I went to the San Francisco Farmers Market on Alamany Blvd. today, taking advantage of a rare Saturday not teaching and a rare hour free of rain. As I shopped, I was contemplating how we develop food preferences and how we learn to like new foods. I was also thinking about why we might choose to eat something new.
For my part, I have been trying to eat new foods that are better for me than others I might choose. Another important reason for me to try a new food is that I can grow it, in the space I have and in the San Francisco microclimate. Of course I have to also like it, but I am willing to give a new food a few chances if it meets first two criteria.
So, in the spirit of exploration, I have been trying out gai lon, or Chinese broccoli, a white-flowered relative of collards and Western broccoli. Several Chinese American students have brought it to class potlucks at City College of San Francisco over the past few years, prepared with oyster sauce. But I am a little slow to catch on sometimes, and it took a few times for me to get the point that it is a favorite in their culture and that I really liked it, and also to think: "Oh, we should be able to grow this here."
Last year I grew just a little gai lon, starting in midsummer, and the harvested leafy stems with flower buds were tender and delicious. Following my student's directions, I boiled them a minute, then stir-fried them, adding some oyter sauce to season them.
I have since bought them in the grocery (Sunset Super, which carries many Asian foods), and found the ones they carry less tender and flavorful than the ones I grew. So I have puchased seeds from Kitazawa Seed Company (http://www.kitazawaseed.com) and am growing two varieties, an open pollinated one and 'Green Lance'. They seem to be less susceptible to snails and slugs than bok choy, though they are susceptible to root maggots and cabbage worms. Like sprouting varieties of broccoli, you cut the tender stems and wait for more to grow, repeating your harvest until the plant is spent. I plan to try starting seed from February through August and see how it does in each month.
Today I bought a bunch of gai lon at the farmer's market, since mine is not ready yet. The stems of the farmers market product are thinner than the ones I bought in the grocery, closer to the size of the ones I grew last year, so maybe they will be more tender. Now to see how they compare. I have a feeling that gai lon is about to become a new favorite in my garden cuisine!