NGA Articles: Fast-Growing Salad Greens

Fast-Growing Salad Greens (cont)

By: Jack Ruttle

Mizuna and Mibuna

  • Also called:Kyona (Japanese for Kyoto greens).
  • When to harvest: Begin thinning when leaves reach 3 to 4 inches long. Mature heads are a foot or more across.
  • Flavor: Delicate; soft and juicy texture.
  • Preparation and cooking: Excellent in salads.

Even though mizuna and mibuna are two separate greens, they are so similar in looks, flavor, name, and culture that we group them together here. Each forms a bushy rosette of many long and narrow leaves. Mizuna leaves are frilly, mild-flavored, and deep green. Mibuna leaves are spoon-shaped (broad with smooth edges), and about half the leaf is a flat, thin stem that becomes tough with age, so harvest leaves young for salad use.

Ultimately both will make loose heads the size of a large loose leaf lettuce. The plants will regrow new leaves through several cuttings. Both are slow to bolt and tolerate heat and cold, though mibuna is slightly less tolerant of heat.

Nonheading Chinese Cabbage

  • Also called: Celery cabbage, Napa cabbage; wong bok (Cantonese); hakusai (Japanese).
  • When to harvest: Begin thinning when leaves are 3 to 4 inches long. Mature heads are about a foot tall, like a well-grown romaine lettuce.
  • Flavor: Mild and smooth; tender texture.
  • Preparation and cooking: At its best in salads, or use like cabbage.

These wonderful salad plants have a texture and bulk similar to romaine lettuce. Leaves often have a ruffled surface like a savoy cabbage. The best salad types have very open heads and are often a pale green fading to yellow at the heart, about the color of bibb lettuce. Other kinds are closely related to napa-type (also known as michili or wong bok) heading Chinese cabbage. The outer leaves are slightly hairy, so are not good in salads even if picked young. Not many varieties are available yet. Nichols Garden Nursery offers one called 'Santo', and Johnny's Selected Seeds has one they call 'Lettucy Type'.

Compared with heading Asian cabbages, these varieties mature more rapidly, and resist bolting, cold, and disease better. Under very cool conditions, as in an unheated solar greenhouse or a polyethylene tunnel, any Asian heading cabbage will grow more loose and open.

Komatsuna

  • Also called:Mustard spinach.
  • When to harvest: Begin thinning when leaves reach 3 to 4 inches long, and continue for salads until plants are half mature, or about 9 inches high. Cook larger plants. Mature size is 18 inches tall by 20 inches wide.
  • Flavor: Very slightly peppery and delicious.
  • Preparation and cooking: Use young leaves in salads. Cook mature leaves like spinach or mustard. The clusters of large, succulent leaves-individual leaves reach a foot long and 6 inches across-look something like chard.

Of the handful of komatsunas available, some are crosses of komatsuna with heading brassicas, either napa types or bok choy. Two hybrids in this category are 'Tyfon' and 'Tendergreen'.

Tatsoi

  • Also called:Nonheading bok choy.
  • When to harvest: Harvest 3- to 4-inch-long leaves for salad. Mature rosettes reach about 10 inches across and are best cooked.
  • Flavor: Slightly stronger flavor than bok choy.
  • Preparation and cooking: Use young leaves in salads; steam or braise mature leaves. Regular bok choy makes tight heads of snowy white stalks, topped by smooth, round, deep green leaves that you can harvest young for salads. But the tatsoi type is a better choice because it has much shorter leaf stalks. Plants form a tight rosette of leaves, not a long blocky head.

Choy Sum (types with edible flower stalks)

  • Also called:Flowering white cabbage.
  • When to harvest: Pick when bud clusters are young and tight. Flowers and buds of mature shoots can garnish salads.
  • Flavor: Pleasantly peppery.
  • Preparation and cooking: Steamed or stir-fried, the 6-inch flower stalks, including the attached leaves are a good broccoli substitute. Most leaves and stems are mild enough to make an attractive addition to salads. Garnish salads with buds or the yellow blossoms.

Think of these types of choy sum as Asian broccoli raab -- broccoli raab is a very close relative -- because it is also in the turnip family and not a true broccoli. Though the tender young flower shoots of any of the Asian brassicas can be delicious, choy sum types have been developed especially for their flower stalks and buds. For added color, try the purple-stemmed varieties.

Chinese Mustard

  • Also called:Indian mustard, leaf mustard; gai choy (Cantonese).
  • When to harvest: Harvest giant-leafed types a few weeks after planting, when leaves are three to 4 inches long. Larger leaves are best cooked.
  • Flavor: Very peppery.
  • Preparation and cooking: Young leaves add visual appeal and flavor zest to salads. Braise, steam, or stir-fry larger leaves.

Vegetables in this group can look very different from each other. Some form tight heads or swollen edible stems. Most are leafy and similar to the mustard greens grown in southern states and to komatsuna. As candidates for fast, fall salads, the Asian mustards tend to be stronger flavored, take longer to mature (60 days or more) and be more prone to bolting in heat than B. rapa varieties. But two are excellent: 'Osaka Purple' and 'Red Giant'.

Giant-leafed types put color and zing in salads. Supermarket mesclun packages often contain some 'Osaka Purple' or 'Red Giant'. Mesclun seed blends are increasingly using these as well. It is best to harvest them when young.

Tablespoon-sized leaves have a mild texture and tang. Mature leaves can be huge (12 by 12 inches) and too hot for salads.

The jagged-edged "green-in-snow" mustards are very cold hardy but become peppery when fully mature (leaves about 12 inches long). For salads, harvest when the leaves reach 4 inches, and combine them with milder greens.

Jack Ruttle is a former senior editor at National Gardening.

Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening


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