If you've never really pondered growing Asian style greens in your garden before then I hope this mini article inspires you to have a go at some! In particular, I would like to sound out five special types of Asian food plants, which are equally great raw in salads or indeed cooked up in stir-fries, and they are: Mizuna, Tah Tsai, Tatsoi, Red Mustard, and Mibuna.
Out of these five (rather obscure) Asian style greens Red Mustard is probably the most well known and naturally the biggest eye catcher in the vegetable patch with its huge purple/red leaves, pronounced veins, and tinges of green running down the multi stems of the plant. However, well known (or better known might be the more appropriate words for it), Red Mustard is still not something you find routinely growing in the backyard and that's a shame because it does have a great deal to offer the home gardener.
Large leaf red mustard (image above)
For a start, Red Mustard is not just a salad or cooking vegetable – the stems of the plant can also be pickled and the seeds collected to use as a spice. Antioxidants are present in most fruit and vegetables but those with a red or purple colour are widely touted as generally being higher in these cancer avoiding qualities and it's something I personally believe so that's why I like to grow some varieties of food crops with these colours.
Next is Mizuna and it reminds me more of lettuce, in fact, Mizuna does go well combined with other traditional western or European salad recipes. It has a mild rocket like flavour, a nice consistency in the mouth when eaten raw (doesn't go slimy) and is fabulous roughly chopped and sprinkled raw over a hot pizza.
The plant is pretty in the vegetable garden particularly when Mizuna has a backdrop of round leafy greens as it makes a great contrast.
Freshly picked Mizuna – spiky leaf in the middle of image above
Tah Tsai reminds me of a cross between small leafed English spinach and Bok Choy with it's little mouse eared leaves perfect to decorate hot or cold dishes. Harvested young Tah Tsai works well as a "cut and come again" salad or stir-fry vegetable because it not only tastes wonderful but it tends to be pretty slow to bolt to seed.
Tah Tsai plants in garden (image above)
Tatsoi is kind of a mini version of Tah Tsai (above) only the leaves are smaller and it isn't as long stemmed. The short stems and mini leaves make this amazing Asian vegetable strikingly ornamental in the garden but even better it's taste plus appearance in a salad or on the plate is outstanding.
Tatsoi (image above)
Mibuna is probably my favourite out of the five mentioned in this article (they're all good though) but I really love the long thin leaves defying gravity as they sprawl out from a tight base into a cone or reverse pyramid top. Mibuna grows so fast it's ridiculous and this makes it perfect as a prolonged cut and come again green. The taste of Mibuna is mild and pleasant, I think it's best suited to salads but if stir-frying I suggest to cook as minimal as possible (if at all) actually… just like Mizuna, sprinkling Mibuna raw as a final ingredient over hot food is the way to go rather than cooking it.
Mibuna (image above)
All of these Asian crops can be grown most of the year in a subtropical climate, although in summer they will likely bolt to seed prematurely unless protected under shade cloth and watered consistently. In colder climates, they should do pretty well all year but they will obviously struggle a little in the winter without protection also.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing Asian salad type greens to grow and try if you haven't already. The five examples in this article are definitely some of my favourite Asian crops for the backyard gardener not just for taste or versatility but also for ease of growing and ornamental value.