By Heidi Lewis
Kettledrums sound and big-show music swells as your name marches across the screen in flaming letters. Tonight you are a contender in the Iron Chef’s Stadium Kitchen. And the secret ingredient is—mizuna! With your arms crossed, grasping your cleavers, you look out over the crowd with searing self-confidence. You already practiced with the mizuna in your TakeHome case! The little green saw-toothed rapier can be wilted, broiled, or brewed—or simply placed just-so on the plate in demonstration of the Japanese aesthetic principal shibusa.
This simple green has been hiding among the mesclun salad mixes that have become more commonplace in restaurants and produce aisles. It falls into the category of “sauté greens,” but it’s a lettuce leaf vegetable as well. Mizuna is one of those versatile leafs, like arugula, kale, mustard greens, tatsoi, or broccolini, that can be prepared so many ways. “Leaves are the quintessential vegetable. They’re usually the most prominent and abundant part of a plant, and they’re nutritious enough that many of our primate relatives eat little else,” says Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, his wonderful book on the science and history of food.
Mizuna (brassica rapa var. nipposinica) is a leaf in the cabbage family. Cabbage and its relatives have two kinds of chemicals in their tissues: enzymes and flavor precursors called glucosinolates, which are antioxidants. When plant cells are damaged, aka, chopped or cooked, it starts a chain reaction that results in a new compound or flavor. So that’s why you’ll get different flavors from your greens depending on if they’re cooked or raw. Mizuna has a nice tang and is a great foil to seafood, strong meats, or fruits. Try it as a salad with a citrus dressing and claim your Iron Chef title.
Preparation: While in a bunch, slice off leaves. Discard any yellow or dried leaves. Chop leaves coarsely. Chop stems finely. Wash and dry in salad spinner. Ready for salad or sauté.
Storage: Wrap bunch in moist paper towel and plastic bag. Use within three days.
Heidi Lewis writes about farms, bees, and fruit from her home in Sonoma County, CA. She's been with The FruitGuys since they were FruitKids.