 12:04am

    Oh my gosh I will have to try this and soon! You are so inspiring with the simplest of ingredients.

  • Maggie
    November 3, 2017 2:50am

    I have just gotten into pickling vegetables for crudites or to crunch with a sandwich. This looks like a good one to try.
    Up until now, I have just sauteed beet tops and chard stems in olive oil with a bit of garlic and served them as a warm salad with a drizzle of balsamic.
    Or have diced them and put them into the saute pan with garlic and piled the chard leaves on top, sauteed until tender crisp. When I flip the pan into a serving bowl the rainbow of little crunchy stem bits is a self made topping – looks great!

  • Sharon B.
    November 3, 2017 3:25am

    David: drink the whey! I make whole milk yogurt in the crock pot a couple of times a month. I always save the whey from draining the yogurt. I add honey, powdered ginger, and cinnamon, and let it sit a bit to dissolve the honey. It makes a delicious sweet-tart drink, and very nutritious. At first I didn’t like the viscosity, but got over that pretty quickly.

  • November 3, 2017 5:46am

    I loved this line:

    “I’ve seen jars of beautiful chard stems packed in neat rows, in jars, but my chard stems were curly and as unruly as the cowlick on the back of my head that haunted me until I was 50, then finally fell out altogether. And boy, do I miss it now.”

    It told us as much about you as it did the stems. I love the way you write.

  • Gavrielle
    November 3, 2017 12:18pm

    Love the way the chard looks like rhubarb – so pink and glowy. I dutifully tried using the whey from labneh as a replacement for water in bread, but could taste absolutely no difference in it. No doubt it improved the nutritional profile though.

  • Kate
    November 4, 2017 12:06am

    THANK YOU David! The suggestions given by some of those anti-waste people make me nuts. “Don’t waste citrus peels–use them to infuse vodka!” How much lemon-scented vodka can one household possibly consume–never mind that they always claim that saves money, which buying gallons of liquor doesn’t exactly do. Very sly and funny post!

  • Cece Noll
    November 4, 2017 9:14pm

    Frankly, I would have ignored that recipe’s instructions and just included the stems. I always cook the chard stems because they are usually so tender. Tuscan kale on the other hand is another story. However, as always, I applaud your creativity!

  • Dora
    November 4, 2017 9:21pm

    When do you add the seeds to the brine?

    They get added to the jar with the brine and other ingredients. I updated the recipe to include instructions for that. Thanks! -dl

  • Ttrockwood
    November 5, 2017 4:56am

    Perfect timing! I was just thinking about Thanksgiving and decided I wanted to make an interesting assortment of pickled veggies to make an appetizer platter as a modern relish tray. These will make a great addition!

  • November 6, 2017 2:13pm

    Super interesting & creative recipe. I love the “anti-gaspillage” approach. Will definitely try it!

  • November 6, 2017 11:09pm

    I too am a fan of using everything when possible in order to minimize waste. Although it does make me feel as though I am a participant in a cooking challenge. Kudos to you for the pickled chard stems.

  • June
    November 7, 2017 5:11am

    Made garbanzo bean soup with chard so I could pickle the stems… so beautiful! Now let’s hope my daughter and I can eat all the soup before it gets lost in the back of the fridge and goes south… she asked me why I made so much soup – it’s impossible to make a small batch of soup!! Defies the laws of physics… I love your blog and great sense of humor – hope to meet you in Pasadena when you stop by on your book tour (I hope someone is taking you to Carmela’s Ice Cream when you are here…)

    • Bebe
      November 11, 2017 12:04am

      I too hope to be at Vroman’s when David finally makes it to Pasadena. Carmela’s is near where I grew up. Have never been there. Is it really wonderful?

  • Nancy
    November 7, 2017 5:55pm

    Is the pickled chard stems accompanied by a Pate? Would you share your experiences about that food item?

    • Bebe
      November 11, 2017 12:06am

      It sounds more like the pickled chard stems are an alternative to cornichon with the paté…???