Exotic Vegetables for the Garden – Asian Vegetables

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September 30, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Now that the 2013 gardening season is winding down it is not too early to start planning for 2014. Most gardeners have their favorite varieties of tomatoes, peppers or potatoes and already have a plan in mind as to where they will go and how much will be planted. Anticipating the coming of the seed catalogs later this year, gardeners with a little flair for experimentation may want to add some exotic or ethnic vegetables to their 2014 planting roster. This week I will talk a little about Asian vegetables.

Vegetables from Asia that are familiar to many American gardeners include bok choi and Chinese cabbage. There are other Asian greens though, that are easy to grow plus pack a great deal of nutrients. Komatsuna is a relative of the turnip family. Also called spinach mustard, it is a large leafy green grown in Japan, Taiwan and Korea. With dark glossy green leaves it is rich in calcium and vitamin A. They can be harvested at any stage and prepared like spinach in the early stages and more like cabbage as they mature. The flavor grows stronger and hotter if allowed to mature and if grown in hot weather. Komatsuna can be stir-fried, pickled, boiled and added to soups or used fresh in salads. Tatsoi is a very similar green that is becoming popular in North America.

Komatsuna Photo: Kitazawa Seed Co.

Komatsuna
Photo: Kitazawa Seed Co.

Tatsoi Photo: Kitazawa Seed Co.

Tatsoi
Photo: Kitazawa Seed Co.

Pickling is a quite common way to preserve vegetables in Asian countries. Greens, such as the ones mentioned above, as well as just about any vegetable grown, are pickled in one form or another in Korean, Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Melons are no exception as with the aptly named “Pickling Melon.” Similar to pickling cucumbers of the west, but much larger, the young melons can be eaten raw or added to a salad as you would a cucumber. Pickling though, is the most common preparation used for this vegetable in Asia. The pickling melon is also versatile enough to be baked stuffed with beef, pork, chicken or vegetables or even used in a stir fry.

Bitter melon is another cucurbit that can be pickled, stuffed, or used in soups. It is native to Southern China and thrives in the heat and humid climate of mid-summer. It has twice the beta carotene of broccoli and is high in potassium and calcium. It also contains high amounts of fiber, phosphorous, and Vitamins C, B1, B2, and B3 and lutein, an important nutrient for eyesight.

 

Bitter Melon Photo: SeriousEats.com

Bitter Melon
Photo: SeriousEats.com

 

Daikon Radish is a very large rooted relative of the radish. Used in many ways from Japan to Bangladesh, this vegetable can be stir fried, baked, or used in soups. It can also be used fresh in salads.  In several cuisines the leaves are used in various ways. These include a dish, made for the Japanese Festival of Seven Herbs, which is seven-herb rice porridge (nanakusa-gayu) that is eaten on January 7. The daikon can grow quite large and there are contests for the largest daikon in Japan. It is used frequently in Korean kim chee. Like many Asian veggies, the daikon is often pickled.

 

 

Daikon Radish Photo: Kitazawa Seed Co.

Daikon Radish
Photo: Kitazawa Seed Co.

Yardlong Bean, also called Chinese Long Bean or sometimes Asparagus Bean, is a bean that is not directly related to the common pole bean, but is grown in much the same way. As its name implies, it grows from 14 to 30 inches long. It is used in many stir fries, soups, or in many dishes that call for green beans.

 

Yardlong Bean Photo: Lion Seeds

Yardlong Bean
Photo: Lion Seeds

 

Chinese broccoli or gai-lan, a broccoli relative, is also called Chinese kale or kailan. The edible vegetable consists of a tender green flower stem with buds of what will become white flowers. The leaves and stems are light to medium green in color. Different varieties of gai-lan vary in stem length and color from light to medium green. It grows best in cooler weather and is great in stir fries.

The vegetables mentioned above are grown in much the same way as their western counterparts. The leafy greens and the daikon are grown like other brassicas, the melons like other cucurbits and so on. The list I have discussed only includes a few of many more vegetables grown by Asian gardeners that can just as easily be grown in our country.  If you feel a little adventurous try an Asian vegetable in your garden next year! In Future articles, I will talk about vegetables from other parts of the world.

 

PurdueUniversity has several publications on growing Asian vegetables including: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1996/V3-488.html

And  http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-187.pdf

A couple of sources of Asian vegetable seeds are:

Kitazawa Seed Company http://www.kitazawaseed.com/

Evergreen Seeds http://www.evergreenseeds.com/vegetableseeds.html

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