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Gardening

Exotic, delicious and healthy: how to grow and cook with Asian greens

Nutritious and easy to grow, Asian greens add a sparkle to the garden and the plate

01 May 2022 - 00:00 By Jane Griffiths
A selection of freshly harvested Asian greens.
A selection of freshly harvested Asian greens.
Image: Jane Griffiths and Keith Knowlton

Mizuna, gai lan, tat soi, bok choy — just the names of Asian greens are exotic and transporting. These leafy greens are fast and easy to grow, flourish almost all year round and are delicious and healthy. What more could you ask for?

What are they?

Hardy Asian greens come in a wide selection of colours and textures. Most are from the cabbage family and do better during cooler weather. They can be grown all year round, but expect them to go to seed more quickly during hotter months. Unlike lettuce, which turns bitter when it bolts, leaves of Asian greens are still edible when flowering, although they become more pungent and are better eaten cooked than raw. Some varieties produce tasty miniature broccoli-like buds. All parts are edible, including the flowers and seeds.

How to grow

Seedlings of many varieties are available but they are easily grown from seed. Leafier varieties do well when different types are mixed together and planted in a group. Bok choy and Chinese cabbage need a bit more space and should be planted separately. The “cut and come again” method is a practical way of growing and harvesting Asian greens, where individual leaves are plucked from a selection of plants grown close together.

Bok Choi seedlings.
Bok Choi seedlings.
Image: Jane Griffiths and Keith Knowlton
Chinese cabbage.
Chinese cabbage.
Image: Jane Griffiths and Keith Knowlton

Scatter seeds evenly in a sunny position, in fertile soil that has been raked smooth. Cover with a light layer of sieved compost and press down firmly. Keep moist until they germinate. They need consistent and plentiful moisture. In hotter weather they do better in semi-shade. Asian greens are ideal for containers. Good companions are spring onions, lettuce, nasturtium and beetroot

Pest and diseases

Slugs and snails love leafy greens. To protect seedlings, use brass scouring wool. Roll it between your hands until it forms a long sausage. Lay this around the seedbed, making sure there are no gaps or leaves hanging over for the blighters to use as a bridge. Pin it securely on the ground using twigs.

Protect from birds using netting as they love to nibble on Asian greens, especially in the middle of winter when there is not much else for them to eat.

Flavoursome Tat soi.
Flavoursome Tat soi.
Image: Jane Griffiths and Keith Knowlton
DIY anti-snail and slug protection.
DIY anti-snail and slug protection.
Image: Jane Griffiths and Keith Knowlton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking tips

  • Every stage of their growth provides food for the table: raw young leaves brighten up a salad; older, more pungent leaves are delicious steamed or stir fried (but don’t overcook them); young buds and flowers can be scattered on salads or added to soups; and seeds can be ground to make a spicy rub.
  • They team well with Asian condiments such as soy sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce, teriyaki, hoisin, ginger, chilli and garlic.
  • When preparing for a stir fry make sure they are dried well.
  • They are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre and contain high levels of vitamin A and C as well as iron, calcium, potassium and beta-carotene.
Red mustard and mizuna.
Red mustard and mizuna.
Image: Jane Griffiths and Keith Knowlton

Varieties

  • Bok Choy (also known as pak choi) has white stems and spoon-shaped green leaves.
  • Red and green mustard have varying leaf shapes, from flat and pointed to bright green and frilly. The reds are hotter tasting than the green varieties.
  • Gai lan, aka Chinese broccoli, bears succulent buds on long, edible stalks. Keep cutting the buds to provide a longer harvest.
  • Tat soi has flavoursome dark green leaves and grows in a flat rosette shape.
  • Mizuna has a mild peppery flavour, with spiky green or purple leaves.
  • Chinese cabbage forms a dense head with overlapping pale green and white leaves. It needs regular water and forms better heads in colder weather.

• Sourced from: Jane's Delicious A-Z of Vegetables. Jane Griffiths. Published by Sunbird Publishers.


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