Trend: Asian Veggies at North Carolina Farmers’ Markets
This spring you might notice a few new faces at your local farmers’ market. Sure you’ll see spinach, arugula, eggs, and asparagus, but tucked in between these market mainstays you might also notice bok choy, yu choy, tatsoi, mizuna, even Japanese eggplant. These Asian varieties have begun to take center stage and are turning thousands of local eaters on to the joys of Eastern ingredients.
Asian vegetables have long been in America, but their seemingly recent explosion at local farmers’ markets can probably be attributed to two factors. First, as the immigrant population in North Carolina continues to grow (especially in the Triangle/RTP region) these new arrivals look for the foods that they grew up with. Second, the demand from immigrants has merged with a demand from more globally-conscious North Carolinians who have begun to learn how to cook with foreign and unfamiliar ingredients, like turmeric or baby ginger.
Farmer Will Cramer of Ever Laughter Farm in Hillsborough has grown a variety of Asian greens and vegetables for his customer base. “I grow Asian greens such as Bok Choi, Tatsoi and Mizuna, which can cook well alone or in mixes with other greens”, says Cramer. “Many of these greens are very beautiful and make a braising mix much more attractive than just mustards and kales would.”
Cramer also notes, “With various Asian cuisines being so popular, many Asian vegetables have become better known and desired. Many chefs will look for Asian vegetables and herbs at the farmers’ market to fit their menus.” Restaurants like Lantern in Chapel Hill (helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Andrea Reusing) have been combining Asian ingredients and techniques with Southern traditions for a few years now, and the community has taken notice. In the Triangle there are two full-scale Asian supermarkets, Grand Asia on the Cary/Raleigh border and Li Ming’s Global Mart in Durham, that serve both the Asian and non-Asian communities. Even chain grocery stores like Kroger, Food Lion, and Harris Teeter have started to offer a wider range of Asian vegetables in their produce sections.
Still the biggest change has been in local farmers’ markets. Southern staples like okra and sweet potatoes now share the table with their newly arrived cousins from the Far East; a trend that is likely here to stay. The next time you stop by your favorite farmers’ market, pick up some baby bok choy or perhaps a few Japanese eggplants. You’ll be happy you introduced some new and exciting ingredients into your usual mealtime repertoire.
Stir-Fried Asian Greens with Garlic and Ginger
Serves 4 as a side dish with rice.
1 pound of Asian greens (or a mixture)
1 clove garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
2 slices ginger, in matchsticks
¼ tsp sugar
2 tbsp oil (peanut oil is best for high heat stir-fries)
soy sauce (to serve)
rice (to serve)
wok or large, heavy-bottomed skilley
1. Make sure your greens are washed and thoroughly dried (press gently between paper towels to remove excess moisture). Make sure all your other ingredients are prepared before you begin.
2. Heat your wok or skillet over high heat until a bead of water evaporates in 1-2 seconds.
3. Swirl in 2tbsp cooking oil, add the garlic and ginger, and stir-fry for approximately 10 seconds, until fragrant.
4. Add the greens and stir-fry 30 seconds to 1 minute, until they begin to wilt.
5. Add ¼ tsp sugar and a pinch of salt, stir-fry 30-seconds to 1 minute more, until the greens are mostly wilted but still bright green.
6. Remove to a serving dish or plates, serve with rice and a drizzle of soy sauce.
Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market
Saturdays 8-12 (10-12 Dec-Mar)
Tuesdays 3pm – 6pm (May-Nov)
Durham Farmers’ Market
Wednesdays 3:30pm – 6:30pm (Apr-Sep)