Mustard greens: The brassiest brassica
The mustard plant is a member of the brassica family—that’s right, brother to broccoli, cousin to cauliflower—and may be the brassiest vegetable that finds its way onto our table. Mustard greens grow in a fashion similar to kale, collards and chard, with thick stems and long, broad leaves that fan out from the ground. A locally grown favorite is Red Mustard, sporting purple leaves veined with green —ask for it this week at the Charlottesville City Market, which begins this month (Water Street parking lot, 7am-noon on Saturdays through November).
Without a doubt, mustard greens are spicy, and seem to become spicier as the weather grows warmer. While one will find baby mustard greens palatable in one’s spring salad mix, one could also become unpleasantly inflamed (bronchially, that is) upon ingesting an overgrown summertime leaf.
Tangy mustard greens pair well with unctuous meats such as duck, goose and pork. Cook them quickly to preserve their fiery spirit, and season them with a dribble of vinegar or lemon juice if they are overwhelmingly spicy. Southerners also simmer mustard greens with a ham hock, or dress the cooked greens with warm bacon drippings, to great advantage. Try scattering some mustard seeds elsewhere in your preparations (like in a marinade, or a vinaigrette) so the mustard flavor is multi-dimensional within your meal.—Lisa Reeder
Mustard in the jar
Mustard seeds are borne inside the lacy flowers that hover above the sturdy plant like an incongruous lace cap; they scatter willingly as pollinators brush by, and can be gathered by capping the ripe flowers with a bag or spreading a sheet underneath the plant and waiting for the seeds to drop. Whether powdered, stone ground, or left whole, all prepared mustard begins with mustard seed.
The word “mustard” comes from the Latin mustum ardens, or “burning must.” This must be a reference to the practice of soaking mustard seeds in unfermented grape juice (or “must”) to tame the sulfurous compounds that emerge when the seeds are ground. It is the French practice to soak brown mustard seeds in the juice of unripe green grapes (or “verjuice”) to create the smooth, complex Dijon mustard we know and love.
In general, acidity tempers and fixes the spicy mustard flavor, and hot water (and any other heat, like cooking) will also take some of the sting out. Incendiary Chinese mustard may be made at home using powdered mustard and cold water (and perhaps some soy sauce or rice wine)—its flavor will peak in about 15 minutes, so consume immediately for maximum effect.
American yellow mustard is made from mild, white mustard seed and colored with turmeric; it is also cut with flour and sugar (or high-fructose corn syrup) so that it plays well with children at picnics and birthday parties. Whole grain (or stone ground, or deli) mustard is the standard in Germany, where the condiment is often seasoned with beer, herbs, and horseradish so that it can stand up to the hearty wursts (sausages) and bretzeln (pretzels) of that cuisine. —L.R.
PAIRING MUSTARDS WITH OTHER FOODS
Yellow mustard (American)
Made from: powdered mustard seed, flour, sugar and/or corn syrup, turmeric
Pair with: hotdogs, hamburgers, soft pretzels—ballpark and picnic food!
Sweet and fruit mustards (Mediterranean)
Made from: partially ground mustard seed, fruit juice and/or fruit pulp
Pair with: gourmet sandwiches; antipasto platters with aged cheeses; marinades and sauces
Dijon mustard (French)
Made from: stone ground brown mustard seed, verjuice and/or wine, fruit pectin and/or sugar
Pair with: smooth pates, forcemeats and charcuterie; refined vinaigrettes and marinades; refined sandwiches
Whole grain mustard (German)
Made from: mustard seed and stone-ground mustard seed, herbs, beer and/or wine
Pair with: rustic pates, spicy salami and sausage; rustic vinaigrettes and marinades; prepared salads that want texture (egg, tuna, potato); barbecue sauce; sandwiches on toothy or hearty bread
Chinese mustard (Chinese)
Made from: powdered mustard, cold water, soy sauce
Pair with: dipping sauces, Asian marinades, egg rolls (and other fried treats)
Our kitchen columnist, Lisa Reeder, is a chef and local foods advocate and consultant. Read more about her at alocalnotion.wordpress.com.