It’s been many years now but I’ll never forget my eccentric university English professor (although I may have forgotten the exact subject he taught). Stavros was an eccentric man from Cyprus whose area of expertise was belly dancing, both female and male. His thesis and published work explored how Middle Eastern dance actively engaged race, sex, and national identity. To me he was an exotic enigma. He introduced me to a topsy turvy world I didn’t even know existed. In addition to dance, Stavros also taught me about food. Dolmades were something he loved almost as fiercely as the dancing he’d spent a lifetime studying. One day, as an extra curricular activity, he invited the entire literature class to his house to learn how to make the delicious Mediterranean delicacies- Grape leaves stuffed with rice, herbs and spices and steamed over a bed of fresh sliced lemon and I fell in love.
I’ve been playing with the flavours that Dr. Karayanni introduced me to ever since. Lemons, garlic, the slight bitterness of the grape leaves and salt- I am continually amazed by how those simple flavours carry so well into the dishes they dance with. Now, I know that occasionally green thumbed gardeners can coax a certain variety of grape to grow in Southern Manitoba but for the rest of us, I’ve altered his Cypriot dish to highlight a common Canadian garden vegetable abundant all summer long- Swiss Chard. The process is much simpler too- no wrapping, no filling. What you get is delicious steamed chard with a complexity of flavours that like an intricately adorned dancer who can enchant her audience with the swivel of her hips, positively seduces your taste buds.
Serves 4 as a side
bunch of Swiss Chard, washed with stems removed and coarsely chopped
1 large or two small cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp Olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 Tbsp cream cheese (optional)
Warm a large frying pan over medium-low heat. Place chard in the pan, still wet from washing and observe as it steams in the water and shrinks from a bright leafy green ‘fro into dark green jerry curls. If it looks too dry, simply add a bit more water. When the chard has wilted enough, is bendy and soft, squeeze it with a spoon again the the side of the pan. Drain the excess juice out. Stir in the garlic and oil and sauté for three minutes. Melt in the cream cheese and add the lemon juice. Taste for salt and adjust if needed. This dish is wonderful hot or cold.