Produce of the Week - Mustard Greens
sponsored by Coleman Farms
Early Spring sees the first of the really seasonal cooking greens, and one of the first of these is Mustard greens. These come in many varieties, some of which, such as Mizuna and Tatsoi, are often used raw in such things as salad mix. This week we're concerned mainly with the larger-leafed varieties commonly used in cooking.
These too come in many forms, ranging from a curly-leafed variety that looks something like a type of Escarole to the variety with flat spatula-shaped leaves, much like the wild mustard you'll sometimes see growing along rural roads.
These mustards can be used raw when they're young, but typically they're harvested when the leaf is larger, and generally a bit tough to use in a salad, and often also too strongly flavored. Like most greens, they can be cooked all sorts of ways. The leaf is thin and the stem fairly tender, so Mustard requires far less cooking than Kale, or even Cabbage. Blanching will tenderize them for use in a warm salad, say, and take a bit of the edge off the flavor. Cooking longer - from stirr fry to steaming to simmering for hours - further tenderises the greens and smoothes, or diffuses, their flavor.
The flavor when raw is a sort of combination of the sulphery sharpness you find in Arugula with a sometimes very piquant element recalling horseradish. As with Arugula, the sulphery flavor in Mustard Greens is well-muted by the application of a little cooking heat; the radishy flavor isn't. The strength of these flavors in a given bunch of greens depends a good deal on its growing history - how much it was watered and fed, how hot the weather was, etc., as well as on the exact variety of the plant. As a result, you may have a bunch of greens that a little cooking would make mild enough for just about anyone, or you may get a bunch that would be best used cooked with milder greens - cabbage, say, or collards - that could benefit from a sharp accent.
There's nothing wrong with serving Mustard alone as a vegetable course, though it's more likely to appear in a stirr fry or a mess of greens, together with other Brassicas (Kale, Cabbage, Collards or Turnip) or Chard. The greens are useful in soups for their flavor, texture and color. Like most other cooked greens, they go well with (dried) beans, either served together or taken jointly as a topping for pasta. They're a very good substitute for the more generally Spinach or Chard in dishes like ravioli or lasagne, where their mustard/horseradish flavor coordinates well with the sauces and seasonings.
Mustard Greens are a good source of vitamins A, C, K and B6, of folate, and a useful source of calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium.
Photo courtesy of Coleman Farms