Discovering Mizuna

Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Unwittingly, I have grown a small patch of beautiful green mizuna in my garden. I say unwittingly because I never specifically intended to grow mizuna. In fact, I didn't even know what mizuna was when I planted its seeds.

How could she not know she planted it, you ask? Well, when sowing a packet of mixed lettuce seeds -- as I did with this Bon Vivant Spicy mesclun mix last fall -- one never quite knows what they're going to get until something actually grows. Sure, the fine print on the package said the mixture contained approximately 24% Red Salad Bowl lettuce, 20% Arugula, 10% each of Red Oak Leaf, Tango, Black Seeded Simpson and Grand Rapids, 6% Red Sails, 5% Mizuna and 5% Green Endive. But experience has taught me that I shouldn't count on a yield of such exact proportions. Also, I had never (knowingly) seen mizuna before, and I was unaware if I ever ate any, so how was I going recognize it if it grew? Frankly, I didn't even think about that. I just figured, if I was lucky, I would get a bunch of interesting lettuces and that would be the end of it.

So we passed through the days of autumn and it was sometime during a visit to my garden in early December when I really noticed. In the place where I had planted the mixed lettuce seeds, there were a few arugula plants; those I recognized. But tucked adjacent to them were these lush green, frilly-leaved, as-yet-unidentified plants that were absolutely flourishing. In December.

I guessed that maybe they were the mysterious lettuces called mizuna, since they didn't look like something that would be called Royal Oak or Red Salad Bowl or even... Tango. A trip on the Internet would later confirm my intuition, and more reading would lead me to discover the qualities of this plant.

Mizuna (Brassica rapa) is a Japanese green that is known for holding up well during cold weather. In fact, it is "grown extensively during the winter months in Japan." It is also called potherb mustard and is classified as a mustard green for its piquant, mild peppery flavor. I found it to be slightly spicy, but less so than arugula.

This cool-weather-loving green is also nutritious. Mizuna contains vitamin C, folic acid, and antioxidants. And like other brassica vegetables, it contains glucosinolates, which may inhibit the development of certain cancers. Glucosinolates are the compounds that give brassicas, like Brussels sprouts and cabbage, their bitter flavor.

There are more than 10 different varieties of mizuna, which are listed on Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners. (This site also includes links to stores that sell the seeds.)

Mizuna can be used fresh in a salad or cooked in a stir-fry, soup, or steamed dish. So far I have only used my mizuna in a salad. And I have found additional mizuna-salad inspiration from Restaurant Widow's Mizuna Salad with Cherries and Obachan's Mizuna and Shredded Chicken Breast Fillet Salad.

At What Geeks Eat, I found a not-at-all-geeky and very colorful use of mizuna in a Thai Spicy Beef Stir-Fry.

Tuna Toast taunts my taste buds with a photo of an amazing-looking Grilled Organic Chicken with Cornbread, Mizuna and Butternut Squash Agrodulce from Lucques restaurant in Los Angeles.

Mille Feuilles Frangrantes from KYOTO tells us how mizuna is used in a traditional hot-cooked Japanese dish called nabe (and on the same post, look for the photo of a vegetable vending machine!).

Cooking With Chopsticks cooked mizuna in this warm and inviting Sukiyaki for One.

With all of its culinary possibilities, I am glad I discovered this easy-to-grow mizuna. It will definitely get a repeat showing in my garden... and on my plate.

This is my contribution to this week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Kalyn at Kalyn's Kitchen.


Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

Hooray, something brand new to me. I must try planting some of this. Is the flavor at all similar to arugula, which I absolutely love?

Great collection of links for ways others have used it.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Hi there, I have recently come across your blog as I have started my own just last month. I am currently planning what to grow in my new veggie garden and I came across mizuna yesterday (something new to me) and was intrigued as it sounds ideal for the colder months here in London, UK. Great entry by the way, the links are really interesting.

6:34 AM  
Blogger Vanessa said...

Lucky you to have fresh Mizuna right now. This winter has been so warm we might have been able to grow it here too. Thanks for the link and keep on growing.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Sisah said...

Even though we have a very mild winter up to now, I am not so lucky to have fresh lettuce in January. But I tried a similar mixture called "Japanese Greens" here in Germany last spring, which contained Mizuna. I never got chance to taste it, the snails enjoyed them very much.....
Thank you very much for these interesting links.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Ki said...

We grew some several years ago but found it to be rather bland and the stems and leaves were tough (the commercially grown ones aren't so tough) so I haven't grown it since. Mizu na translates in Japanese to something like water cabbage. Probably not meaning that it grows in water but for it's blandness, like water - no taste.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Christa said...

The flavor of the mizuna I have in my garden is slightly mustardy, but not nearly as strong as other mustard greens. It's mild -- much milder than arugula -- but I definitely didn't find it to be bland. The texture is a little bit tougher than some other lettuces -- such as romaine -- but not unpleasantly so. I like it!

10:51 AM  
Blogger JaneJane said...

This sounds like something interesting for a fall garden here. We often bolt pretty fast from cool spring to warm summer type temperatures so, we've decided to stick to more tried, true, and known things for at least a while.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I planted a row of this, also roughly accidently. A local store had a seed special, and I was short one envelope, so.... It is growing beautifully here, where the weather has been exceptionally up and down and quite dry. One thing I read on a seed-store site is that this will continue to sprout from its vigorous roots till hard frost. I've been adding a few leaves to salads of mostly spinach. My first two lettuce plantings just limped along. I'm giving some thought to using it in a mess of southern-style greens. // I plantd one of those spicy mixes, too. Got about 50/50 some kind of mustard and arugula. Sue

8:27 PM  

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