January 6th, 2013 § 2 Comments
I have loved having our friend Kelly work on the farm with us this past season for so many reasons. Her back and knees are many years younger than mine, for one, and her skill and passion for farming are an inspiration to me at times when I feel like I’m crazy for trying to make this farm work. But one of the biggest reasons I adore her is that she has introduced me to many new plants that are fast becoming favorites of mine. Right now, my favorite plant introduction of 2012 is komatsuna.
We’re big fans of hardy greens here on Oregon’s north coast, and this plant has turned out to be pretty damn hardy, and tasty as well. Do you know this plant? If not, you should. I doubt it will show up at a large chain supermarket, but if you have a farmers market near you, or an Asian market, you could probably find it. Or, get some seeds and grow some yourself! If you live near our farm, you can look out for some komatsuna plant starts this year. I definitely want to share this plant with as many people as possible.
I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it nearly as much as I do if the deer hadn’t gotten inside our exclosure fence and eaten all the kale down to just about nothing in late November:
It’s a long sad story, and entirely our own fault, but it meant that all those luscious hardy greens that we’d been planning to enjoy all winter long were gone–at least until late winter when the plants will hopefully kick in again for one last round of growth before they bolt. It’s been a serious gap in our seasonal menu, and made me realize how much we had depended on the kale last winter for a constant source of greens.
Fortunately, the deer spent all their time mowing down the kale and were only just beginning to explore the further reaches of the upper growing area by the time they were busted and shown the exit. The komatsuna had been nibbled, but was still standing, as was the mizuna growing next to it.
Komatsuna–for those of you who are not familiar with this plant–is also known as Japanese Spinach Mustard, or Brassica rapa var. perviridis for those of you who speak Plant Latin. It’s in the turnip family, and you can taste a bit of that turnip-y spice in the leaves. It’s not super spicy like a lot of mustard greens are, but has just enough bite to make it flavorful. The texture is a bit like spinach; I can understand where the ‘spinach’ descriptor comes from in it’s common English name, and like spinach you can eat it raw or cooked. Some people liken it to bok choy, which is also in the Brassica family.
The thing is, komatsuna is a much tougher plant than either spinach or bok choy. Watching it grow through the rain, hail, sleet and frost of a north coast November and December, it’s clear that it can hold up to much more extreme weather than either of those plants, which moves it higher up in the ‘favorite plants’ list here on our farm. When everyone who works on your farm also holds down an at-least part time job somewhere else as well, plants that don’t need a whole lot of hand-holding to thrive are quite popular.
We planted a row of komatsuna and red and green mizuna mustard greens in late summer, and had maybe a couple of harvests off both before market season ended.
The komatsuna was slower growing and it didn’t really show up much at our farmers market booth this past season. My first taste of it was standing out in the field admiring the lush green plants that were just reaching harvest-able size. Kelly broke off a leaf and chomped down on it, beaming, and then broke off another leaf and handed it to me, and we just stood there in the field, munching and talking. We harvested some for our farm lunch that day, Kelly stir frying it in some toasted sesame oil with onions and garlic, and serving it over rice, along side the Korean black beans that I’d made in the slow cooker the night before. I’ll have to post the recipe for those beans soon, they have been the backbone of many a great farm meal this past year.
Since the Invasion of the Damn Deer, I’ve been harvesting the komatsuna whenever I crave leafy greens, and it has not let me down. It isn’t at all like kale, but I find I can use it in a lot of similar cooking situations. It cooks down faster, more like spinach or chard, and isn’t as substantial (some might say chewy) as kale, but it works great with pasta, in stir fries, added to soups and torn up fresh in a salad. I’m want to experiment more with it and substitute it for spinach in various recipes to see how it works.
I’ve been harvesting the red and green mizuna as well (shown above), and although I enjoy it as a salad green, and as an addition to a stir fry, I like a more substantial leafy green as the main star of the show. Right now the komatsuna is filling the role beautifully.
I doubt that it’s as hardy a plant as kale. We’ve had a pretty mild winter here so far, with no snow yet. Still, the plants have survivied some pretty hard frost recently, hard enough that all the surface water turned to ice. All of the photos taken here are post hard frost an several hail storms, so you can see how it’s holding up. I imagine that if it was covered with row cover fabric, or grown in a hoop house, it would do just fine out here on the coast even in a tougher winter.
I’m curious to see how long it lasts. Some of the plants look like they are starting to form flower heads deep inside them, and most likely as the weather warms and the days get longer it will bolt. I have hopes that it will at least hang in there long enough to give the kale time to re-grow and help get us through that ‘hungry gap’ of March-April. Even Eddie the Cat craves leafy greens this time of year, although fortunately for us he seems to prefer grass to komatsuna and mizuna. He’s never been a big fan of kale either.
I can’t wait to share this plant with you this season, whether as a plant start or as a bunch of greens at the market or in a potluck dish that we bring to share or just by inspiring you to try it if you find a bunch for sale wherever you live.
And, I can’t wait to see what plants Kelly introduces me to this growing season…