Delicious Chard Soup with Cannellini Beans, But What to Do with Chard Stems?

What was I thinking when I planted so much rainbow chard? I love the brilliance of the yellow, red, pink, orange stems that sport deep green leaves. Such generous plants, gorgeous to look at and sometimes a little overwhelming in quantity. Goodness knows the leaves shrink down when you cook it, which the stalks do not. So, I can usually turn the leaves into something useful and delicious but I don’t think I am the only one who wonders what to do with all those stalks.

Chard soup really is so easy and doesn’t require an honest-to-goodness recipe. I shredded up a big wad of chard leaves, steeped them in hot water for a few hours until they were velvety smooth and tender, heaved in a couple of garlic cloves, about two cups of cooked cannellini beans, and, almost as an after-thought, a few pieces of leftover ham, salt and pepper and that was that. It tasted so good, perfect for one of those chilly, windy days we’ve had lately.

Shredded rainbow chard

While it cooked, I agonized over the stems. I have used them as a kind of celery, sliced very thinly and added to a salad. I’ve cut them in finger-sized lengths and along with other crudités, dunked them into various dips. I’ve chopped them and tossed them into stir-fries. I kept thinking that there must be Something More I could do with them.

You can use chopped chard stems in frittatas or quiche-like items, but how many frittatas and quiches can a person eat? I tried making quick pickles out of them with a sweet and sour brine. Nope. Terrible. I found a recipe for a chard stem pesto that has parsley pureed with it, along with garlic and oil. So-so. Uninspiring. I simply wasn’t going to add them to the soup because I didn’t want that much lumpy stuff in it.

I think, ultimately, raw chard stems as a quasi-celery is still my best bet, and I choose useful stems judiciously because only the most tender are suitable. I noticed not even the chickens will eat the older, tougher stems, so it is time I stopped fretting over wasting chard stems. Of course, if one of you has a terrific way with stems, I bet I will hear from you. By the way, I remove only the section of stem that has no leaves attached, so there is still some stem in the soup.

Meanwhile, I went so far as to cook shredded chard leaves in water until quite tender, then I froze the result in small blocks by putting it in storage containers which I unmolded to store the frozen broth in plastic zip-bags. There is my winter chard soup supply, just like that, ready for me to add cannellini beans and, maybe next time, spicy sausage.

Frozen chard soup base ready for beans and savory additions.

I served the soup with a mere dribble of olive oil, and good old crusty bread dipped in more olive oil and salt. Lovely.

Delicious Chard Soup with Cannellini Beans, But What to Do with Chard Stems?
  • Large bunch of chard
  • Water
  • Garlic cloves, to taste
  • Cannellini Beans, cooked or canned
  • Ham or Sausage, optional
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Red Pepper flakes, optional
  1. Remove the heavy stems from the chard, then shred the leaves.
  2. Put the leaves into a cooking pot and add enough water to barely cover.
  3. Puree the garlic and add to the pot.
  4. Cook over a low temperature until the leaves are very tender.
  5. Add cannellini beans to taste, along with ham or bits of browned sausage to taste.
  6. Taste and add salt and pepper, optional red pepper, and a couple tablespoons of olive oil.
  7. Cook over a low heat for another half-hour, just to heat the beans through.
  8. Serve with grated parmesan sprinkled over it.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.