Stir-Fried Swiss Chard with Crispy Rice

A screaming hot wok is the secret to this gingery vegetarian main.

byFatima Khawaja| UPDATED Jun 7, 2022 10:25 PM
Stir-Fried Swiss Chard with Crispy Rice
Photography by Paola + Murray; Food Styling by Jason Schreiber; Prop Styling by Carla Gonzalez-Hart
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Welcome to SAVEUR’s weekly column on how to cook local produce according to our test kitchen manager, Fatima Khawaja. This is where you’ll find creative, unfussy meal ideas plus plenty of cooking advice—like what to do with that bumper crop of zucchini or how to store delicate heirloom tomatoes. Each week, Fatima hits the farmers market and chooses a peak-season ingredient to explore in depth. Follow along, and you’ll learn how to turn the season’s bounty into easy plant-based meals that’ll be on the table in under an hour.

This time of year at the farmers market we are spoiled by the many types of greens to choose from, but I can never resist Swiss chard with its rainbow of colorful stems. Unlike hardier greens like kale and collards, chard loves quick cooking, making it perfect in last-minute stir fries. 

Chard, which is closely related to beet greens, isn’t just one plant. There’s rhubarb chard (not to be confused with actual rhubarb greens, which are toxic!), with its forest-green leaves and fuschia stalks. There’s ruby chard, which you can recognize from its pink-veined greens. These heirloom varieties are slightly more bitter than the mild and more widely available green or rainbow cultivars, the latter of which comes in an array of cheerful colors.

No matter what type you find at the market, though, the quick and easy dinner options are endless. I love to add the greens to vegetarian tacos with chipotle and mushrooms, or serve them cold in this riff on Japanese-style seaweed salad. But this season, I can’t get enough of this simple stir fry.

When shopping for chard, budget one bunch (10–12 ounces) per four-person crowd, and seek out specimens with crisp, uniformly green leaves and turgid stalks. (If the greens get a little wilty in the refrigerator, fear not—just soak them in a bowl of ice water for a few minutes and they’ll crisp back up.)

Any type of chard will do in this quick dish that uses both the tender leaves and the stems. It comes together in a flash using pantry items like sesame oil and rice wine vinegar, which perfume the greens quickly as they brown. I like to use this technique from J. Kenji López-Alt’s excellent new cookbook The Wok: Recipes and Techniques, which calls for a quick blanche before the greens hit the pan. This not only preserves their green color; it also allows you to move quickly in the wok, and focus on the charred spots.
A big, hot wok is ideal for this dish, but a wide, heavy-bottomed pot or skillet will do the trick too. Just be sure to crank the heat, so you brown the greens as opposed to steaming them. The recipe has a forgiving formula: Don’t have jasmine rice? Use basmati. Don’t have sesame oil? Simply up the amount of vegetable oil. The same goes for the rice wine vinegar, which you can swap out for another mild vinegar or even citrus juice.

Yield: serves 4

Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch rainbow chard (10 oz.), cleaned
  • ¼ cups sesame oil, divided
  • 3 tsp. vegetable oil or other neutral oil, divided
  • 3 cups cooked jasmine rice
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • One 1-in. piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (2 Tbsp.)
  • 1 tsp. crushed red chile flakes
  • 3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar, plus more to taste
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

Instructions

  1. Using your hands or a knife, strip the leaves from the stalks, then cut the leaves into 1-inch pieces and the stalks into ¼-inch pieces.
  2. Bring a wok filled two-thirds full with water to a boil. Add the stems and boil for 30 seconds, then add the leaves and cook until bright green, about 30 seconds more. Drain, then transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and refrigerate to cool slightly, about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, return the wok to the stove and turn the heat to high. When the pan begins to smoke, add 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil and 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil. Add the rice and, using the back of a spoon, press it up the sides of the wok to make a pancake roughly ½ inch thick. Fry, without stirring, until crisp and golden, about 4 minutes, then transfer a platter and tent with foil.
  4. To the empty wok, add the remaining sesame oil and vegetable oil. When it begins to smoke, add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring continuously, until light brown and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the chile flakes, cook for 5 seconds more, then add the reserved chard and stir-fry, until the greens are lightly charred but still bright and crisp, 1–2 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in the rice wine vinegar, and season with salt to taste.
  5. Scrape the chard onto the rice cake, sprinkle with the sesame seeds, and serve hot.