Mustard greens can pack a wallop. They're spicy, pungent and bitter. Blanch them quickly or pick them young, however, and these greens stay flavorful but mild. The mustard plant is thought to have originated in the mountains of India anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 years ago. Every part of it is edible: seeds, stems and leaves.
Loaded with fiber, iron, and vitamins A, C and K, mustard greens are part of the nutritionally powerful cruciferous family that includes cabbage, broccoli and radishes. Young, tender varieties are found in mesclun (a mixture of small, young greens), while the large-leafed Brassica juncea is often combined with kale, turnip greens and ham hocks to create long-simmered greens.
Folk remedies from around the world use the mustard plant to treat everything from scorpion stings to arthritis. A paste made of ground mustard seeds, flour and egg white wrapped in flannel and applied to the chest has been used for centuries to treat respiratory problems. However, if the mixture is too strong, you can actually make breathing worse; if the paste comes in contact with your skin, it can blister; if it gets in your eyes, it can cause blindness.
Where they are
Mustard greens are available at farmers markets around town. The variety of mustard greens used in the recipe at right are grown at Blanton Garden and available through Fall Line Farms' farm-to-family cooperative program.
Mezzanine's Zen Fish
Chef Todd Johnson has featured this dish on the frequently changing menu at Mezzanine (3433 Cary St., 353-2186) .
- 1 whole fish, butterflied (good, sustainable choices include rainbow trout, croaker, rockfish or black bass)
- 1 large mustard-green leaf (Mezzanine uses an extra-large variety called "Zen")
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 2 to 3 sprigs each of fresh rosemary, fresh thyme and fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the mustard leaf thoroughly to remove any dirt or grit. Bring a large saucepan of water to boil; briefly blanch the leaf for about two minutes. Remove it and lay it flat to cool. Then dry the fish with paper towels and rub it, inside and out, with half the olive oil. Sprinkle the inside generously with the garlic, salt and pepper. Place the herbs in the center of the fish and close the two sides. Wrap it all in the mustard-green leaf, place it in a baking dish and drizzle it with the rest of the olive oil (if you're using smaller leaves or having trouble keeping it all together, you can use toothpicks to secure everything). Roast it in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until the fish is done.