Many of us have led a fairly sheltered life when it comes to edible greens. Aside from spinach, most Americans have probably encountered kale or chard (both of which I absolutely adore), but some of the most delicious greens like gai lan, tatsoi, or mizuna are absolutely foreign to us. If you’ve never cooked with Asian greens before, I invite you to put away your suspicions and open your mind (and your mouth) to these delicious, easy-to-prepare vegetables.
While there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of varieties of Asian greens, because our collective American taste for bitter vegetables (and comfort with exploring new foods) is still being acquired, you may have to venture to an Asian market or your local farmer’s market to find anything other than napa cabbage. (Not at all related to the famous wine valley of the same name.) However, once you discover how wonderful these greens are, I’m guessing you won’t mind at all going a bit out of your way to procure them. But honestly, why go to the trouble of driving across town when you could have them in your own back yard. They are easy to grow and produce a beautiful Spring crop that is definitely worth the effort it takes to poke a few seeds in the ground.
Oh, and it’s worth noting that Botanical Interests offers a wonderful Asian Salad mix that includes an amazing variety of Asian greens. It includes chinese cabbage, Japanese spinach greens, mizuna, mustard greens, mustard red greens, mustard ruby streaks, and tatsoi. You can’t go wrong with this mix.
Here’s a brief overview of some of my favorite Asian greens that can be grown at a garden near you:
Napa Cabbage (Chinese Cabbage) This is a well-known vegetable that is easily found in most American supermarkets. It’s a fairly large, oblong vegetable with significant white stalks and wrinkly, pale green leaves. Napa’s mild flavor and a soft texture make it an excellent ingredient for use in stir-fry dishes or soup. It’s also the starring ingredient in Korean kimchi.
Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli) Bitter, and dark green, this Asian vegetable has thick stalks and large leaves. It has small flower heads that look very similar to broccoli (but is unrelated).
Bok Choy Many non-Asian supermarkets carry bok choy. You’ll likely see it in two ways— large heads of mature bok choy, or miniature versions of the same thing, referred to as baby bok choy. The mature bok choy has white stems and dark green leaves while the mini-me version (baby bok choy) has a light green color. Bok choy is excellent in stir fries, and braised dishes. It’s also a fine addition to soups, stews, and can be enjoyed simply steamed.
Tatsoi The round, dark green leaves of this edible green have a slightly bitter flavor. Young tatsoi is fantastic when served raw in salads, and the grown-up version is delicious sautéed, steamed, or stir fried.
Mizuna This leafy green sports dark green, serrated leaves with narrow, white stalks. The leaves and stalks are both edible and have a bitter, peppery flavor. Young mizuna is wonderful in field green mixtures.
Sautéed Asian Spring Greens with Garlic Ginger Sauce
- 1 1/2 lbs Asian greens
- 2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
- 1/3 cup chicken broth (or water)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon mirin (Asian rice wine vinegar)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
- In a glass measure stir together the broth, the soy sauce, the mirin, and the cornstarch, until the cornstarch is dissolved.
- Heat oil in a wok or a large skillet over medium-high heat (Make sure pan is hot, but not smoking).
- Add garlic and ginger and cook until lightly browned, 30 seconds.
- Add Asian greens to wok, stir-frying until greens are slightly wilted.
- Stir the cornstarch mixture, add it to the wok, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the greens are tender (but still bright green) and the sauce is thickened.
- Serve warm over rice.