Asian vegetables are the pick of the bunch when it comes to choosing a low kilojoule, high nutrient food that’s easy to grow at home then prepare in the kitchen.
They can be grown all year round in northern parts of Australia and during the warmer months in southern areas.
It literally takes just a minute or two to stir-fry, boil or steam Asian greens, or slice and dice them raw for salads and crudites.
Christine Ng, a fourth generation Chinese cook who grows her own produce, is now teaching her grandson how to cook what will become fifth generation family recipes.
A celebrated guest at food festivals, Christine shares how she raises and cooks healthy Asian vegetables.
Fast and fresh
Christine learnt to cook from her grandmother and parents.
She says, ‘They taught me the main difference in preparing Asian food is you cook vegetables quickly and lightly so you can still taste them.’
Her yen for healthy food was instilled from a very young age and she won’t compromise when it comes to eating food that’s not picked fresh.
‘I cook meals using the Asian vegetables from my garden about five times a week,’ she says.
Christine cooks spinach with garlic or makes it into soup, adds Chinese broccoli to beef and chicken dishes or stir-fried with a soy based sauce, while bok choy is stir-fried with a bit of finely chopped ginger.
The growing basics
Asian vegetables are easy to sow and quick to germinate. They prefer a position in full sun but can benefit from part shade in very hot areas. If they get too dry they can quickly go to seed and then the leaves become bitter.
In cooler Australian climates, sow the seeds in mid or late summer then transplant seedlings in early to mid autumn. Sow and grow any time in tropical and subtropical areas.
Prepare the soil for planting by digging in well-rotted manure or compost and adding fertiliser.
Says Christine, ‘I use lots of cow manure and Dynamic Lifter, and mulch with sugar cane as it works best in my garden and is easy to handle.’
Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate then water regularly and liquid feed once a fortnight.
Christine also has a band of willing little helpers on hand. ‘I have a worm farm and I use the castings on the vegetable garden.’
Her garden produces bountiful crops of perpetual spinach which, as the name implies, grows the more it’s cut. One of her other main crops is Chinese broccoli.
Asian greens can tolerate frost but hate root disturbance so water with a seaweed concentrate to help reduce shock when transplanting seedlings.
TIP Start harvesting crops when they reach about 150mm high, and have crisp stalks and glossy green leaves.
Transplant seedlings at about four weeks old and thin out crops as they grow, keeping 200mm between plants
The most popular vegie varieties
Add these greens to your grocery list or grow them at home in pots or garden beds for a ready supply in just 12 weeks.
BOK CHOY is an Asian annual with white or green stems and darker leaves. It’s also known as Chinese white cabbage, and is part of the mustard family.
Unlike most other Asian greens, bok choy is a cool season vegetable.
CHINESE CABBAGE or wombok is a fast growing, lightly flavoured, versatile vegetable that’s famous as the main ingredient in Korean kimchee. Slice finely and use raw in coleslaws and salads, or add it to soups, stir-fries and dumpling fillings.
GAI LAN is the name for Chinese broccoli, a leaf vegie of the same species of plant as broccoli and kale. It has thick dark green leaves with a blue tinge, crisp stems and small white flowerheads. The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible
CHOY SUM or Chinese flowering cabbage has a mustard-like flavour. It has small yellow flowerheads and bright green oval leaves. The name choy sum means stems and flowers but the soft leaves are also cooked and eaten.
This article originally appeared in the February 2013 edition of Australian Handyman magazine.