People don't give chard enough respect, in my humble opinion. They think it's health food. This dish may look healthy, but it's really all about the flavors: it's earthy, savory, sweet, salty, and spicy, all at the same time, with a nice little bit of crunch from the sunflower seeds.
Swiss chard comes in lots of varieties. The big leafy green stuff is the most common, but I like organic rainbow chard. If you have the big leaves, you should throw away the stems, but if you happen to find the really delicate small stuff, you can cut up the stems and cook them up with the greens: they'll be tender and delicious.
I've just rediscovered sunflower seeds. I always thought of them as '70s health food, but in fact they're salty, buttery, and crunchy: completely addictive. They're my new favorite snack.
Serves 4 as a side dish
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced (about 1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon salt plus a pinch
2 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 large bunches Swiss chard (about 1 pound total), washed, stemmed, leaves cut into thirds
12 dried apricots, sliced into slivers (1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons shelled, toasted salted sunflower seeds
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat.
Add the onions and the pinch of salt. (The salt will help the onions soften without browning: it pulls the liquid out of the onions so they steam instead of frying.) Cook the onions slowly, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until they're nice and soft.
Add the garlic cloves and keep cooking for about 1 minute, until the garlic softens up.
Add the red pepper flakes and Swiss chard. (The chard will take up a lot of space in the pot, but don't worry about that; it will reduce to almost nothing in a few minutes.) Add 1/4 cup of water, so the chard starts to steam, and turn the heat up to medium-high.
After 2 1/2 minutes or so, when the chard has shrunk by about 1/4, mix in the dried apricots and the 1/4 teaspoon salt. Keep cooking for another 2 1/2 minutes, or until the apricots soften up and the chard is tender.
Pull the pot off the heat and stir in the butter and vinegar, mixing until the butter has completely melted into the chard.
Spoon the chard mixture into a serving bowl, and top with the sunflower seeds. Serve it right away.
From American Flavor by Andrew Carmellini. Copyright 2011 by Andrew Carmellini. Reprinted by permission of Ecco.