Growing Asian Greens Outside of Asia
Asian food has become incredibly popular worldwide, so it is no surprise to find that an increasing number of people are keen to grow their own Asian greens.
But what are Asian greens?
To give a short answer, they include a range of quickly grown brassica species, ranging from quite large Chinese cabbage to baby bok choy. In Western nurseries you’ll find a range of these (as seedlings and in the form of seed), although quite often the same types are given different names. A good example is pak choi, pak choy and bok choi, which although considered to be a type of Chinese chard, is a lot more like a type of spinach (which it isn’t) than a type of cabbage!
Common Asian Greens
Probably the best known Asian green is Chinese cabbage, Brassica pekinensis, which is also called Shantung cabbage. Cultivars or varieties include wong bok, Pe Tsai and Chihili, all which will mature in eight to ten weeks, unlike Chinese chard that takes only five to six weeks to maturity.
Generally Chinese cabbage is a crop that matures relatively quickly and has a nice high yield. Its flavour is considerably more delicate than regular cabbage, Brassica oleracea variety capitata.
There is also a Chinese flat cabbage (tat soi or rosette bok choy) that spreads out to form what looks like a deep-green posy with bright-white stems. Like the Chinese cabbage, it may be harvested after two months.
Mustard cabbage (gai choy) has more leaf than stem when mature, and so instead of just using the leaves, the whole plant may be cooked.
Chinese broccoli (gai larn) has long thin stems and large leaves. It produces white flower clusters that unlike the yellow pak choi flowers (which may be cooked with the leaves or eaten raw) should be discarded.
Chinese flowering cabbage (choy sum) look a lot like Chinese broccoli, both having long stems and rounded leaves. The flowering cabbage, though, has little yellow flowers. Like the broccoli flowers, they may be eaten in bud form, but otherwise should be discarded.
Of course, like all brassicas, when the plant starts to flower (or bolt), it is generally considered to be past its prime for eating. However, if you get in quickly enough, or if a young plant “bolts”, you can sometimes nip it in the bud, so to speak. Just chop of the newly formed flowers and hold thumbs it will continue to grow.
While the general rule is not to eat the flowers of brassicas, there are people who swear that the bolting stems of pak choi in particular are absolutely delicious. The word is that a bolting stem is best JUST BEFORE the flower buds open fully.
Generally, Asian greens should be grown in a nice rich soil that is fertilised regularly. It should also be watered often. While they grow well in winter, they don’t like frost. In tropical regions it is possible to grow them all year round.