Growing Exotic Vegetables

Try growing something new (and tasty!) in your garden with this exciting menu of foreign vegetables.
Pak Choi 'Shanghai,' courtesy Kitazawa Seed Company

Pak Choi 'Shanghai,' courtesy Kitazawa Seed Company

Pak Choi 'Shanghai,' courtesy Kitazawa Seed Company. Popular in South China, this green-stemmed variety of bok choy is tender and tasty. The plants are prolific and heat tolerant. Saute it with garlic and soy sauce, or snip the leaves to add to salads. This "baby" choy can take light frosts.

Photo by: Image courtesy Kitazawa Seed Company

Image courtesy Kitazawa Seed Company

Pak Choi 'Shanghai,' courtesy Kitazawa Seed Company. Popular in South China, this green-stemmed variety of bok choy is tender and tasty. The plants are prolific and heat tolerant. Saute it with garlic and soy sauce, or snip the leaves to add to salads. This "baby" choy can take light frosts.

Gardening is a hobby that never gets old, because you can always find something new and exciting to grow. If you’ve never tried exotic vegetables, you’ll find they add different and delicious flavors to your salads, sauces and other dishes. 

So forget those tired old tomatoes. Plant a Thai Dragon pepper or pickle (yes, pickle) a jar of aromatic ‘Miike Giant’ mustard leaves. Bake an Asian eggplant; they have a milder, more delicate taste than Western varieties and don’t require peeling. Toss a handful of ‘Taichung 13’ (a delicious sugar pea variety) into your next stir-fry, as cooks do in China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia and other countries. There are many nutritious, delicious exotic veggies to try. 

Here’s a sampler to get you started:

‘Shonan Red’ – This red bulb onion was developed in Tokyo. It has a crisp, sweet, mild flavor and adds crunch and color to salads and sandwiches. It’s also good when chopped and mixed with thinly sliced cucumbers, marinated in vinegar and seasoned with a little salt, sugar and some dried chili flakes. Plant the seeds in late summer or early fall; the onions mature in 160 or more days.

‘Red Garnet’ – This amaranth is also known as Chinese spinach or yin choi and is prized by chefs for its attractive burgundy stems and greenish-red leaves. Not recommended for cold climates, but the plants grow well in hot temperatures. Sow the seeds in late spring to early summer. You can begin harvesting microgreens (used like sprouts or a garnish) or baby leaves in about 20 days. Allow 35 to 60 days for the plants to fully mature.

Taiwanese Cabbage, Hybrid ‘Li-Sun Sweet’ - ‘Li-Sun Sweet’ is a tender, sweet cabbage that performs best in cool climates. The heads are large and flattened. Serve it to eat fresh, or cook it. Asian cooks often ferment it for kimchi (a spicy pickled cabbage that is known as the national dish of Korea).

Edible Burdock, or Gobo, ‘Takinogawa’ - The crispy, mildly pungent roots of this plant are considered delicacies. Sow the seeds in spring to harvest from late summer to fall. The roots of this hardy biennial can grow up to 4 feet long and one inch across. Eat them when they are young like celery, or cook them when they are mature like carrots. In Japan and China, the steamed stalks are eaten like asparagus and the plants are believed to have curative properties. Grow edible burdock in deeply tilled, sandy soil.

‘Collective Farm Woman’ – An old Ukrainian muskmelon variety that is popular in the Black Sea area. The yellow gold melons have a sugary-sweet, white flesh and are said to taste like a blend of peaches and pineapples. The melons ripen early, in 60 days, so this variety is recommended for gardeners whose growing season is short and cool.

‘Crispy Colors Duo’ Kohlrabi – A staple of Asian and Eastern European gardens, kohlrabi is hard to find across most produce markets. This vegetable’s name is a combination of German words for cabbage and turnip, according to Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Garden. The flesh is tender, mild and sweet. It can be stir      fried, baked with butter and lemon, or served in a side dish prepared with fresh herbs, sour cream or yogurt. ‘Crispy Colors Duo’ bulbs are purple or green-skinned, with white flesh. Sow the seeds in early spring and expect a harvest in about 60 days.

Growing tips:

As with any vegetable, for best results, choose varieties that are recommended for your garden zone. 

Read about the plants you want to grow. You’ll find information on the seed packets, on seed sellers’ websites, and in gardening catalogs. This will help you know how to grow and harvest varieties that are different from those you’re already familiar with. 

Many exotics thrive in full sun and hot climates. If you don’t have the perfect garden spot, try giving them a microclimate in a raised bed. Place the bed near your house or another structure: the walls will help reflect light and heat. You can also grow exotics in containers and move them around as needed. 

Sources for exotic vegetable seeds:

Lockhart Seeds; no website, but call 209-466-4401 for a catalog

Next Up

It's Not Too Late to Grow These 11 Tasty Plants

Didn't plant those tomatoes? Say hello to your fall friends: radishes, broccoli, greens and more! 

How to Plant a Three Sisters Garden

Native Americans devised the ingenious Three Sisters garden, a method whereby beans grow up corn stalks while squash plants serve as ground cover.

How to Plant Bare-Root Vegetables

Discover the best way to plant asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries in your garden.

Grow Sweetshrub in Your Garden

Add a fruity-spicy scent to your yard or garden when you plant this attractive, almost carefree shrub.

Growing Winter Vegetables

Save money and grow food even when it's cold outside by growing your own fresh crop of winter veggies.

Get Nursery-Schooled: Buying Tips

Shop smarter by choosing plants from the garden store that will thrive.

Garden Plants and Flowers

Learn how to discover which plants underscore and help define a specific garden design style.

How to Plan a Vegetable Garden

HGTV can make vegetable garden planning less intimidating with tips on garden design and suggestions on how to choose vegetables to grow.

Plan Your Fruit and Vegetable Growing by Season

Know which seasons to sow, plant, and harvest with this crop planner from HGTV.

Ways to Extend Your Harvest This Winter

Get the most out of your garden this winter with these simple tips.

Go Shopping

Spruce up your outdoor space with products handpicked by HGTV editors.


House Hunters

6:30am | 5:30c

House Hunters

7:30am | 6:30c

House Hunters

8:30am | 7:30c

House Hunters

9:30am | 8:30c

House Hunters

10am | 9c

House Hunters

10:30am | 9:30c

House Hunters

11am | 10c

House Hunters

11:30am | 10:30c

Home Town

12pm | 11c

Home Town

1pm | 12c

Home Town

2pm | 1c

Home Town

3pm | 2c

Home Town

4pm | 3c

Home Town

5pm | 4c

Home Town

6pm | 5c

Home Town

7pm | 6c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Celebrity I.O.U.

8pm | 7c

Celebrity I.O.U.

2:59am | 1:59c

$50K Three Ways

4:30am | 3:30c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.

Related Pages