Leafy green brassicas of the turnip family, which were developed in the far east and collectively referred to as: Chinese Cabbage, Oriental greens or Chinese brassicas. This group of plants really deserve their place in any kitchen garden because they are fast growing, versatile in the kitchen and nutritious, easy to cultivate and they taste delicious. I am keen to experiment with more leafy veg in this family but here are some of my favourites so far.
Pak Choi or Bok Choy Brassica rapa var chinensis
This delightful vegetable has crisp, juicy stalks with a light, but lovely, flavour and only a hint of mustard.
Known to have been cultivated in China, since the 5th century, there are many variations of this old vegetable; ranging in height from 10cm to 60cm, leaves can be the classic spoon-shaped or thin stemmed, the leaves are pale to dark green and the stalks range from white to green. Quick growing, pak choi can be picked at the baby stage in 4 weeks, mature stage in 5-8 weeks and can be cut to grow again for a second or more harvest. In the kitchen it can be stir-fried, added to soups, used in salads, pickled, steamed or boiled and dressed as a side vegetable or cooked salad. The flowering shoots are also edible and are used like broccoli.
Varieties: Canton Dwarf is the one I seed save and grow. Short spoon shape with crisp white stems. Green Revolution small spoon shape with light green crisp stems, Mei Qing Choi small spoon shape with crisp light green stems.
Tatsoi or Rosette pak choi Brassica rapa var rosularis
A loose-heading prostrate rosette plant with dark green, almost black, crinkled leaves and crisp white to yellowy green stems. It has slightly mustardy leaves and a strong brassica flavour. Given enough room and cool conditions the plants will form beautiful wide prostrate rosettes, as the weather starts to warm in spring the leaves tend to grow upright. The whole plant may be harvested at once or the leaves can be picked continuously for several weeks. It can also be cut to grow again for a second or more harvest. In the kitchen it can be stir fried, used in soups or lightly boiled then dressed and served at room temperature as a side vegetable or salad. It has a more robust flavour than Pak Choi and can take a strong dressing.
Varieties: Yukina yellowy pale green stems and dark green slightly crinkled leaves. Tah Tsai a very old variety from China, pale green stems and dark green slightly crinkled leaves.
Chinese Cabbage Brassica rapa var pekinensis
Sometimes known as Chinese leaves or nappa cabbage, there are two main types of Chinese cabbage; a tall loose hearting leaf variety and a tall cylindrical cabbage where the leaves fold-in to form a dense head. Both have wide white ribs and pale green leaves. The second variety is the one most commonly found in supermarkets. Be carefull when buying chinese cabbage seeds I’ve found that often the picture or description may be of the more commonly known dense form even though the variety is a loose heading form.
Varieties: Michili has an elongated loose semi-heading shape that resembles romaine lettuce with light green leaves with broad white ribs. Green Tower a loose heading variety.
Mizuna Brassica rapa var nipposinica or var japonica
Mizuna has green serrated leaves on slender white stems, the leaves are delicate enough to eat raw and have a slightly pungent mustardy flavour. The plants are very forgiving and vigorous. Mizuna will grow on poorer soils, is cold resistant and of all the oriental brassicas it can cope best with the hot dry conditions of our summers. It is quick to mature and picking can start in as little as 8 weeks. Normally, with good spacing the plant will form bushy clumps but it can also be closely spaced and cut young to regrow after cutting.
In the kitchen Leaves and stems can be used raw in salads and make a great addition to a mixed winter leaf salad. They are also great cooked; lightly boiled & dressed to serve at room temperature as a side vegetable, or cooked in stir-fries or soups, the young flowering stems can be used like broccoli. In Japan Mizuna is salt pickled.
PLANNING A HARVEST
Lush oriental brassicas perform best in cooler weather preferring temperatures between 15-20 Celsius. These are my sowing dates according to how they grow best in a Mediterranean climate, dates may be adjusted for cooler climates. They can be sown in cell trays and transplanted or sown directly and thinned out. Mature plants will not stand long before bolting so i find it best to sow in succession and to grow small amounts at a time for harvesting between November and April. Seed catalogues often suggest sowing oriental brassicas in April-May but they simply will not stand the temperatures in mid summer here so I grow them as follows.
|Sow direct 1cm deep or in cells and TP
10-15 cm apart
Rows 25-35cm apart.
|Sow direct 1cm deep or in cells and TP
45cm apart for rosette 15-30cm blocks for CCA
Rows 45cm apart.
Oct – Dec
|TP Sow direct 1cm deep or in cells and TP 15cm apart.
Rows 20-40cm apart.
|Sow direct 1.5cm deep or TP to 25cm apart.Rows 30cm apart.|
Key ( ) means sown/grown undercover. CCA means cut & come again TP means Transplant
Note I have tried Komatsuna and Choy Sum but neither performed well and I was not that keen on eating them either, but perhaps I should give them another go now that I have a polytunnel and know how to get the best from other plants in the same family.
Oriental Vegetables; The Complete Guide for the Gardening Cook Joy Larkom
Original post 9/3/2008: Oriental Brassicas