Thursday 15 November 2012

Growing Chinese vegetables: Kai Lan / Chinese Broccoli...

Kai Lan / Chinese Broccoli growing in vegetable garden
Kai Lan/ Chinese Broccoli growing in our vegetable garden

I am really excited about the Chinese Broccoli (also known as Gai Lan, Kai Lan, Chinese Kale) that I am growing in the garden right now.  Chinese kale is so different compared to other kinds of kale - the stems are very tender and the texture of the leaves much more delicate.  And the taste!  Kai Lan has got to top the list when it comes to "most flavoursome" Chinese vegetable.

Although we are getting very close to winter now, and the temperature, at times, is close to freezing, the Kai Lan seeds that I put in early September have taken off and seem to still be growing well.  I am now covering these young vegetables with a layer of fleece to protect them from freezing.

This Kai Lan is grown from seed.  I sow the seeds into pots, and once the seedlings have sprouted two leaves, I place them into their final positions in our vegetable patch.  They tend to need to be firmed into the ground, as they flop about otherwise, and the stems don't grow straight.

There are several ways to consume Kai Lan.  They can be harvested when they are quite small, and at this stage, they form a sought after vegetable dish in restaurants all around Hong Kong, also referred to as "baby kai lan". 

If patience is a virtue of yours, then you can also wait a little longer until the leaves of the Kai Lan get bigger and stems are thicker - something I personally find quite difficult to do since I find it impossible not to pick them greedily at their young stage!

Harvest and Cook Kai Lan / Chinese Broccoli
(L) Kai Lan Harvest (R) Steamed Kai Lan

To fully savour the taste of the Kai Lan, it is often cooked simply by steaming for a few minutes.  You know they are done when the stems are tender but still offer a slight crunch and the leaves have turned a lovely glossy green.  Good quality oyster sauce is then lightly drizzled on top. 

This is my favourite vegetable dish in Chinese cuisine - so simple but yet so flavoursome.  And there could be nothing better than when it is homegrown Kai lan picked straight from the garden and onto your dinner plate!

If you feel inspired to do some gardening and grow your own vegetables, then here is more information:

Where to buy Kai Lan Seeds:
Australia:  Chinese supermarkets generally stock Chinese vegetable seeds.  A great brand to try is Minara Seeds Pty Ltd (K-Jay International Co.) 02-98894555
UK:  Suffolk Herbs
US:  Kitazawa Seed company

Pests: As with most brassicas, Chinese Kale attracts all manner of creatures including slugs, caterpillars, birds. It is advisable to protect the vegetables with netting during the months when butterflies are at their most active.
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