Farmers Market Finds: Greening My Plate

a view of GG Bridge

Spring is here, I see color wherever I look, especially at the Farmers Market – not the color coordinated palettes of winter – the lush jewel toned browns, greens, and golds, but the clashing vibrant fireworks of blues, reds, pinks, and greens – mostly greens that harold in the new season. One of my favorite ways to discover new veggies is to sample the goodies at those markets or from my CSA box.

One sight guaranteed to bring out the creative side in me, is a luscious, delicate mound of greens that I have not yet tried at home.  Specifically the Asian varieties that were nowhere to be found in the farmers markets of Minnesota when I was growing up.  Bringing home a bag filled with these greens and discovering their unique qualities has proved to be the basis for many a wonderful meal.

A few of the greens I’ve discovered this way include:

Bok Choy is an Asian vegetable familiar to most Americans and Europeans, having been introduced in Europe back in the 1800s and gradually spread to Europe.  I cooked with back in college in a small Iowa university town and loved the flavors and textures it imparted.  Common in many dishes, it is popular in Filipino cooking where it is added to pancit ( a noodle dish) and in the beloved Korean kimchi.  It is frequently steamed and topped with oyster sauce, stir-fried, or added to soups.  Chop sum (next veggie) is a close relative.

What's for dinner?

Choy sum resembles Chinese cabbage with white stems and broad green leaves that have the texture of chard.  This fellow makes his appearance in stir fries, soups, and salads.  The stems can be used as well, just sliced into bit size pieces cooked until wilted but still crunchy.  Some simple ways to prepare this vegetable is to blanch it and top it with a mixture of soy sauce and sesame oil. A quick stir fry with garlic, Thai peppers, a dash of fish sauce and soy sauce, or even a dollop of oyster sauce.  It also goes by the name Chinese flowering cabbage and is commonly sold with trimmed leaves and stalks rather than the entire plant.

Chrysanthemum (tong ho in Chinese, and tan o in Vietnamese ) is slightly bitter tasting, with a scent that hints of fresh pine.  It has dark green serrated leaves that are very decorative.  The leaves

Chrysanthemum Leaves

come in two sizes: broad and small (as you might guess, these are more tender and fragrant).  Other alias this veggie goes by includes shungiku, garland chrysanthemum, tangho, moya, kikuna and chop suey greens.  Note this chrysanthemum are bits of the edible part of garland chrysanthemum, and not the ornamental variety found at your florist.  They are great added to soups and brothy dishes that show off the lovely designs.  They are a delicious addition to a salad, and frequently used in hot pots and stews but add them at the end as the heat causes them to turn to mush.

Kai-lan is a leaf vegetable that if you enjoy Chinese food (especially Cantonese), you’ve surely encountered.  It also answers to Gai Lan, Chinese broccoli, and Chinese kale.  It is from the broccoli and kale family and  tastes much like the version of broccoli that most Americans are familiar with, but with a touch more bitterness.  It does not have the florets of the American variety but does have some small yellow flowers, and when eating kai-lan the stems and leaves are consumed.  Kai-lan is commonly stir fried with ginger and garlic or steamed and topped with oyster sauce.

endless possibilities

Mizuna is a personal favorite with beautiful, featury dark green leaves that remind me of a cross between oak leaves in shape but with the sharp corners of dandelion leaves.  If you’ve ever eaten a mesclun salad chances are you’ve had some and didn’t know it.  This Asian beauty hails from Japan and hints at pepper and mustard flavors.  If you like arugula you’ll like mizuna.  I love the added texture, and especially taste that it gives to a salad.  The smaller leaves are better for this purpose while the bigger ones go well in stir-fries and stews.  Because of the spicy taste of its leaves, mizuna holds its own against other stronger flavors, so a favorite way to fix it for me is in a salad with a mustard and wine vinaigrette topped with a tangy goat cheese to accompany a steak or grilled portabella mushrooms.  Some other names that mizuna answers to: Xiu CaiKyona, Japanese Mustard, Potherb Mustard, Japanese Greens, California Peppergrass, and Spider Mustard.

Mizuna Stir Fry with Bamboo Shoots and Mushrooms

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 c mizuna, rinsed and diced into 2″ pieces
1 c bamboo shoots, rinsed and sliced
1 c fresh mushrooms (shiitake, crimini), rinsed and sliced
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp corn starch
6 drops sesame oil
1 T wine
8 T vegetable oil

Directions

Add the vegetable oil to the wok, and place turn to medium heat and individually drop the bamboo shoot slices and do not allow the oil to get too cold but the addition of too many bamboo slices at one time  The pieces of bamboo shoots are ready to be removed when they  change color.  Remove from the oil and set aside.  Turn the wok to high.  Add in the Mizuna and stir fry when the oil gets hot.  Add ban in the bamboo shoot pieces, along with the cooking wine, salt, sugar, and mushrooms when the Mizuna smell is fried out (half a minute or so).

Spray some water with a spoon along the side of the wok (¼ cup);  lower the heat when what’s in the wok begins to boil and simmer for 3 minutes.  Thicken the juices with the starch (make a paste of starch and water using a ration of 3:1 water: starch).  Add in the sesame oil and stir them fully together before dishing out.

greening my plate

Tatsoi is another green gifted to us from Japan that is a relative of bok choy.  To give you a sense of taste, also included in the brassica family are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, and kale.  Tatsoi has individual leaves that look like spoons or big green lollipops, and tastes a bit like cabbage with a tinge of mustard flavors.  This green can be used in a salad combined with other greens, sauteed with garlic, and a few dashes of Asian sauces, or as a side with grilled fish.  This green has a short shelf life, so you need to have a recipe in mind using it, rather than keeping it on hand until inspiration strikes.

Hanoi Noodle Soup with Baby Tatsoi, and Bok Choy

adapted from recipe from Bon Appetite

serves 4-6

Ingredients

8 c stock – vegetable or chicken
2 T coarsely chopped fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, peeled
½ c fresh cilantro leaves
½ c fresh mint leaves
2 whole chicken breasts, bone in (Note: tofu can be easily substituted or supplemented for chicken)
1 pound bok choy, chopped
1⁄4 pound bahn pho (Vietnamese rice noodles), 1⁄2″-wide
3 tbsp. finely chopped scallions
4 oz. baby tatsoi
Hot sauce, preferably Tuong Ot Toi (Vietnamese hot sauce)

Directions

In a medium stockpot, simmer stock over medium heat. Add ginger, garlic, 1⁄4 cup each of the cilantro and mint leaves, chicken. Simmer about 25-30 minutes until chicken, if using is cooked.  Remove chicken and allow to cool. Tear each breast into bite size pieces (or equal portions based on the number of servings), discard bones.  Strain broth and return to pot over low heat.  Add bok choy and tofu (if using add at this point) and simmer 5–10 minutes.

Soak noodles in hot water until softened, 5–10 minutes. Cook noodles in boiling water until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water.  Divide the noodles equally among the serving bowls, add chicken/tofu, scallions, remaining herbs.  Pour the hot broth and bok choy over the top.  Serve with the hot sauce.

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24 comments for “Farmers Market Finds: Greening My Plate

  1. April 13, 2010 at 7:45 AM

    Excellent greens, great market finds! And the dishes sound superb!

  2. April 13, 2010 at 8:29 AM

    The green is a relaxing color so the market is nice place for visiting, more in Spring. The stir fry recipe is very appealing :)

    Have a great week,

    Gera

  3. April 13, 2010 at 4:00 PM

    I love all of these greens you’ve captured at the local farmer’s market. Got your message, feel free to use and reference pics on FLB. :)

  4. April 13, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    I’m really excited about all the fresh produce at the farmer’s market this season. :) makes me really happy happy.

  5. April 14, 2010 at 1:45 AM

    hmm all these veggies sound yummy! so wish I could try them too!!

  6. April 14, 2010 at 6:00 AM

    Thanks to the wonderful Hmong farmers- Asian vegetables are indeed popping up all over MN. I cannot wait till the end of April when our Farmer’s Market opens. I love the recipes and intend to use them this spring.

  7. April 14, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    I also love the greeens you got at this market!

    Yummie food! Healthy too!

  8. April 14, 2010 at 2:13 PM

    This post got me in the mood for green vegetables and farmers’ market at the same time. It’s amazing how far we’ve come. If you look through cookbooks from the 80s or even 90s, none of these vegetables are mentioned, and if they are, they’re lumped together under the same “Oriental vegetable” label. These days, not knowing napa cabbage from bok choy is a major embarrassment.

  9. April 14, 2010 at 7:52 PM

    You have better greens than me! I’ve also joined the CSA…love my veggie box, but I think I would have preferred the fall vegetables like butternut squash.

  10. April 14, 2010 at 8:03 PM

    Bok choy, choy sum, kai lan are my everyday staple! Have to have one of these in my groceries every time. Sometimes, I just blanch bok choy/choy sum, chopped them up into bite-sizes and toss them in any pasta dish I like :D

  11. April 14, 2010 at 8:05 PM

    A lot of greens here are new to me, so much variety in your market

  12. April 14, 2010 at 9:24 PM

    Delicious. I love greens in every form. There is such a variety out there too. I’m so excited about the farmers markets these days — so much color, indeed. Sounds like a tasty recipe for mizuna stir fry!

  13. April 15, 2010 at 10:12 AM

    I love mizuna too! Never had it in stir fry, so will def. give that a try. I love how all the heirloom veggies mean lots of different colors for things that I always thought only came in green. An urban farmer friend of mine gave me the coolest deep purple speckled beans a fews weeks ago. Farmers Markets here in London are getting a bit more exciting, but I’m still (un)patiently waiting for berries, tomatoes and stone fruits.

  14. April 15, 2010 at 2:09 PM

    I love farmer markets!!!It is the first time I saw mizuna……sounds interesting and delicious.

  15. April 15, 2010 at 4:06 PM

    I have a tiny farmers market a couple blocks from my house. My favorite stand is the Asian veggie one. The produce comes from a Hmong farm. They sell the stuff so cheap. I get a huge bag of sugar snap peas, bok choy, napa cabbage, and Japanese sweet potatoes for pennies. And they are so incredibly helpful to any customers who don’t know what to do with a bitter melon or a Chinese apple.

  16. admin
    April 16, 2010 at 6:10 AM

    5 Star – Thanks!

    Gera – Agreed, green is good

    Christine – Its hard to go wrong with these beauties, thanks so much for the generous offer!

    Jenn – Me too!

    Ruth – I bet you have some delicious ones in Italy – wish we could do a swap =)

    Claudia – I love your St. Paul farmers market – I bet you have an amazing array.

    Sophie – Me too!

    Leela – Agreed, and great point, all you need to do is compare different versions of the classics such as Fanny Farmer and Joy of Cooking to see how they’ve gone “main stream”

    Sophie – CSAs are great, but there’s definitely a bit of an art form to them.

    Tigerfish – I’m checking out your site for more great ideas!

    Wizzy – I bet you have some neat stuff in your market. I’d love to check out sometime.

    Lisa – Very tasty and I just love the depth of flavor that these greens add to cooking.

    Gastro – I have farmer’s market envy, I remember some of the great varieties of foods and was always hanging over people’s shoulders, shamelessly eavesdropping listening discuss how they intended to prepare the veggies.

    Erica – I be you could come up with a wonderful Columbian version of something. I think it would go well in that lemon/lime salad recipe you recently posted.

    Carolyn – So nice to have a farmer’s market so close. I love the one in Santa Cruz as well, what an array of veggies. I’d love to check out the market you mention some time.

  17. April 16, 2010 at 2:07 PM

    Mizuna is one of my favorites! I was getting a lot of it from my CSA earlier in the year. Sounds great in the stir fry with bamboo shoots!

  18. April 19, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    Delicious. I love greens in every form. There is such a variety out there too. I’m so excited about the farmers markets these days — so much color, indeed. Sounds like a tasty recipe for mizuna stir fry!

  19. April 19, 2010 at 10:13 PM

    I have one word for you!

    J
    E
    A
    L
    O
    U
    S
    !
    !

    Your descriptions and photos are wonderful, and now I know when hubby gets that job on the west coast I will not complain!

  20. admin
    April 20, 2010 at 9:10 AM

    Lisa – I love discovering greens through the CSA and Mizuna is just so wonderfully adaptive.

    Michelle – The recipe is a favorite and I’m with you the days of green are very nice indeed.

    Chef E – Wow, didn’t realize that you might be moving to my neck of the woods. I have one word for you:

    S
    W
    E
    E
    T
    !

  21. April 21, 2010 at 2:36 PM

    From the little I’ve had thus far, I love Asian greens. I actually found some seeds for several types of Thai produce around here. I thought about growing some bok choy and see if it works out. I still might give it a try. Enjoy your beautiful leafy green bounty! The noodle soup sounds delicious!

  22. April 24, 2010 at 6:06 AM

    Markets are my favorite places to be when we travel. Locally we have an indoor one in Hamilton, and with the diversity in the area, you can find stuff from around the world.

    Lovely pics.

    happy cooking

    chris…

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