Disclaimer: We were provided with free samples from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in order to write this article; photos of the vegetables were provided by them. This post may also contain affiliate links; as an Amazon Affiliate we earn from qualifying purchases.
If you are a vegetable gardener, you probably know that feeling when the seed catalogs come and you find yourself drooling over all of the new and interesting varieties on every page. You start folding down corners or circling descriptions only to wonder, "how in the world would I even fit this many veggies into my garden?"
We have a policy in our house - we mostly stick to our tried and true favorites but every year we try to throw a few new vegetables into the mix. Our goal is to discover new varieties that might work well in our space, and also to tempt our pallets with more diverse tastes.
This year, as we poured over the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog, we found ourselves drawn to vegetables that had one thing in common - they had Asian roots (pun intended). Given that my husband had been into cooking grain bowls this winter, we weren't totally surprised. But even some of the veggies that our kids chose without reading the names were of similar origin. Thus was born the theme for this year's new varieties.
It should come as no surprise that there are so many seed varieties with Asian origins. After all, a traditional Asian diet is high in colorful fruits and veggies, and vegetables are often treated as the "main dish" instead of meat (compare that to western diets that are often high in starchy white foods and meat).
Diversifying the veggies you grow can help to offer more options for vegetable-based meals that will satisfy your hunger and please your pallet.
Here are the varieties we'll be trying this year!
All photos courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
1. Chinese Celery
According to Baker Creek, Chinese celery, with its smaller shoots, is more tender than typical western green varieties. Given that I am not always a fan of celery, I wanted to try a different variety to see if the taste would be more enticing. These varieties are also rated as easy-to-grow, which is never a bad thing for a garden that is sometimes neglected! These are a great staple for soups, noodle bowls, and stir-fries and celery can even be frozen for winter use.
2. Leafy Greens
This year we'll be adding two unique Asian Greens to our garden - Chinese Multicolor Spinach (pictured) and Purple Lady Bok Choy. According to Baker Creek, Chinese Multicolor Spinach is actually leaf amaranth and is popular in Asia. It can be eaten raw, stir fried, or steamed. This means it is a nice hearty green for our noodle bowls or to make a nice crunchy Asian-themed salad. Though not a pure spinach, it should last longer than other varieties that will bolt when hot weather arrives. Since one of our neighbors is willing to trade eggs for spinach, this longer season will serve double duty in our garden!
Purple Lady Bok Choy offers similar benefits in the kitchen - a nice hearty green that stands up well in stir-fries or adds crunch to your salad. Baker Creeks calls this "one of the best strains available" when it comes to Bok Choy. It's purple leaves will not only add fun color to our garden and our plate, but they are full of healthy antioxidants too. Again, this is rated as a "neat," easy-to-grow veggie that will do well in the garden and look great coming out.
Under the category of "ooooohh, that looks so good," we found two Asian melons to try in the garden. The Beni Kodama Watermelon was our four-year-old's choice, cause what four-year-old can resist a little watermelon she can hold in her hand? From a gardening perspective, we like this melon because it is a short-season option that will have a better chance of fully ripening in our northern climate.
Our second melon was also chosen based on how cool the picture looked :). The Kajari Melon (pictured) from India is orange with green and white stripes on the outside, with a sweet pale flesh on the inside - we just can't wait for this eye-catching melon to plump up on our homestead. Beyond that, we appreciated the lengths that were taken to find the seeds for this rare variety, and love the idea of growing something so unique (and tasty).
Eggplants have been cultivated in India and China for over 1500 years, so it's no surprise they have some cool options when it comes to this veggie. We chose to try out the Ping Tung Eggplant. We were first attracted to it because the like the long tubular shape that allows you to easily cut discs to be thrown into a stir fry or other yummy dish. We liked learning that it is another vigorous variety that heat tolerant with highly reliable yields. The skin is also less tough than other varieties so can be left on when cooking.
While Central America and Mexico might be best known for peppers, Asian varieties do exist that have been around for quite a long time. Building on what appears to be a purple theme in our list :) we chose to try the Murasaki Purple Pepper which is shaped like a hot pepper (most sweet peppers are more bell-shaped), but actually sweet in taste. We even found an academic article about how this unique pepper lost its spiciness. The pepper is supposed to be highly productive and we think it will make a great colorful addition to our salads, veggie platters, and stir fries.