I was walking out the front door yesterday, and bumped into the lady who lives downstairs. She told me she had a glut of mizuna in the garden, and if I wanted some, I was welcome to it.
This is the same lady who had kindly offered me a selection of windfall pears last autumn. I had no idea what to do with those pears, but ended up with a lovely pear jelly. So I was not going to let the fact that I had no idea what mizuna was stand between me and an offer of free goodies. There is always something you can make with it, right? A few hours later, I found myself in her garden, scissors in hand, hacking away at the vegetable patch and avoiding some truly enormous insects that were hiding in there.
So…mizuna…what is it? A quick search on Google revealed it is Japanese and the name means “water greens”. It belongs to the brassica family, which was apparent from the fleshy stalks and sunny yellow flowers that topped the stalks. The flavour is hinted at by the alternative name of Japanese Mustard – it is a little like rocket, but the leaves I had were peppery with, indeed, a strong mustard taste, as well as a hearty “leafy” flavour. As you can see below, they also look rather attractive – young leaves are long, slim and elegant, and mature to large, serrated leaves with a purple tinge.
I started to look for some recipes to use up my haul, and quickly discovered that most recipes that call for mizuna seem to require the young stems, when the leaves are soft, feathery and tender. At this stage, they look like rocket leaves, and go well in salads and as a peppery garnish. However, the stems that I came to possess looked quite different. How come? Well, this is bunch of mizuna that has enjoyed a mild British winter, then a brief burst of sunshine in March, before being soaked for about two months, and then getting a little more warmth in the last week. As such, it is less “soft, feathery and tender” and more like a triffid sitting out in the back garden, growing at an alarming rate.
So basically, I didn’t have the baby leaves, I had the grown-up plant, and this means the leaves are a little more “robust” in terms of flavour, making them better suited to cooked dishes. With this in mind, I came up with two recipes. One is the subject of today’s post, and you’ll just have to trust me on the other, and the fact that it was delicious.
This recipe is a simple German-style potato salad, with a little shredded mizuna added to the still-warm mixture and then letting it cool. While the mustard-like flavour of the mizuna leaves is strong, possibly even too strong on its own, it mellows with soft new potatoes and olive oil. I did not add any mustard to the sauce, so as you bite into the potatoes, the mizuna leaves add a little bite and piquancy. All in all, a very tasty way to use up these leaves.
Now, in case you are wondering what else I made with my robust and fiery-tasting leaves, they went into a mizuna and tofu stir-fry with a black-bean and chilli sauce. Peppery, spicy, hot and delicious!
To make mizuna potato salad:
• 750g new potatoes
• 40g (two handfuls) mizuna leaves
• 2 shallots or 1/2 small red onion
• 2 tablespoons vinegar
• 6 tablespoons oil
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoons ground pepper
• pinch of sugar
Put the potatoes into a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for around 15 minutes, until tender. Drain and leave to cool slightly.
In the meantime, peel and finely chop the shallots. Wash and shred the mizuna leaves.
Now prepare the dressing – put the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and sugar into a jam jar, and shake vigorously until you have a smooth sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
Cut the still-warm potatoes into chunks and put into a salad bowl. Add the shallots, mizuna and dressing, and toss gently. Serve while still warm, or allow to cool.
Worth making? This is a simple but tasty recipe and is a great way to use up greens that might otherwise to too strong to eat in a salad.