Please identify these mystery Asian vegetables.
June 23, 2010 11:48 AM   Subscribe

What are these Asian root vegetables I grew and how do I cook them?

Last spring in San Francisco, I picked up a few packets of mystery seeds at a little market in Chinatown. Some had pictures on the packets and some did not. So, because I like mystery gardening, I duly brought them back to North Carolina and planted them in early May. All of them are doing well, but not all of them are fully grown yet, so it is possible there will be another question or two like this to come.

These (1 (closeup), 2 (with green beans and cukes for scale, blurry though) and 3 (same plant as 1, showing leaves) all came from the same packet, which had a picture of them on it, only larger and more beautiful, as is so often the case with seed packets. They look and smell a little like turnips, only smaller, less round and green instead of pink. In the spirit of inquiry I cut two of them up and boiled them and tried them with butter. They were not so good. What are they? How do you cook them? And did I let them grow too long? All that rooty stuff at the bottom looks like what happens when carrots grow too long. I am not noted for my success with root vegetables, so possibly these should be larger and less root-y?

Also, yes, to forestall any comments, I am aware of the dangers of invasive plants; after all, I live in kudzu heaven. These are all clearly vegetables, which don't usually reseed on their own and they're all in raised beds- very raised beds; mine are concrete block bunkers, a foot off the ground - or containers, isolated from any native plants.
posted by mygothlaundry to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It looks to me like a daikon; this picture looks similar to your plant.
posted by TedW at 11:58 AM on June 23, 2010

Looks like a member of the mustard family, perhaps kholrabi?
posted by TungstenChef at 11:58 AM on June 23, 2010

They look like small kholrabi.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 12:31 PM on June 23, 2010

Yeah, I think that's kohlrabi that you actually didn't let grow long enough. If it turns out to be, indeed, kohlrabi, try it raw. It tastes like turnippy apples with hints of broccoli stem. Pretty good in slaw but not that interesting alone.
posted by hungrybruno at 12:35 PM on June 23, 2010

The root looks like a strangely formed kholrabi (strange in that it's not nearly as strange as most kholrabi). But the leaves make it look like some kind of mallow.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:35 PM on June 23, 2010

I'm saying kohlrabi as well, judging from the bulb and the leaves. But they are pretty small from what you'd see in a grocery store or what I see at the farmer's market around here, so maybe it is a different variety?

If they are kohlrabi, they have a very mild vegetable taste, kind of like a broccoli stalk crossed with a turnip. Very crunchy. They are good chopped up in salads, or cut into smallish pieces (1/2" wide or so?) toss 'em in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast in the oven (probably at ~400 °F or thereabouts) or cook them on the grill. They are pretty good!
posted by sararah at 12:39 PM on June 23, 2010

I don't think you have kohlrabi. Kohlrabi stems are roughly spherical (more like flattened spheres) and your stems are more cylindrical. Kohlrabi stems grow on the surface, but it looks like your stem was partially underground. Kohlrabi have leaves growing from multiple points on the stem, but your leaves all grow from the top. Kohlrabi leaves are rounded, not sharply serrated like your leaves.

Two things that might help: if you can describe the taste (kohlrabi tastes mildly like cabbage or broccoli stem) and if you can post a picture of the seed package.

I suspect you have daikon (there are many different kinds).
posted by ssg at 12:47 PM on June 23, 2010

Response by poster: The seed package is gone, unfortunately. The leaves do look like kohlrabi and the roots are partly above ground, so maybe it is kohlrabi? But they're not spherical, more like carrots. The taste, though, isn't mild - it's a lot sharper, much more like a turnip or maybe even a radish. There are more in the garden; I'm thinking I'll leave them for a while and see what happens.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:05 PM on June 23, 2010

I grew kohlrabi in my garden last year, and I'm going to agree that that isn't Kohlrabi. There would be essentially nothing exciting growing under the ground- all the leaves and kohlrabi goodness is above. Also, it would have tasted good boiled and with butter, like slightly sweet broccoli stems.
posted by Secretariat at 1:07 PM on June 23, 2010

If it tastes like a radish, then I'd go with the "immature daikon" route. Daikon can grow quite large, if fed and left to grow for long enough.
posted by Citrus at 1:20 PM on June 23, 2010

If it's sharp-tasting, then it's definitely more likely to be a daikon radish.

While it doesn't have a very rich flavor on its own, daikon is extremely good at soaking up other flavors; for example, it is delicious as an ingredient in oden (though it's a more of a winter dish).

It can also be used to make pickles, or even just be grated raw to make a refreshing accompaniment to dishes such as roasted fish.

You'll probably want to let them get bigger, though. It looks like they are supposed to take about 60 days from seeding to harvest.
posted by caaaaaam at 1:23 PM on June 23, 2010

Sharp/spicy taste = daikon to me. Though these look pretty small and young.

Welcome to the world of kimchi, my friend:
You can use them to make kkakdugi, a kimchi made with "muu" (Korean daikon), though considering how small these are, rather than dicing to make kkakdugi, maybe you should leave them whole to make chonggak ("bachelor") kimchi, which leaves on the greens and uses whole immature/smaller radish/daikon to make the kimchi. Or slice them thin and use it with some of the stems to make a dongchimi, or white kimchi? Perfect for summer, and you can use the pickle juice for cool dongchimi naeng myun. Since you've got the pickle juice already, if you make dongchimi, you can probably omit a good chunk of that broth recipe, or just chuck it all together and just flavor the dongchimi juice to taste with more vinegar or sugar. Just make sure the dongchimi's given a chance to ferment/pickle a bit for that extra pickle tang. Protip: naeng myun was actually a winter food, using the semi frozen pickle juice of dongchimi (since kimchi was stored outside, buried in the ground in large earthenware jars) as the base soup for noodles. Now an awesome summer treat!

Muu/daikon also makes for great soups. Definitely in oden as stated above, or you can make a variety of the "muu gook", which is any clear soup made using muu/daikon. Like the general beef and muu soups, spicier versions, or ribs-based kalbitang. As you can tell it goes well with beef, but muu gook can also be vegetarian. You can totally adapt the spicy version recipe above to be made without beef, or just search around. Either way, check out some Korean recipes for ideas.
posted by kkokkodalk at 4:14 PM on June 23, 2010

What you have there could be really undergrown daikon, but I think it's more likely it's a radish (and yes, I know daikon IS a radish). What does it look like inside? Here's the google page for "green radish." There seem to be a number of varieties of these. Here's a blog post about buying green radishes at a farmers' market. Like I said, it COULD be daikon--you can leave it in the garden and if it doesn't pretty soon bolt and go to seed, that might be what you've got, but I think it's more likely it's a green radish. (Do I win something if I'm right?)
posted by miss patrish at 4:44 PM on June 23, 2010

Response by poster: UPDATE UPDATE Look, I have found the seed packet. It's been in the garden so it's kind of blurred and faded - it was green, not blue - but maybe somebody can translate it? The picture does not look much like any of the things anyone has suggested, more's the pity.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:04 AM on June 24, 2010

I don't read Chinese very well, but the badly faded/blurred packet on the left is the one that would probably have the name written more clearly, and the more well preserved packet on the right only has things that don't seem terribly useful. It seems to be a variety of Chinese radish to me, but I can't tell what kind, and I don't read well enough to puzzle out which of the characters on the right might contain the name of the vegetable and then look it up and translate it. (The part in Roman letters is just the name of the company--and it is definitely from mainland China.)
posted by wintersweet at 12:21 AM on August 5, 2010

Here's more info on additional varieties of Asian radishes and turnips, from the website of a California-based seed company specializing in Asian vegetables. Each type of veggie has its own page with a brief description, photograph(s) and other details such as days until maturity.

Since it's been over a month since you asked this question, hopefully the vegetables left growing longer will look closer to one of the examples. (FWIW, I'd also guess that what you planted were radishes, but plant identification isn't one of my areas of expertise.)
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 9:49 PM on August 10, 2010

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