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Sunday, 19 May 2013

Cheesy Chard Gratin 'comme chez Grand Mere'

Serves 6
Preparation time: 50 minutes

Yep, to all those who think vegan food means no creamy cheesy crispy-on-top delicious dishes, here is my answer.

Chard gratin, or 'Gratin de Blettes', is a typical French dish, especially in rural and mountainous areas like the Alps where I grew up and where, until 50 years ago, people relied pretty much entirely on potatoes, chard and cheese to get through the long cold winters. That, and of course home distilled alcohol called 'gnole', which is strong enough to knock out an elephant. 'Who ever heard of elephants in the Alps?' I hear you say. Well, here is a fun fact for you - in about -200BC Hannibal, a Carthaginian military commander marched  an army, which included war elephants, from Iberia all the way over the Alps into northern Italy. As one does.

Enough about elephants, let's get back to our chards. This gratin reminds me of eating at my friend's grandmother's house in our village, I was 14 and she must have been about 90 years old back then, a beautiful tiny wrinkled lady from another time. She told us tales of daily life during the second world war, would get out a divination pendulum and use it to answer all our questions about life, our future and the boys we fancied. While we avidly listened to her she would potter around her kitchen and cook up sumptuous yet simple gratins, all made from scratch with vegetables from her garden.

I love food that carries memories, this gratin reminds me of her. 


For the Gratin
1 1/2 bunches of swiss chard, rinced and chopped into bite-size pieces
1kg of potatoes, halved and thinly sliced
2 large onions, diced
1 1/2 T vegan margarine
4 T vegan no-moo melty cheese, grated (optional - for the topping)

For the béchamel sauce
300 grams silken tofu
1 cup dairy-free milk (i used rice milk)
4 T cashew nuts
2 tsp of nutmeg
1 tsp salt
pinch of pepper


Place the sliced potatoes in a pot of water, so they are just covered, add a pinch of salt, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 200C / 390F.

Steam the swiss chard for about 7 minutes. Meanwhile blend all the béchamel sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor and set aside. 

Heat the margarine on medium heat in a frying pan, add the onions and let them cook for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the steamed swiss chard and cook for about 4 minutes with a pinch of salt and pepper. 

Place the onion and chard in a 8inch baking dish, add the potatoes on top and pour the sauce all over. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and the vegan melty cheese, if using. Place in the oven and cook for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbling and it just looks so good you can't wait a second longer to eat it (don't burn your tongue though) ! 

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