I’ve got a bias for bok choy. Here’s my story: As a young teenager living in Honolulu, I was eager to learn as much as I could about cooking, in particular the Asian dishes that I had come to love. I was curious about much of my new “Hawaiian” cuisine, including the unusual little green leaves I often found in my food at Lung Fung restaurant, our favorite Chinese hangout. It was neither a collard nor a turnip-green, and nothing I remembered seeing as a child in Louisiana. At first I thought it was seaweed, but soon learned it was Chinese cabbage, also called bok choy.
At the time, one of my favorite Island dishes was sweet and sour pork, and I was determined to make my own version. So I pulled from our bookcase the only Chinese cookbook my mother had. It was a Chinese-Kosher cookbook from 1963. I turned to the index in the back of the book and there I found the category of Pork, and underneath it read the words, plain and clear, “You shouldn’t know from it!” (Meaning that pork is not Kosher.)And so, I had no choice but to move on to other categories where I promptly discovered a vast new “pork-less” world of appetizers, rice dishes, stir-fries and vegetables, including bok choy, that unusual green from the restaurant. Armed with the aid of my Chinese-Kosher cookbook and my Mom to drive me to the store and pay for my ingredients, I was soon on my way to a whole new lesson in Asian cooking.
Bok choy, like other cruciferous vegetables, is nutrient dense and known for containing special compounds that support health. Although classified in the cabbage family, it neither resembles nor tastes like any of the cabbages we are used to. The stalks look like white celery and the leaves more like broccoli leaves or dark Romaine lettuce. In China, it’s called “Pak Choi” meaning “white vegetable.” Here at home, you’ll mostly find either common bok choy, characterized by its large white stalks and crinkly green leaves, or baby bok choy, my personal favorite, a tiny resemblance of the larger version, only with small, light green stalks and tender baby leaves. Both varieties are worth a try and can be a delicious addition to many a meal, whether Asian, Mediterranean, European, American or otherwise.If you’re ready for a simple-to-cook, mild-tasting leafy green addition to your healthy menus, here’s where to start:
Try it chopped fine and added to salads. Or try this recipe for Grilled Steak with Thai Summer Salad.
Add it to smoothies and vegetable juices.
Use it in stir-fries.
Try it with tofu or tempeh. You will love this recipe for Griddled Sesame and Garlic Tofu with Wilted Bok Choy.
Pan-sauté with fish filets like we did with recipe for Miso-Glazed Catfish and Bok Choy.
Turn it into side dishes with other veggies such as mushrooms and carrots like this recipe for Bok Choy with Carrots and Sesame-Orange Dressing or this recipe for Baby Bok Choy with Celery and Mushrooms.
Steam it and serve over hot cooked grains.
Pair it with shellfish such as shrimp or scallops. This recipe for Sesame Scallops with Tangerine and Bok Choy is a great place to start.
Try it steamed or sautéed with white beans, chopped tomatoes, minced purple onion, favorite cheese or sliced tofu for a healthy, delicious meal.
Here’s a simple recipe for Baby Bok Choy with Sweet Chili Sauce and Garlic.
Grill it and serve as a side dish to poultry, beef, lamb or fish. This recipe for Grilled Chili-Garlic Swordfish and Bok Choy does just that.
When purchasing bok choy, look for firm, smooth white stalks and dark, crisp greens. If it’s baby bok choy you want, look for light green stalk with firm leaves and no yellow or brown marks. Store in a plastic bag and use within 4 to 5 days. Remember, you can eat bok choy stalks raw with dip or chopped fresh for salads. Otherwise, depending on your recipe, you’ll want to cook it quickly so the stalks stay crisp and the leaves get tender. For stir-frying, add stalks first and green leaves a minute or two later, towards the end of cooking.Are you a bok choy buff? Got a favorite recipe? I’d love to hear!