I love Swiss chard! It’s a tasty alternative to spinach and the size of Swiss chard leaves offer many fancy possibilities creative culinary delights.
Of Mediterranean origin, Swiss chard has been prescribed by Aristotle since the ninth century BCE. The Talmud also mentions that its consumption is recommended to ensure good health.
Used in the Middle Ages in Spain, Swiss chard has been associated with both moments of joy and sadness. Records from the Spanish Inquisition trials show that Swiss chard was used to highlight the culinary customs of the conversos. At the beginning of the 15th century, in Toledo, Spain, a dish prepared with Swiss chard, cumin, onions, black pepper, caraway, chickpeas and broad beans, was elaborated with fat meat (like mutton or lamb) and cooked overnight. The amazing smell it spread was called güesmo. In a similar way, in Northern Spain at the beginning of the 16th century, another dish with Swiss chard, cheese, and breadcrumbs was prepared for sibah by a daughter after her father had died. Another dish from the Spanish Middle Ages was usually cooked on Friday nights for Shabbat and made with boiled and fried Swiss chard leaves, onions, crumble bread and spices.
To celebrate the 15th of Shevat and reconnect with Sephardic Spanish roots, Here is a historical and healthy dish I call güesmo (in reference to the Spanish word which means “smell”), made with Swiss chard leaves and pine nuts that–in addition to commemorating the renewal of leaves, trees and the consumption of its fruits–will brighten your days.
Recipe for the güesmo Swiss chard dish
Preparation time: 40 minutes
7 oz (200g) of Swiss chard leaves
2 cloves of garlic
2 tsps of sugar
½ tsp of ground cumin
3 slices of bread (½-inch thick)
4 tsps of grated cheese (like Swiss cheese or feta cheese)
2 tsps of pine nuts
For the toasted bread:
For the güesmo:
Hélène Jawhara-Piñer is a PhD candidate in History, Medieval History, and the History of Food in France. She was awarded the Broome & Allen Fellowship from the American Sephardi Federation in 2018. She gives Sephardic cooking classes in France specializing in Spanish and Moroccan Jewish cuisine.