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Mizuna is a dark green leafy vegetable which appears to be native to China, although it is also cultivated extensively in Japan. This plant is in the mustard family, and it can be used raw in things like salads or cooked in soups and stir fries. Some markets may carry mizuna, especially during the winter months when there is a shortage of produce, and it can also be grown at home if you have a small planter box or a garden.
The name for this leafy green comes from the Japanese mizu, for “water,” and nu, for “mustard plant.” This salad green is also known as Japanese mustard, kyona, potherb mustard, or xiu cai, depending on the region of the world that one travels in. Mizuna has a mild flavor which is almost sweet, with a faint hint of a mustardy tang. When fresh and in good condition, the plant is crisp with a bright, clear flavor and a hint of a crunch, adding texture as well as flavor to the dishes it is included in.
Mizuna grows in the form of rosettes of long, feathery leaves which are dark green and highly glossy. The leaves have bright white stems; the green and white combination reminds some people of bok choy, a related green. Many people like to use mizuna in salads or as a garnish for other dishes, but it can also be chopped and added to soups, stir fries, and pasta. Mizuna is very nutritious, like other relatives in the Brassicas, making it a sound addition to the diet.
This plant happens to be extremely cold tolerant, making it popular with gardeners in cold regions. It is also nice to have in the winter when greens are sometimes hard to find, and some people find themselves craving leafy greens because of a tendency to eat lots of fats and starches in the winter, when other foods are scarce. The versatility of mizuna is also appreciated by some cooks.
If you pick out mizuna in the store, look for crisp bunches with no signs of discoloration or slime. Keep the mizuna wrapped in the vegetable drawer for three to four days before use, and remember to wash it before using it. If you want to grow mizuna at home, sow seeds in a reasonably warm, insulated part of the garden, and keep them well watered and thinned to encourage even, healthy growth. Harvest the mizuna as needed, and if you want to grow some in the following year, allow a few plants to go to seed.