Even though the mizuna wasn't as big as he would like, lacking a thick taproot, Tak Tsunemoto harvested a box worth from his garden plot in Mar Vista. He couldn't wait. On New Year's Day he needed to take the greens to members of a Japanese Buddhist church.
In Japan, New Year's Day is traditionally marked by having the good-luck meal of ozoni, a soup incorporating the pounded rice cake called mochi. Although you will see all kinds of variations, proper ozoni almost always includes stalks of fresh mizuna (Brassica rapa nipponosica, sometimes called potherd mustard). The serrated leaves on the dandelion-type stalk are added at the last minute to provide color and a distinctive flavor, peppery and slightly earthy. The leaves are thin, almost papery, and lose texture if cooked too long.
Native to China, mizuna grows fast and is slow to bolt, meaning it's ready to harvest in less than two months but good for a long time before it goes to seed. It's easy to propagate from seed, even when temperatures dip down to the 40s.
Tsunemoto's plants were smaller than usual because he was late getting them into the ground, missing his usual October planting. He scattered seed in November and transplanted the mizuna when plants were barely an inch high, spacing them about 5 inches apart in rows.
Although entire plants are harvested for New Year's Day ozoni, mizuna, like other mustards, is a reliable cut-and-come-again plant, good for repeated snipping as well as successive plantings. It does well in the mild winters of Southern California, because its normal pests, aphids and white fly, are absent.
Demand for the green is highest around New Year's Day, but this is not just for holidays. Mizuna often is included in salad mixes for its piquant taste.
Getting it: Gardeners will find that "assorted greens" seed packages often will include mizuna. The Quick Stirfry Blend from Renee's Garden (www.reneesgarden.com) is equal parts mizuna, kale and mild mustards. You can find seedlings and seeds at some nurseries, including Sunset Nursery in Silver Lake and Hashimoto Nursery in West L.A.