Kale, chard, spinach, endive, escarole, radicchio and arugula all grow well in my kitchen garden and find their ways into both salads and sautés all winter long. But these greens are all European. Where is Asia? Where are Asian greens and Asian cooking? The short answer is that I’ve never gone there, literally. What a shame! But there is one Asian green I’ve been growing the past few years that is slowly expanding my gardening and my cooking and may even expand my travel: red mustard.
I started out planting mustards, both red and green, as salad greens, spicy jolts in mixes of other milder greens. Then luckily a fall planting of red mustard grew well beyond salad size into great large leaves, bigger than spinach, closer to chard size. I still remember the winter afternoon when I opened Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Vegetables to Mustard Greens and recipes for wilted red mustard. After describing how to wilt red mustard in olive oil with a little shallot or garlic she writes: “One wonderful combination is to serve wilted greens with roast pork loin, fried apples and corn bread.” My note next to this advice says: “Yes!” This combination has been a favorite winter meal ever since.
And even without pork, apples or cornbread, wilted red mustard is a wonderful winter and early spring side dish or main course. Its mustardy, peppery zing, almost like fresh horseradish is tempered, but not too much, by a quick sauté.
The other day, I wilted some red mustard in oil and garlic and, when it was nearly done, shaped a shallow depression in the greens and poached an egg in the center. A perfect meal! Last Easter, my friend Sally and I followed another Chez Panisse Vegetables recipe for red mustard, wilting the greens in olive oil and garlic, adding red pepper flakes and a splash of red wine vinegar and then wrapping the mixture in thin slices prosciutto and serving it as an hors d’oeuvre. Spicy and salty and very tasty! And here’s last night’s delicious simple dinner of wilted red mustard, shell beans and corn bread.
All of these recipes are more European than Asian, I admit, but with a little recipe research and inspiration, I can head farther east. Nigel Slater’s Tender: A Cook and his Vegetable Patch has a truly inspiring section titled “Chinese Greens” that includes detailed descriptions of many Asian greens, helpful planting and harvest advice, and tempting recipes. I’m ready to add more Asian greens to the mustards.
The mustard varieties I’ve grown so far are Red Giant and Osaka Purple. I plant them in late summer, August 9th and 24th this past year, in rows about eighteen inches apart, the tiny seeds about four inches apart. They germinate and grow quickly. When the leaves reach salad size, I thin the plants to about a foot apart and mulch them. They continue to grow and by October frosts they are chard size and ready to mulch more heavily. They survive winter temperatures in the low twenties and high teens if covered with a tarp or double layers of Reemay and continue to grow vigorously when temperatures warm and daylight increases. Many other Asian greens are also winter hardy so I’m adding them to my list for next winter’s kitchen garden. And as for Asian travel or at least some really good Asian restaurants? They’re on the list too.