Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Out of the garden and into the wok

The garden greens are coming fast and furious these days. From young kale to crinkly spinach, I am serving up this leafy bounty before the cool Spring weather is replaced with bolt-inducing heat. Many of the greens, specifically the mizuna, are doing well with "cut and come again" treatment (hence the shaggy look in the photo). Yet, most plants will have to be yanked and eaten in their entirety prior to Memorial Day. They are occupying space reserved for my warm-weather seedlings: the peppers and tomatoes are rapidly outgrowing their pots! I console myself that soon enough we will be facing the prospect of Autumn weather and, once again, my 'bright lights' Swiss chard can grace the garden with its perkily colored stems.

This year, the winner of the bunch in terms of both production and flavor has been the mizuna. On the peppery scale, it is closer to mustard than spinach, and the young leaves can sub in for arugula in most salads. Our favorite way to eat mizuna is stir-fry. The preparation is so simple that it barely qualifies as a recipe. It is more a general approach, suitable for everything from spinach to broccoli: Heat up a wok nice and hot, saute a few minced cloves of garlic in some oil and then toss in the mizuna along with a good shake of oyster sauce. After a few minutes, the greens will be wilted but bright. Serve it forth to much acclaim, even from hardened greens-haters. The mizuna gives a nice bitter counterpoint to the salty-sweet oyster sauce. As with most cooked greens, it is shocking how small they cook down. I filled a large salad bowl with mizuna last night, and had barely enough stir-fry to fill a salad plate.

On the lettuce front, we are enjoying the mature heads of the variety "tom thumb". If you really want to class it up, each precious head can be served as an individual salad. Just drizzle them with a nice vinaigrette, and you're done. At our house, butterhead lettuce leaves usually act as edible serving utensils for a spicy ginger-pork mixture. The cool, bland leaves serve as tiny cups for a few tablespoons of hot and heavily-flavored stir-fry. The juxtaposition between the cool and the hot is heaven in the mouth. The original recipe calls for cilantro, which my husband hates. In the spring, we add mint instead and in the summer, Thai basil. These lettuce cups are easy and addictive: I have tried a lot of recipes in my lifetime and this one is a keeper. Print it out and it will serve you well for years. I am looking forward to my first delivery of CSA pork this month, so that this favorite meal can be truly local!


  1. The Tom Thumb looka great. I have a red buttervrunch but not big enough to eat yet.


  2. Hmmm. . . I've never tried mizuna, but I love arugula. I have some in a pot outside my back door, and pick a few leaves and pop them in my mouth without any adornments - yum! Those Tom Thumb lettuces are very cute!