You do not see this vegetable displayed in the market nor does the street hawker bring it. Though easy to grow, silverbeet (Beta vulgaris cicla) is not part of traditional Indian cuisine and so remains comparatively unknown.
This vegetable is also known as Swiss chard or spinach beet. This leafy relative of beetroot and spinach comes from the coast of Portugal, Spain and the Mediterranean islands. It is a biennial plant grown for its edible stems and foliage. The stems could be white, yellow or pink. The colourful stems and crumpled large green leaves look picturesque in a kitchen garden.
Silverbeet can be grown across a wide range of climates and seasonal conditions. In Bangalore, it can be raised through the year. It needs a sunny or partially shady spot that is well fertilized. About six plants can provide a family of four enough for the whole year.
They make beautiful container plants and if you are short of space, grow them in a pot in a sunny balcony or terrace. Like beetroot, the seeds of silverbeet also come in clusters of two or three. Soak the seeds in warm water prior to planting. They can be planted directly into beds 2 to 3 cm deep or raised in seed trays for transplanting. The seedlings emerge in 7 to 10 days.
As several plants may emerge for each seed cluster, thin out after about three weeks to a distance of 30 cm between plants. Keep the soil moist, water regularly and do not let the soil dry out. Fertilise the soil fortnightly. The more fertile the soil, the larger and more continuous will be the leaf harvest. The leaf will be ready for harvesting in 8 to 10 weeks.
Pick just as many leaves as you need each time by twisting the stalks at the base by hand. While regular collecting encourages more leaves to grow, ensure that 4 to 5 leaves always remain in each plant.
Silverbeet is a great vegetable for less experienced gardeners because it is easy to grow and very productive. It is almost pest-free except for rare attacks of aphids and slugs during monsoon. This vegetable is rich in fibre and vitamins A, K, E and C. It also has a fair amount of folic acid.
The leaves can substitute spinach in any traditional recipe and the stems can be cooked separately. Silverbeet can be used in curries, stir fries and also cooked with dal, chicken or fish. The tender leaves are excellent in salads.