The prettiest vegetable in the spring kitchen garden right now is the overwintered red mustard. Purple is actually a more accurate description of the color, violet purple with gorgeous purple-green variegation, but the variety growing in my garden is called Red Giant. I’ve also grown the more accurately named Osaka Purple, but I’ve found that Red Giant is more winter hardy than Osaka Purple. It survived the repeated cold spells of the past winter in a drafty hoop house with hay mulch around its base. Now robust and big-leafed with new growth, it’s a treat for the eye.
It’s also a treat for the palate. The Fedco description of Red Giant’s flavor says: “Tastes like horseradish to some, peppery to others.” The horseradish flavor, actually closer to wasabi than horseradish, is why we like it so much.
Another treat is that these huge and flavorful leaves are surprisingly tender. Removed from the stalk, rinsed and sliced into rough squares, a pile of enormous leaves will wilt down quickly in olive oil and garlic, transforming into a spicy sauté, delicious alone but also wonderful with sweet or salty flavors.
With the abundance of mustard in the garden now, I’ve been experimenting with red mustard pairings. One night, asparagus, fresh from the garden and roasted, provided an earthy, sweet counterpoint to the spicy mustard.
The next night I used beans for sweetness. For salty, I fried some bacon, wilted the mustard in the bacon fat and combined all the flavors into a pasta sauce. Delicious!
Another night, mustard and bacon mixed together formed a side dish for orzo and asparagus.
A few nights later, I combined eggs, a little grated Parmesan cheese and sautéed red mustard for a creamy, soft frittata. On the side, some sweet roasted pears, roasted and frozen last fall, were a perfect pairing.
We’ll keep experimenting with red mustard leaves and soon will add the lovely, chartreuse-colored mustard flower buds to the mix. Like the leaves, they are tender and full of mustard flavor, perfect for pairing with more sweet and salty flavors.