L.A. Farmers Market Guide: A small forest of organic Asian greens

Chayote vines
Chayote vines from Yao Cheng Farm, a 29-acre organic farm in Camarillo that specializes in Asian greens.
(Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times)

Are we back at the Alhambra farmers market? We are, as it’s one of the best markets to find Asian greens thanks to the San Gabriel Valley city’s vibrant Asian American community.

Yao Cheng Farm, a 29-acre organic farm in Camarillo, loads tables with them — just-picked greens that include amaranth, its dark green leaves decorated with a painterly splash of magenta, and mounds of chayote vines that rise from the tables like tiny forests. (No, they don’t sell chayote itself.) The vines, leafy and tendrilled — sometimes called dragon whiskers — are the object of desire, fronting the central table and piled high near the vendor’s scales.

Amaranth’s green leaves have purple accents
Amaranth is one of many leafy greens Yao Cheng Farm brings to L.A. farmers markets.
(Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times)

The farm was founded by Yao and Lisa Cheng, who came to Southern California from Taiwan in the ’80s. “Many people mistake the chayote vine as pumpkin vine or other types of squash vine,” their son Jason said. “Chayote vines are not fuzzy like other squash vines,” he added, and he likes them sautéed with garlic, miso and tomatoes.

The draw of all the greenery is the stir-fry as it’s a fast, convenient and healthful way to translate vegetables to the plate. And although finding leafy greens in impressive mounds at groceries and supermarkets isn’t difficult these days (thank you, 99 Ranch), finding them in such specific diversity, just cut from their fields and certified organic, makes the trek to the market well worth it.

Organic papayas on a table at the Alhambra farmers market
Organic papayas from Yao Cheng Farm, at the Sunday Alhambra farmers market.
(Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times)

What: The green mountains include chayote vines, amaranth, a catalog of choys (bok choy, yu choy, hong choy, tagu choy), watercress, chrysanthemum, dandelion, Taiwanese spinach and a few particularly unusual items — notably Okinawa spinach and Chinese mahogany leaves.

Where: The Alhambra Sunday market, which runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., as well as the Saturday Irvine market and Thursday Thousand Oaks market.

When: Jason Cheng says the chayote vines are usually in season from March to November. Amaranth and most of the other greens are available year-round. They’ll bring yellow watermelons until December and papayas year-round, “except when it is really cold.”

Tip: If you linger at the back of the stall, Yao Cheng likely will be cutting fruit with a jeweler’s precision at an ornate wooden table. Wait your turn and ask for a taste, and he’ll present you with a few slices of papaya, rich and floral and the burnt color of sunset.

Eat your way across L.A.

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