In season: Tokyo bekana

David Bentoski of Red Earth Farm in Zebulon first grew Tokyo bekana in 2012. He recalls choosing it because it looked good in the seed catalog and was reported to be heat tolerant. Three years later, he’s got a quarter acre planted and customers who look for it every year.

“Between the repeat customers and the fact that it’s been a hit at our own dinner table, we call this a success,” he says.

Bentoski began bringing the harvest to market in early May. The ruffled leaves form a loose head with a wide white stem like bok choy. Those stems are tender. The plants grow quickly and can be harvested as single leaves, which is how Bentoski brings it to market early in the season. As the plants mature and the heat comes, he cuts the plants as whole heads. The plants may be heat tolerant, but blasting summer temperatures will cut it down until he can start a new crop in the cooler days of fall.

Bentoski and his wife Belinda will have Tokyo bekana available for sale at the Saturday morning Morningside Farmers Market until, as he says, “the classic Georgia heat sets in and exterminates it.” His stepsons Daniel and Erik Wernau staff the farm’s booth at the Saturday morning Marietta Square Farmers Market and are happy to discuss how they enjoy Tokyo bekana at home.

Tender greens like lettuce get to be tough to grow when the weather turns hot. Something like Tokyo bekana can help make that transition from spring to summer leafy greens. When the first field-grown tomatoes begin to show up at market, this is one green that will still be around to make a “lettuce” and tomato sandwich.

Tender young leaves of Tokyo bekana served up as a salad green are sweet and crisp. The more mature the plant, the better the leaves will hold up to a stir fry or saute.

A mature head of Tokyo bekana will weigh a little over a pound. It will hold up for up to a week in the refrigerator, loosely wrapped in something that breathes, such as a linen dish towel.

Robert Gerstenecker’s Tokyo Bekana Wraps

Robert Gerstenecker, executive chef of the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta, is an ardent fan of local produce. This is a recipe he demonstrated at the Morningside Farmers Market. Poaching the chicken in coconut milk infuses the wraps with one more interesting flavor.

1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk

1 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 head Tokyo Bekana, bottom trimmed, 10 outer leaves removed, remainder shredded, divided

2 scallions, thinly sliced

4 carrots, peeled and grated

10 leaves basil, cut into fine slivers

10 leaves mint, cut into fine slivers

1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon finely grated ginger

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil

10 rice paper wrappers

Peanut sauce or ponzu sauce, for dipping

In a medium saucepan, pour coconut milk over chicken and bring to a simmer. Poach chicken until it is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Allow chicken to cool in poaching liquid. Remove chicken and shred. Discard poaching liquid.

In a large bowl, combine chicken, shredded Tokyo bekana, scallions, carrots, basil and mint.

In a small bowl, combine vinegar, olive oil, soy sauce, ginger, honey, and sesame oil. Pour over vegetables and chicken. Cover and refrigerate one hour.

When ready to serve, lay Tokyo bekana outer leaves on work surface. Divide filling between the leaves and roll each leaf into a bundle.

Fill a pie plate with cold water. Dip one rice paper wrapper into the water and let it soak until it just becomes pliable. Lay rice paper wrapper on work surface and lay vegetable bundle in the center. Wrap up burrito style and set aside. Continue with remaining wrappers and vegetable bundles. Serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauce such as peanut sauce or ponzu. Makes: 10

Per wrap: 138 calories (percent of calories from fat, 67), 5 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 11 grams fat (8 grams saturated), 10 milligrams cholesterol, 98 milligrams sodium.

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