In Season: Tatsoi

Whether you're a CSA devotee, a farmers' market weekender or consider ketchup a veg, we'll bring you fresh inspiration for how to prepare our local produce. Today's harvest: Tatsoi.

Before we talk about this sexy spoon-shaped Asian green, I thought you might want to look at a complete list of what is in season at the moment. When I want to be reminded of what all our great local producers have, I like looking at the great visual list from the quarterly local foods mag Edible Phoenix. If you can't find a copy from your favorite farmers' market, they have an online version. (click through to page 13 to see the whole in season list).

While I'm sharing tips, you'd better get a move on planting backyard seeds. It's time right now to get things like beets, carrots, and lettuce in the dirt. Look at The Urban Farm's super duper planting and harvest calendar to see what you should be planting. I've surrendered to not being as good at growing as some other folks around (I think local farmers are magicians), so I try to just keep my potted mint alive. You could have your own self-paced education reading the Master Gardener Manual online or take classes from the Maricopa County University of Arizona Extension Office.

Back to the Tatsoi, isn't she pretty? No, really, this is one gorgeous looking green. The leaves have this great shape and the whole plant grows into these blooming (so to speak) rosettes.

Tatsoi is another brassica and also known as rosette pak choi, spinach mustard and spoon mustard.

When is tatsoi in season?
December through February

How do I eat it?
Treat it just like spinach. It is usually eaten as a salad green but you could also (and maybe a more popular way) is to wilt it into your favorite dishes.

What does it taste like?
It's an easy green to eat - like chard or spinach. It has an ever so slight mustard flavor and tastes darn good. The mature stalks can be eaten like celery and those have a similar flavor to the leaves.

Selecting, cleaning and storage tips
As with most all greens, choose good looking dark green leaves. Since we're suggesting you source yours from local farmers, your leaves might have some holes from bugs (that's perfectly OK, it means there were no chemicals put on the plant) and if it's a bit sleepy looking (it can do this even 2 hours after harvesting if it's not hydrated and refrigerated right away), try dunking it in cold water for 10-15 minutes, it'll probably bounce back beautifully. You can try this trick with lots of different veggies, I've done it with bell peppers and carrots - they just spring back to life.

To clean, fill a clean sink or large bowl with cold water. Give the leaves (you can chop the leaves before or after this step) a nice bath and swirl in the water. Lift the leaves out of the water and into a salad spinner or clean kitchen towel. Spin or pat to dry and they're ready. Store in a plastic bag with a paper towel thrown in in the crisper of your fridge.

What to do with it:
Here are a few recipes to try:

-Here's a fantastic video featuring tatsoi history and a quick pasta recipe from a farm blog in NY (the narrator has a dreamy voice).
- Brown Butter Pasta with Tatsoi
- Chilled Wilted Tatsoi with Sesame Ginger Dressing

One of my go-to recipes for greens is a quiche. The Splendid Table's chard apple and cheese oven omelet knocked my socks off when I first read about and tried it. I also will forever try to recreate Tucson restaurant Delectables' spinach cream cheese quiche. My version is below.

Jen's Greens & Cream Cheese Quiche

1 prepared pie crust (you could make your own)

1 T butter or olive oil
1 onion diced
1 big bunch of greens (like tatsoi), cleaned and chopped
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
⅓ cup milk or cream
6 eggs
3 oz cream cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the thawed (but still cool) pie crust in your pie pan and prick with a fork over the surface and pre bake for 10 minutes or until a little golden (ya ya, fill with pie weights...I don't do that, remember these are simple recipes - a bubble or two won't ruin it).

While the crust is baking saute the onion in the fat for 10 minutes over med-med high heat. I like my onions a little brown. Throw in the tatsoi or spinach and cook and stir until just wilted. If you have a heartier green, cook until just right - a little longer for chard, and even longer for some kales - when it tastes good, it's done. Take pan off the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl crack and mix up the eggs, pour in the milk, add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooked greens to the bowl, give it a quick stir and then slide it all into the pie crust. Dot the top of the quiche evenly with the cream cheese and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes or until set in the middle.

After cooking, let cool at least 10 minutes and serve with a side salad or a cup of yesterday's soup. So so good. Then eat it again for breakfast. Love these kinds of recipes. :)

PS: you might notice pink flecks in my quiche. I made it with diced pancetta and didn't like it as well, so I omitted it from the recipe. Though ham of any sorts is usually welcome in any of my quiches.

Jennifer Woods is a local food advocate with over 10 years in the AZ food industry, and currently works for Crooked Sky Farms, a CSA produce farm based in South Phoenix.

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Jennifer Woods
Contact: Jennifer Woods