Photo Credit: Fran Lyness

I visited Santa Monica’s Ishihara Park Learning Garden this week to see what was growing and to get inspired in the kitchen. What better way to celebrate Earth Day? The Ishihara Park Learning Garden is communal, a vibrant space where people grow together.

For gardeners volunteering at the garden on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:30 – 11 a.m. there is the added bonus of some freshly picked produce to take home! For others coming by the Learning Garden harvest is available after 11 a.m. on those days.

After all the rain, there was a stillness and freshness in the air that was tinged with the scent of basil and the promise of spring. Some of the garden beds lay dormant, while others had sprouted tender green leaves like the beets, carrot, and even tomatoes. The most robust plants were the fava beans, kale, and swiss chard, standing tall in the sunshine. I was most attracted to the color of the chard with its dark green leaves and lipstick red stems and veins running through the plant.

Swiss chard can be harvested anytime you feel the leaves are ready to eat, by simply using a pair of scissors to cut the leaves off the stem. The less mature the plant, the more tender the leaves, good for salads and to eat raw. You will notice that the swiss chard in the grocery store is quite large, about a foot in length, which I prefer to cook before eating because it may be a bit tougher to chew. Once you have your chard, it is necessary to thoroughly wash the greens clean of dirt, soil, or the occasional critter! I take a large bowl, fill it with water and submerge the leaves for a minute, pull them out, shake off the excess water, gently wipe down the leaves, and let them air dry on a towel lined baking sheet until I am ready to store it or use it. Once the chard leaves are dry, you can place them in a plastic bag and store the bag in your fridge.

Chard is an excellent replacement for spinach and kale, when you need a change, and provides a wide variety of vitamins and is rich in antioxidants. At my house, we try to include greens in as many meals as we can, and I thought the chard would go wonderfully in my grandmother’s spinach curry recipe. These hearty greens went harmoniously with the ginger, garlic, and warming spices. This is a great recipe to use if you are new to swiss chard and are nervous about it tasting too “green” for you.

Mama’s Chard Curry:


2 bunches swiss chard chopped into ribbons

2 medium roma tomatoes diced

1 onion diced

1 cup chickpeas (canned or cooked from dry)

3 TBS avocado oil or oil of choice

1 tsp garlic finely chopped

1 tsp ginger finely chopped

½ jalapeno finely chopped *optional

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp salt to taste

¼ tsp ground turmeric

Chopped cilantro leaves to garnish dish


  1. Heat 3 TBS oil in a large pan and add onion
  2. Fry onion until golden brown
  3. Add garlic, ginger, and jalapeno and cook for 30 seconds
  4. Add cumin, coriander, salt, and turmeric and cook for 1 minute stirring often
  5. Add tomatoes, chard, and chickpeas and simmer over low-medium heat for 3-4 minutes until chard has cooked down. Add up to ½ cup of water if the mixture seems too dry.
  1. Top with cilantro leaves and serve with basmati rice, chapati, or naan.

The next recipe is a bit more chard forward with caramelized onion, garlic, and pickled raisins to

complement this delicious green.

Garden Chard Penne:


2 bunches of red or rainbow chard thinly sliced

16 oz whole wheat penne

1 onion sliced thinly

8 garlic cloves sliced thinly

6 TBS olive oil

½ tsp salt

Pepper to taste

1 lemon

⅓ cup golden raisins

⅓ cup toasted walnuts

Parmesan cheese to taste


  1. Soak raisins in ½ lemon worth of juice before starting to cook
  2. Make your caramelized onions by sauteing them in 2 TBS olive oil in a pan over low-medium heat for 35 minutes. If they start to get too brown, add a splash of water.
  1. Once the onions are soft and sweet, boil your pasta
  2. While the pasta is boiling, in a large pan saute the chard in 1 TBS olive oil for 1 minute, add in sliced garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook for 3-4 minutes until chard has wilted and garlic is soft.
  1. Reserve ½ cup pasta water and drain penne.
  2. Add penne to chard mix
  3. Add onions, raisins, walnuts, parmesan, remaining olive oil, and juice of lemon and zest if you would like.
  1. If the pasta seems dry, add in pasta water until the sauce is silky.

by Salima Saunders