Almost every fruit and vegetable is available year-round. Buy in-season, however, and you get produce at its peak of flavor and nutrients. In January and February, rainbow chard is readily available. Other chard tend to be available during the summer months, but the flavors do not vary much.
Am I suggesting brewing with a green, leafy beet? Yup. Sure am. Forget the Reinheitsgebot! Below is a recipe for a beer that doesn't utilize hops, instead beckoning on bitterness extracted from chard stems in a small quantity of vodka that is added to wort post boil (just kidding: there is no boil).
Chard (more specifically, Swiss Chard) is an ancient leaf beet (a variety that does not grow a large or fleshy root), originally used for medicinal purposes. It is a plant long known and recognized with documents from the 4th century citing its use. The plant doesn't appear in Eastern literature until the 7th century, so it must have its origins in the West (Mediterranean) and later migrated East via trade routes.
Good for your bones, chard is full of vitamin K, magnesium, manganese, copper, and calcium. It is also one of those rare plants high in oxalates, which can interfere with muscle function - so if you are already in a situation of calcium deficiency, I DO NOT RECOMMEND THE CONSUMPTION OF CHARD (Similarly, I do not condone the ingestion of rhubarb in any form ever.).
When prepared as food, you can treat chard leaves like you would spinach (steamed, sauteed, braised) and chard stalks like you would asparagus, but chard requires extended cooking times. Make certain to first wash the leaves thoroughly by soaking in water. The stalk of the Swiss Chard is similar to celery, but is ridiculously fibrous. The flavor is overtly bitter, and does well in frittatas. Stews, soups, and stir-frys are appropriate dishes for chard. Below, I include a recipe for an Asian Soup that uses a rice beer for its base, which I recommend you serve with stir-fry.
Rainbow chard sports a variety of colors in the stalks (white, red, yellow, orange). In the infusion I suggest making, you will lose this color and the stems will turn a gross gray color. Never you mind.
3 lbs Munton's Extra Light dried malt extract
1 lb Munton's Wheat dried malt extract
1-2 oz Rainbow chard vodka infusion
1 oz Cardamom Seed/Sweet Orange Peel/Paradise Seed blend (coarsely ground)
Wyeast 3725 Biere de Garde yeast
Stand the stems of a bunch of chard in 1-2 oz of vodka (I recommend Rehorst Vodka from Great Lakes Distillery.) and soak overnight. Stir the malt extract and spices in 2 gallons of warm water. Discard the wasted chard stems and add the vodka infusion to the wort. Bring your volume up to 5 gallons with cold water and pitch your yeast.
Asian Soup [Serves two]:
1/4 lb ground pork
1/4 Rainbow chard leaf, chopped
1/2 oz spinach
chopped Pinch of garlic salt
Dash of Chinese 5-spice blend
1/2 tsp soy sauce (I'll tell you how to make your own soy sauce and miso in a later post.)
Gently boil the beer for 10 minutes - you should smell the alcohol evaporating. Stir the Pork Meatballs ingredients together in a bowl, shape 12-20 meatballs. Drop the chard in boiling beer, set the meatballs in a steamer with mushrooms and steam for 10 minutes. Serve with rice or stir-fry. To make a vegetarian version, add some diced tofu (marinated in soy sauce and spice blend) or miso instead of the Pork Meatballs and use Vegetable broth instead of Chicken broth.