Delighting In Delicious, Nutritious Asian Greens
All winter, we live on kale, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts and I never get tired of them. However, one of my favorite things about spring is the appearance of Asian greens. From mustard greens and tat choi to chrysanthemum leaves and pea vine tendrils, Asian greens offer vivid flavors and lovely textures.
Not just another tasty garden plant, they’re also surprisingly nutritious, packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients despite their low caloric density. Some nutritionists call them the dieter’s best friend, because few other foods combine such bold flavors and satisfyingly crunchy textures with so few calories.
How Low Can You Go?
When we talk low calorie, these greens are serious contenders for the as-low-as-you-can-go title. For example, a cup of shredded raw bok choy has less than 10 calories and only 1 gram of carbohydrates, yet provides over half of the vitamins C and A we need daily. It’s also got ample vitamin K, plenty of folate, B vitamins, and a multitude of minerals. Like the whole cabbage clan, bok choy contains bioflavenoids and sulfur-based glucosinolates that may offer protection against several cancers.
A New Food Pyramid From Asia
In recent years, scientists from Harvard and Cornell have developed a new food pyramid reflecting traditional plant-based diets found throughout Asia. Whole or minimally processed grains form the daily base, along with fruits and vegetables, beans and peas, nuts and seeds and moderate amounts of plant-based oils. While fish may be eaten daily, eggs, poultry, and sweets are eaten weekly and red meat monthly or not at all.
Cornell’s Dr. T. Colin Campbell notes that this diet is typical of parts of China where breast cancer and heart disease are “almost unknown.” Despite the lack of dairy products, osteoporosis is also rare there. Obesity is also uncommon, since although calorie-dense rice is eaten several times a day, it’s balanced by relatively small amounts of red meat, wheat and dairy.
A Myriad Of Mustard Greens
Japan is especially rich in pungent greens, including many forms of Mizuna. This handsome, varied family of Asian mustard greens all have a pleasingly peppery bite that adds zip to plain salads. For an extra flavor lift, shred them into soups and stir fries as well as fish or chicken salads, and use them to garnish steamed vegetables, grilled fish, and poached chicken.
Among my favorites is ‘Dragon Tongue,’ a dramatic and delicious mustard whose whorled heads boast ruffled leaves with vividly green hearts that set off the burgundy to magenta staining on outer parts of each leaf. I often grow the pungent Wild Garden Mix and mince the delicate, frilly foliage to add to soft goat cheese for a snappy spread.
Pretty Enough For Border Duty
Some of the mustards do double duty, making a frequent appearance in the kitchen while beautifying beds and borders. The feathery foliage of Golden Frill mizuna matures into strappy leaves with ruffled, fluffy edging that makes lovely, tasty garnishes. The leaves of Ruby Streaks mizuna are vividly stained with merlot, making an elegant addition to salads. Osaka Purple makes rounded heads of deep wine red with beautifully crimped and crinkled leaves, that curl back to reveal the paler cream and green hearts. Attractive in the garden, the larger outer leaves make gorgeous edible bowls for fish or chicken salads. Among my favorite garden ornamentals is Red Giant mustard. This strapping midnight red mustard has broad, slightly ruffled leaves. This spectacular foliage plant can get 2 feet high and wide if left to develop fully, so grow some in the veggie bed for kitchen use too. For instance….
Asian Greens With Grapefruit Dressing
1 Ruby grapefruit, half juiced, half sectioned and peeled
1/4 cup canola or rice oil
1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
few drops chili oil
2 cups baby spinach
2 cubs napa cabbage, shredded
1 cup mustard greens, finely sliced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons roasted almonds
In a small bowl, combine grapefruit juice, oil, soy sauce and chili oil to taste. Whisk well, set aside. In a serving bowl, combine greens, green onions, grapefruit sections, and almonds. Drizzle with dressing, toss and let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature for fullest flavor. Serves 4-6.
Grilled Salmon With Mizuna
2 pounds salmon fillet (1 inch thick)
1 tablespoon canola or rice oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/2 onion, cut lengthwise and thinly sliced
4 cups mizuna or any mustard greens, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ponzu or soy sauce
Prepare grill for medium high heat. Lightly rub salmon with 1 teaspoon oil and cook for 5 minutes per side, turning once. Place fish on serving platter, tent with foil, set aside. While fish cooks, combine remaining oil, garlic, and sesame seeds in a wide, shallow pan over medium high heat to the fragrance point (1-2 minutes). Add onion, reduce heat to medium and cook until slightly soft (3-5 minutes). Add mustard greens and soy sauce, cover pan, reduce heat to low and cook until barely wilted (3-4 minutes). Serve at once, spooned over grilled fish. Serves 4-6.
Tips And Tricks To Try
Asian greens are delightful eaten fresh and raw. They are most flavorful when cooked quickly, either stir fried with onion or garlic or briefly steamed. Choose fresh, crisp, richly colored Asian greens, selecting flowering types when budded up rather than with open blooms. Loosely wrap clean, fresh Asian greens in a tea towel and store in the crisper drawer for up to 3 days.
Colorful greens offer a wide range of phytonutrients, so grow as many kinds as you can find, from red mustard to blue kale. Pea vine tendrils add a crunchy, salty snap to salads and stir fries (add some garlic and ginger for a special taste treat). Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan) looks like broccolini, and has a slightly bitter flavor that perfectly complements curries and rich oyster sauces. Chrysanthemum greens are best when very fresh. Blanche briefly before adding to salads or shred finely for a tangy garnish. Shred napa cabbage and add to sandwich spreads, toss in salads, or use to bed grilled or steamed fish.
It takes about 20 minutes to process the feeling of fullness. To reduce food consumption rate, try eating with chop sticks!