Cutting the Mustard (Greens)
Mustard greens are fast growing, nutritious leafy greens that grow well both in the garden and in containers. Mustard can be planted in both the spring and fall garden. In fact, to ensure a steady supply of these spicy, flavorful greens, fall is the best time to plant them.
Although not quite as cold hardy as collards or kale, mustard greens will tolerate light frost, which makes their leaves sweeter. In areas where there are no killing freezes, gardeners can enjoy these spicy greens all winter long.
Culture and Cultivation
Mustard greens were first cultivated in the Himalayan region of India, and have been grown and consumed for more than 5,000 years. Mustard greens are a notable vegetable in many different cuisines, ranging from Chinese to Southern American. While India, Nepal, China and Japan are among the leading producers of mustard greens, a significant amount of mustard greens are grown in the United States as well.
Peppery mustard greens put the zip and soul in the mixed greens traditionally used for Southern American soul food cooking. Like turnip greens, mustard greens became an integral part of Southern cuisine during the times of slavery, serving as a substitute for the greens that were an essential part of Western African foodways.
Mustard greens grow best in moist, well-composted and mulched soil, under full sun, but they are a little more tolerant of shade than other vegetables. For fall harvests, set plants in the garden 4 to 6 weeks before the first expected frost. In spring, you can start about 4 weeks ahead of the last frost date, and continue planting a little after.
Some people plant them every 2-3 weeks in succession for a constant supply, and then let their plants go to seed during the summer (when the greens aren’t very sweet), to harvest mustard seed for homemade yellow mustard.
In colder climates, you can grow mustard greens in a cold frame or under a hoop house covered in row cover or plastic to protect them from hard freezes.
It takes about 10 to 12 plants to supply two people with fresh greens and extra for freezing to have some when they are out of season in hot weather.
Mustard grows fast, so you can begin picking leaves in 2 to 3 weeks when the leaves are 6 to 10 inches long. Leaves reach their full size of about 18 inches long in a month or so.
To maintain the rapid leafy growth, the plant needs fertilizer. Feed with an organic fertilizer like liquid kelp or compost tea every two weeks to maintain a healthy patch.
Mustard greens are the leaves of the mustard plant, Brassica juncea. The leaves of mustard greens can have either a crumpled or flat texture, and may have toothed, scalloped, frilled or lacey edges.
In addition to providing incredibly nutritious, mildly spicy greens, this plant also produces the tiny, brown seeds that are used to make Dijon mustard.
Mustard greens are jam-packed with nutrients. They provide excellent amounts of 9 vitamins and 7 minerals, including Vitamins A, C, E, K, folate and magnesium.
And if that were not impressive enough, being a member of the Brassica family along with broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, they also feature the same cancer-fighting, health-promoting phytonutrients known as glucosinolates.
Selection and Storage
Mustard greens grow in a rosette of leaves about a foot-and-a-half tall. You can cook with the big peppery greens or pick smaller, young leaves to eat raw in salads and sandwiches.
Purchase mustard greens that are unblemished and free from any yellowing or brown spots. They should look fresh and crisp and be a lively green or purple-green color. Mustard greens should be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. They should keep fresh for about three to four days.
Preparing Mustard Greens
The easiest way to clean the leaves is the same way you would clean spinach or kale: Place the mustard greens in a large bowl of tepid water and swish them around with your hands. This will allow any sand or dirt to become dislodged. Remove the greens from the water, empty the bowl, refill with clean water and repeat this process until no sand or dirt remains in the water (usually two or three times will do the trick).
For basic mustard green preparation, wash the leaves and fold in half with the top of the green folded inward. Cut along the stem and remove. Or, if you plan to cook the greens for a long time, such as when using them in soup, you can keep the leaves intact with their center stem.
Young, raw mustard greens make a great addition to any kind of salad, as well as an exciting alternative to lettuce in a sandwich. Your can also add chopped mustard greens to pasta gives it a little kick.
Piquant mustard is often mixed with hearty collards and flavorful turnip greens, tossed in the pot with some ham hocks and gently simmered for an hour or two, until the mix is meltingly tender. It is this traditional “mess o’ greens” that is featured at most Southern celebrations and large family dinners.
The pot-likker at the bottom—the vitamin-rich, green broth that results from the long simmering—is highly prized and is traditionally sopped up with a piece of fresh cornbread.
If Southern cooking doesn’t appeal to you, sautée mustard greens with almost any protein, grain or vegetable you like, especially sweet veggies like yams and carrots. Just keep in mind that mustard is more tender than collards or kale, so needs less cooking to make it soft.
To decrease the spicy flavor of raw mustard greens, cook them in boiling water for one minute before sautéeing. Then sautée in your choice of fat or oil until tender, about 15 minutes.
Here’s a unique way I like to enjoy mustard greens, which combines all the health benefits of raw food with plenty of nutritious, clean fat for maximum mineral absorption.
Raw Mustard Greens with Garlic Mayo
- 1/4 cup garlic mayonnaise (see below)
- 3/4 pound mustard greens, stemmed and chopped
- 1/2 organic red pepper, finely minced (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Rinse and dry the mustard greens.
- Slice away the stems, fold over the leaves and cut them into bite-size pieces.
- In a large bowl, toss the mustard greens and the minced pepper (if using) with a little of the mayonnaise, adding a little at a time and tasting as you go. The leaves should be lightly coated but not soggy with the mayonnaise.
- Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Small Footprint Family http://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/
- 2 egg yolks from pastured eggs
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 small clove garlic, peeled
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup mild-flavored olive oil
- sea salt and pepper, to taste
- Combine the egg yolks, mustard, garlic clove, cayenne and lemon juice in a food processor.
- Start to process, and as the machine runs, very slowly add the oil in a thin stream through the top spout. The mayonnaise will come together and thicken all of a sudden.
- If the mixture is too thick, add a little warm water to thin it.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- The mayonnaise will keep for about 1 week in the refrigerator.
- Enjoy with mustard greens (above), or any dish that calls for mayonnaise.
Small Footprint Family http://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/
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