|Hakusai (chinese cabbage) waiting for a turn at the kimchi.|
In Tokyo, winter brings brilliant blue skies, blazing sunshine, and crystal clear views of Mount Fuji in the west. It also, thankfully, brings a wonderful array of winter vegetables - root and leaf crops - that make me believe it is the true season of bounty here. Yes, summer may have its tomatoes, beans, sweet corn, and eggplant, but they are nothing compared to the rich, mouth-watering ones of winter.
Last week I introduced a variety of greens - komatsuna, mizuna, wasabina, and karashina - and this week I plan to finish up the list. That said, I am sure there are more lurking out there along with delicious local varieties of these. Don't be shy to give a shout with any you know of! Don't be shy. One of the best ways to ensure that these vegetables have a future is to grow them, cook them, eat them, and share stories of how beloved they are with others. For the plants and for us, it's a win-win situation!
|Chingensai (pak choi) ready for the salad bowl.|
|Shungiku seedlings. For a better photo see this recipe.|
Hakusai (Chinese cabbage) is the aforementioned tubby cousin of chingensai. Also known as Napa cabbage in the United States, hakusai is a light-hearted version of its squat, thick-leaved European cousin: cabbage. The lighter leaves make for wonderful kimchi, tasty nabe (Japanese winter hot pot), scrumptious quick pickles, and wonderful salads. As its English name says, hakusai comes originally from China and is one of that country's oldest vegetables. It's uncanny ability to store well throughout the winter made it a pantry staple that afforded plenty of vitamin C. Another easy to grow winter vegetable, hakusai, especially if well mulched, delights in cooler weather.
There are other greens out there - rukkora (arugula) and hourensou (spinach), for example - but my hunch is that folks can find and recognize those just fine. Although, some Japanese spinach varieties do have a lovely red base, which might throw shoppers off. (It is often served up with the greens in ohitashi for a lovely dash of color.) And then there is norabo, another distinct green with kale-like leaves that loves cold weather, and is often grown in the mountains west of here. More on that one later.
Where to Find Seeds
The best way, if possible, to learn about these greens is to grow them. Listed below are possible seed sources, although it is possible to simply wander over to a nursery and find a rack full of them. Meanwhile, here are a couple places to do some shopping just now if you like.
Tanenomori Seed Company is based here in Japan, and while their selection isn't vast it's quite solid. Greens start on page 7 of the catalog pdf. It is all in Japanese, but a little patience should get it sorted. Natural and organic farmers I know consistently recommend them, although seed-swapping is also a very common practice.
Johnny's is another US seed company specializing in organic seeds and organic farming supplies. They carry a nice and ever-expanding selection of Asian greens, catering especially to those interested in growing salad greens.
Kitazawa Seed Company is based in California, their seeds are of wonderful quality and come with good descriptions. Each year their collection seems to grow with added varieities of old favorites and new additions.
Seed Savers Exchange is based in Iowa, some of the flattest and most fertile land my fair United States has to offer, and is home to an excellent selection of heirloom seeds.
Next week: Japanese winter root crops!