University of Illinois Extension

Exploring Asian Vegetables

Each year, more and more crispy, succulent and nutritious Asian vegetables appear on grocers' produce shelves.

Greg Stack

"If you thought that they were exotic and only to be encountered in restaurants, maybe it is time to rethink their use in home cooking," said Stack. "It might also be time to explore their flavors to brighten up a salad or stir fry dish. And, if you can't find a good selection of Asian vegetables at your favorite market or would like to try some of the more unusual ones, then it is definitely time to think about growing your own."

Many of the Asian salad greens are especially suited for growing during the cool conditions of spring and fall. To help get you started, Stack reviewed some unique Asian salad greens that will definitely add interest to your salads. Toss young baby greens into fresh salads and add the mature leaves into stir-fries or other cooked dishes.

Beka Santoh is a loose-head type of Chinese cabbage green widely used throughout Japan. The leaves are bright green, slightly serrated and frilly with white petioles. It grows very fast and is ready to harvest in 25 days. Seeds can be sown in the spring or late summer to early fall. This mild tasting green is very popular in south East Asia and adds a delicate flavor to stir-fry and soup stock.

Big Red Mustard

Big Red Mustard

"Misome is a relatively new type of Japanese all season green resulting from the cross of Kimatsuna and Tatsoi," he said. "It has been cultivated to tolerate high temperatures. The dark glossy leaves are ideal for pickling which is how they are typically prepared in China. The greens are also used in stir fry dishes. The leaves intensify in flavor as they mature.

"Choho hybrid of Misome has dark green, semi-wrinkled leaves with and upright growth habit. Sow this all season crop in spring to early fall and stagger your plantings every two weeks so you have a steady supply of fresh greens throughout the season. This green is ready to harvest in 25 days."

Mizuna is a distant relative of the turnip and is thought to have originated in China. This easily grown green is used mainly as a pickled vegetable in Asia. In the west, it is used as a salad ingredient for its mild, tangy taste.

It is becoming increasingly popular as an ingredient used to stuff poultry and ravioli pasta. There are two types of Mizuna, Mizuna Early and Mizuna Purple. Mizuna Early is both cold and heat tolerant and slow to go to seed. It also branches freely making it suitable for cut-and-grow again harvesting. Mizuna Purple is a purple stem variety with green leaves. Mizuna Purple matures for baby leaf use in abouta month. Milder than arugula, the peppery mustard flavor is an excellent addition to soups and stir-fry. Sow seeds in late spring and fall.

"Red Giant Mustard has deep purple leaves that are very large and broad with a mustard like pungency," he said. "Harvest the leaves when young for salads or layer into sandwiches instead of using prepared mustard. Leaves can be cut from the plant as needed. It will rapidly grow new leaves for future harvest.

"Seeds sown in late summer for a fall crop will produce brilliant dark red leaves for added color in the garden. Letting the plant go to seed will allow you to make your own mustard. When the pods turn yellow, harvest the seeds and place them in a blender with vinegar, spices and water for your own mustard preparation."

Tatsoi

Tatsoi

Tatsoi is a type of pak choi that forms a flat rosette of leaves close to the ground with tender dark green, spoon shaped leaves and short light green stalks. This vigorous grower is cold tolerant and has a delicious mild, mustard flavor. In warm weather, the plant is erect while in cold weather the plant forms flat rosettes. Tatsoi is popular as a salad green or stir fry. Sow seeds in spring or late summer to fall.

Shungiku Chrysanthemum Green is an edible chrysanthemum that is popular with Japanese cooks but has yet to be recognized in the West. The dark green aromatic leaves along with the stems are used in tempura, sukiyaki and shabu-shabu in Japan.

"In China, the leaves are commonly used in soups," said Stack.

This green is fast and easy to grow. It prefers cool weather so it is best grown in the spring and fall."

Mibuna is an unusual Japanese green that requires little preparation. Plants grow to about one foot tall and produce tight cluster of long, narrow, rounded dark green leaves. It has a light mustard flavor and is used in salads or a side dish when lightly cooked and seasoned. Mibuna is cold tolerant and so would make a good fall crop.

"These are just a few of the more popular Asian greens that are starting to find their way into gardens," he said. "While seeds for these and other Asian vegetables may not be common on most seed racks, two excellent sources for seed include Kitazawa Seed Co. (www.kitazawaseed.com) and Johnny's Selected Seeds ( www.johnnyseeds.com).

"Look for these and other Asian specialties and venture out of the ordinary and into something a bit different and delicious."