Asian Demo Garden

Asian Demo Garden

Part of Ep. 1203 From Distant Shores Pledge Special

Community Garden Coordinator Bill Wright at the Green Bay Botanical Center explains what Hmong vegetables grow best in any state garden.

Premiere date: Jul 21, 2004

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Ryan:
I think one of the greatest gifts immigrants have brought to Wisconsin is food. Not just new recipes and new ways of cooking but new varieties of vegetables and fruit. We're in the Asian Trial Garden in Green Bay Botanical Garden. And I'm with the Community Garden Coordinator, Bill Wright. Bill, you're in charge of this whole project, tell me a little about it.

Bill Wright:
There was a survey done a few years ago of the Hmong population in Green Bay. And one of their concerns was not being able to buy seeds for the type of vegetables that they want to grow. So, we worked with a company in California to find the source for oriental vegetable seeds. And we planted the trial garden here in order to test the various vegetables to see how they do in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Ryan:
So partially the hardiness, because obviously, we have a different climate.

Wright:
A different climate and to check the taste because climate can affect that.

Ryan:
Well, how's it going? You've got some beautiful eggplant already.

Wright:
Things are going very well. We had five different kinds of eggplant we trialed. The one that came in the earliest was this Purple Ball. The one that came in the latest was the Round Green Thai Eggplant.

Ryan:
And yet, they're almost the same, interesting.

Wright:
Almost the same size. The longer ones, I like using them for stir-fry. Because of the shape, you can cut them in cross-sections and have uniform sizes so it all cooks at the same rate.

Ryan:
So all of these are going to work for any of us. But the Hmong are appreciative of these particular cultivars.

Ryan:
That's correct. I've also got this. What is that?

Wright:
These are mustard greens. They're a very important part of the Hmong diet.

Ryan:
How do they use them?

Wright:
Usually in stir-fry, or else in soup.

Ryan:
So, it's a cooked green.

Wright:
It's a cooked green like you'd cook turnip greens or beet tops. Mustard greens are a cool-weather variety so it's a spring and fall-type crop. You can start harvesting the greens at about 30 days or you can let them grow until they're mature, at about 60 days. The mustard greens tend to get more pungent as they mature. One thing that I like that the Hmong make is called spicy or pickled mustard greens where they're soaked in a brine solution. I'd compared it to their version of sauerkraut. Because of the mustardy, pungent flavor it gives it an excellent taste.

Ryan:
They're not growing this to make mustard. They're eating it either pickled or cooked in a stir-fry or something.

Wright:
Right, they're cooking the greens.

Ryan:
And you've got some other, unusual crops. This is one that I had to pick. Is this a bean?

Wright:
This is a bean. These are called asparagus beans or yard-long beans. In a warm, tropical climate the vines will grow ten feet long, the beans will get up to 36 inches long. The longer they get it seems the more spongy they are. So, they're best if they're picked when they're between 12 and 14 inches long. I cut them up in about two-inch segments put them in a casserole with a little bit of water and steam them in the microwave. They have an excellent nutty flavor. They're an excellent bean.

Ryan:
Something I should add to my yard next year.

Wright:
Yes, definitely.

Ryan:
Tell me about this. These are normal cucumbers?

Wright:
These are Chinese cucumbers. Chinese cucumbers are generally thinner and longer than ours. They also have a very mild flavor not as strong as some of the ones we have.

Ryan:
And they work well in your climate?

Wright:
They work well in this climate. They grow well, just like any other cucumber. One of the things the Hmong do is take the cucumbers, grind them up, add sugar and freeze it and serve it as a treat for the children in the summertime.

Ryan:
That's what this is?

Wright:
That's what I made there, so give it a try.

Ryan:
Mmm! I'd eat that for dessert! That's great.

Wright:
I think it's very good.

Ryan:
Okay, what else?

Wright:
We also planted some lemon grass this year. Lemon grass, we did not grow from seed. But lemon grass, we started it by going to an oriental vegetable market and buying the lemon grass and then planting it. It took root.

Ryan:
Oh, really?!

Wright:
We started with four, two of them took root. We have the lemon grass growing in the garden. You can use primarily the bulb part that's in the ground. The bottom four to six inches you can use that as an herb in cooking. You can use this part, but take it out of your soup because it's like a bay leaf. It's very tough and woody.

Ryan:
It's a seasoning, but not edible in itself.

Wright:
Right, this part. The bulb part is edible. This part, you want to take out.

Ryan:
Well, and you said they use it in tea, too?

Wright:
You can make lemon grass tea, which is what we have there. This has a distinct lemon flavor

Wright:
It's not an overpowering lemon flavor.

Ryan:
It's not quite as citrus-y.

Wright:
A very light flavor.

Ryan:
It's not going to grow outside. Could I overwinter this as a houseplant?

Wright:
Yes, you could dig it up, overwinter it as a house plant. Then, divide the bulbs next year and you might have five or six lemon grass bulbs.

Ryan:
After danger of frost, pop it back in the ground. Okay, one last one. What is that?

Wright:
This is Bitter Melon. It's not really a melon, at all. It's more like a warty cucumber.

Ryan:
Yeah!

Wright:
But they do grow well here. They grow slowly, so far.

Ryan:
Is this ripe?

Wright:
This is a little early for it right now. They should be picked in another week or two. I was at the market in Madison one time and a lady watched me buy these. She came up to me and said: "How are you going to cook that?" I explained that I had a recipe with pork. And she said, "I've been eating this all my life. "First, before you bake it, boil it in water for about four minutes. "Throw the water away. Then boil it again and throw the water away." She said it will reduce the amount of bitterness because you won't like it the way it is.

Ryan:
So, it's an acquired taste that we don't have.

Wright:
It's definitely an acquired taste. It's something you want to try once but it's not something I'd grow in my garden on a regular basis.

Ryan:
It's for people who are into Hmong or Thai cooking. Otherwise, we might just grow it because it's neat looking.

Wright:
That's correct.

Ryan:
Okay. You've given all of us some great ideas for our gardens next spring. Thank you very much.

Wright:
Thank you.

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