Monday, May 24, 2010

Ta-Ta: Tat Soi

It was the morning I'd been waiting for since October: the opening of the Seacoast Growers' Market in Portsmouth. Of course, we've been lucky enough to have fresh local root vegetables and greens throughout the off-season, what with our CSA and the monthly winter markets. But I just love being outside at this hilltop market, with its views of the Mill Ponds and the city--even in the rain.

This far north, the May markets are more about seedlings, than actual produce, but I look at it as a preview of the season to come. It's fun to see all the different varieties of heirloom tomatoes and peppers that will be coming my way in July. I was also hoping to find something that would make a tasty lunch on a cool, drizzly day

Amongst the rhubarb and salad greens, I noticed that Wake Robin Farm had some fresh tat soi. I remembered that there was a container of homemade Asian pork stock in our freezer, along with couple of containers of chicken stock. And I also knew we had a stash of Trader Joe's frozen Chinese dumplings. Sounded like all the fixings for a soup of Asian greens. 

Tat soi is a leafy green with a taste that's spicier than bok choy, but not as sharp as mustard greens. Like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale, it's a member of the brassica family. And like its cousins, tat soi is high in minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. It tastes great raw in salads or lightly sauteed in stir fries, but it also has the right texture and  flavor to be the star of a soup.

As the stock was defrosting, I put some minced ginger and garlic and a couple of Thai bird's-eye chilis and lime leaves in an oversized tea ball and put it in the soup to add some Asian spice. (I like to keep a selection of lime leaves and chilis in the freezer in both Portsmouth and Boston so I can add a quick Asian flavor to sauces, soups, and stir fries.) I washed and chopped the tat soi and sliced some carrots and scallions.

When the stock came to a boil, I added the carrots and scallions and simmered slowly until they were tender. I first added the tat soi stems, and when those had softened slightly, I swirled the leaves into the steaming broth along with a package of dumplings. When the soup was ready, I ladled it into some bowls -- making sure everyone got a nice helping of dumplings, and sprinkled some chopped cilantro on top.

You could make this soup with canned or boxed chicken stock -- preferably organic and low salt. You could also add some shittake mushrooms or leftover roast pork or chicken. But on this grey, mid-spring day, the fresh, spicy green flavor of the tat soi itself was just perfect.