This is the first installment in a series about my experiences growing Asian vegetables. You can find the other articles by clicking on the tag “Growing Asian Vegetables” at the bottom of this post.
My first encounter with tatsoi came at a Kauai farmer’s market in 2008, when my wife and I were in Hawaii on our honeymoon. We were staying at a condo with a full kitchen and eating many of our meals there, so we traveled to the popular farmer’s market at Hanalei to pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables. One grower had bags of organically grown tatsoi that looked appealing, so we bought some. We cooked it for a side dish by sautéing it briefly with a little garlic and mushrooms, and loved it.
When we got home from the trip, I had to find out more about this little green bit of tastiness that looked like spinach and tasted like, well, nothing I’d ever tasted before. I ordered some seed, and I’ve been growing tatsoi ever since. You might say that encounter with tatsoi opened up a whole new world of vegetables to me. I had grown Chinese cabbage, pak choi and yard long beans before, but that was the limit of my experience when it came to Oriental vegetables.
Tatsoi (or Tah Tsai) is a cold hardy, easy to grow member of the mustard family with dark green, spoon shaped leaves. The whole plant grows in a compact rosette form about 6 inches wide that hugs the ground in cold weather. In warmer weather, and with some varieties, the plant may be more upright. In general, tatsoi is a cool weather loving crop, and often survives the winter in a cold frame here in zone 6.
Tatsoi is more flavorful than its close relative pak choi, but still mild to my taste buds. The young leaves are good raw in salads, and it is a popular ingredient in commercial baby salad mixes where its dark green leaves contrast nicely with the lighter colors of lettuces. The older leaves can be used in soups, stir-fried, sautéed or wilted. The whole plant can be chopped up for use at any stage, even after it has started to bolt and form flowers. Leaves will regrow after a partial cutting if the growing point is left intact, which makes it useful in cut and come again mixes.
The traditional time to sow tatsoi is in autumn. Early spring plantings are apt to bolt prematurely if left to grow to full size. Tatsoi is fairly fast growing. Young plants may be harvested in three to four weeks after planting, while full grown plants are usually ready in less than two months. In areas with mild summers it can be sown from spring through fall, but it really doesn’t do that well with our hot and humid summers. Tatsoi is not picky about soil types, but does appreciate a nice fertile soil with some added nitrogen. Flea beetles and slugs are occasional pests.
In addition to the standard tatsoi, Yukina Savoy is a variety that is larger (10-12” tall) and has more upright growth. It is tolerant of both hot and cold weather. And Kitazawa seeds has a Tatsoi Savoy listed that is similar to Yukina Savoy.
I’m so glad I discovered Tatsoi. That chance encounter a few years back has led me to experiment with growing a lot of different Asian vegetables. And that in turn has introduced me to a whole new world of tastes and growing experiences. I’ll be back soon with another installment highlighting a different Asian vegetable. Happy growing!