Thanks to everyone who responded to our suggestion from last week to join the endeavor to donate vegetable boxes to needy families. To date, we have collected enough for almost one large box, and we are in hopes of additional donations.
Tatsoi Tunes: A Song of its Own
Every year I write about the greens that fill the boxes during wintertime. Usually I dedicate one newsletter to all of the greens, but this year I’ve decided to focus on several individual (but amazing) varieties. For even though all the greens look alike and are used in a similar fashion, they belong to different families, they have different tastes, and they are all little wonders in their very own right. I also harbor a secret hope that this newsletter will open the hearts of some who rejected the unfamiliar greens outright and will give them another chance.
Let us start with the tatsoi- a descendant of the esteemed “Brassicas,” a relative of cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli, and true knights of the winter. Tatsoi resembles its kinfolk in taste as well– not too sharp (like the mustard), but more bittersweet and mild- tasting. Before I write about tatsoi, let me say a few words about the dynasty, in order to explain the botanical genealogy: it belongs to the Brassicaceae family, within this family it is of the Brassica genus (like the cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and kohlrabi), and a Brassica rapa specie (like turnips).
Now it gets complicated: within this specie group are two subspecies that are named “Chinese cabbages.” One is the Pekinensis, to which the Napa cabbage belongs–the first Oriental vegetable acknowledged by the Western world and still the most common, with long green leaves and light colored veins. The leaves are densely combined, creating a small “head” (sort of a cross between lettuce and cabbage). As its title indicates, it is particularly popular in Northern China, around Beijing (formerly Peking.) This is what it looks like:
The other sub-specie, the Chinensis, includes the various types of bok choi. These varieties do not form “heads,” but rather have smooth, dark green leaf blades forming a cluster reminiscent of mustard or celery. These types are quite popular in South China and Southeast Asia. Bok choi usually have a wide spine, similar to that of the Swiss chard (an entirely different family), and become fibrous when cooked for a short time. There are short and tall varieties, some sporting a white, yellowish or greenish spine, with leaves of varying shades of green. In short, a very wide gamut. Here’s one example:
Our friend the tatsoi, also termed Brassica rapa var. rosularis – rosette bok choi, belongs to this category. Tatsoi have spoon-shaped leaves, round leaves that are connected to a long, thin spine. Some nickname it “spoon cabbage.” Unlike the bok choi varieties, the tatsoi grows like an open-flat bouquet. This is how it looks in bouquet and in bulk form:
The various types of Chinese cabbage (those that form a head and those in the bok choi group) have been grown in China for over 6000 years. Remnants of this plant’s seeds were found in tools excavated from the new Stone Age in the city of Banfu. There is evidence that Chinese cabbage was part of the everyday menu in ancient South China. During the 14th century, Chinese cabbage was grown specifically in the Yangtze River Delta region (the Shanghai area). Sixteenth century Chinese physician and pharmacist Li Shizhen studied the Chinese cabbage and its medicinal qualities, and during his time the vegetable spread to North China to eventually become one of the area’s main vegetable crops. From China the cabbage spread to Korea, becoming the staple ingredient for kimchi, the fermented vegetable dish. At the start of the 20th century, Japanese soldiers returning from China during the Russo-Japanese War brought it to Japan. It continued to spread all over the world, first the Napa cabbage type, followed of late by the “leafy” kind— bok choi and tatsoi, who even immigrated to Israel recently.
Li Shizhen was no fool– the nutritional value of bok choi and tatsoi win them a place at the lead with cabbage and other high quality Brassicas: they are rich in vitamin C, dietary fibers and folic acid. They contain more calcium and beta-carotene than other in the cabbage family. Use them as you would use other greens, Swiss chard or spinach: tossed in cold or warm salads, combined with rice or pasta, added to soup or just in a sandwich. See some of the recipes below for new ideas. It is not recommended to cook them for too long–one to three minutes is more than enough.
Alon, Bat Ami, Melissa and the Chubeza team
What’s in our Green Boxes?
Monday: pumpkin, cilantro, scallions, radishes, corn, arugula, purple mustard, cucumbers, red beets, sweet potatoes, peppers
In the large box, in addition: yard long beans or okra, kohlrabi, Swiss chard
Wednesday: green beans or lubia (cowpea) or yard long bean or okra, cilantro, cucumbers, arugula, peppers, leeks, radishes or turnips, beets or radish or daikon, kohlrabi, sweet potatoes, corn
In the large box, in addition: pumpkins, eggplants, Swiss chard or red mustards or spinach
A Treasure of Tatsoi Recipe Ideas:
Tatsoi Wilted in Mustard Dressing – from Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini
1 lb. TATSOI
2 SCALLIONS, mince the whites, thinly slice the pale green parts
2 Tbsp. LEMON JUICE
1 tsp. DIJON MUSTARD
1/4 tsp. Kosher SALT
3 Tbsp. OLIVE OIL
Rinse tatsoi, inspect for grit. Dry. Mix scallion whites w/ lemon, mustard, salt, stirring to
dissolve. Blend in oil. Pour in skillet on medium heat. Add tatsoi, toss. Cook till just wilted but stems remain crunchy—2 min. Add scallion greens, toss. Place on platter and add dressing.
GREENS & TATSOI SALAD with BERRIES & HAZELNUT VINAIGRETTE – from The Farm at Miller’s Crossing’s CSA recipes (take a look at their other recipes too – there are many good ones in this beautiful website of this beautiful farm)
3 tbsp. OLIVE OIL
2 SHALLOTS, chopped fine
1/2 cup dried CRANBERRIES, cherries, raisins or “craisins”
4 tbsp. SHERRY VINEGAR
3 tbsp. WATER
1 tbsp. SUGAR
1/2 cup HAZELNUTS, toasted lightly & skinned
1/2 tsp. DIJON MUSTARD
1 tbsp. HAZELNUT OIL, if desired
4 cups FIELD GREENS & 2 cups baby TATSOI (or a combo to your liking)
In pan, heat 2 tsp. oil on medium flame till hot, but not smoking. Sauté shallot till golden. Stir in berries, 3 tbsp vinegar, water & sugar & simmer till syrupy—4 min. Transfer to bowl, cool to room temperature. Toast nuts w/ s&p in skillet till golden– 3min. Place on plate & cool. Whisk mustard, 1 tbsp vinegar, s&p. Whisk in both oils. Toss greens w/ vinaigrette, and divide onto 6 serving plates. Drizzle berries and nuts.