While I can’t deny that I love bringing in from the garden crisp young lettuce, sun-ripened tomatoes, and the sugariest of sweet corns, I also get a lot of pleasure from harvesting foods I’ve never eaten before–or even seen. Tatsoi mustard (Brassica rapa narinosa) is one of the latter.
I ordered Tatsoi seeds to help me start a winter garden this fall. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange lists Tatsoi as the most cold-hardy commonly available mustard, hardy to 22°F. I’m hoping to plant a big bed of it this fall and eat it all through the winter. But I also planted a little this spring, to see how easy it was to grow, and also to see what it looks and tastes like!
Well, it’s fairly easy to grow, though I’ve found it does need consistent watering in a drought. We didn’t get any rain for about five weeks from early March to mid-April, and my perfunctory periodic sprinklings on the row I planted Feb. 28 were insufficient. The plants didn’t die, but they grew very slowly and the leaves were riddled with holes from invisible insects. The March 14 planting got deeper and more frequent watering. Those plants grew much more quickly and had minimal insect damage–another bit of evidence in support of the theory that stress makes plants more attractive to insects, and that the best pest prevention is taking good care of the plants’ basic needs. (For more on that, see my last post, “Brassica Attack.”)
Well, the Feb. 28 and March 14 plantings are now both big enough to harvest. I’ve been sampling individual leaves for a couple of weeks. They have that mustardy taste that I remember from foraging hairy bittercress this winter. But the Tatsoi leaves are much bigger and easier to harvest.
When there were just a few leaves ready, I added them to salads. This mostly masked their bite, just added a subtle pungency behind all the lettuce and spinach. But now the plants are getting quite large, and I need to harvest more than a few leaves at a time, so I’m starting to look for other serving possibilities.
One recipe I’ve come across–on the website of Ten Mile Farm outside of Asheville, NC–is for a wilted salad with sesame-ginger dressing. For this recipe, you chop the Tatsoi into wide strips and drop it into boiling water for exactly one minute, then immediately drain and put in a bowl of ice water so it will stop cooking. This wilts the greens but helps them retain some freshness. The dressing is made from 2 T. soy sauce, 1 T. rice vinegar, 1 t. grated ginger root, 1 t. sugar, 1/2 t. Sriracha (or other Asian hot chile sauce), and black pepper. Not having any rice vinegar, I substituted red wine vinegar. I also put a dash of cayenne instead of the hot chile sauce. The result was acceptable, but I’m sure it’d be better with the called-for ingredients. On the other hand, the recipe calls for chilling the Tatsoi and dressing for an hour after combining (then topping with toasted sesame seeds). After trying the chilled version, I’d like to try it at room temperature or even warm.
I’ve also heard that Tatsoi is a great stir fry ingredient, though I haven’t tried that yet. Do you have any favorite Tatsoi recipes you’d be willing to share?