In Southeast Asia, bok choy (a type of Chinese cabbage) is a staple vegetable in hundreds of different dishes. It’s eaten regularly every day, yet the introduction of bok choy into American cuisine with that same regularity has been slow, and many in the United States are still unfamiliar with how to prepare this sweet, nutritious vegetable, and what to make it with. What do you do with this leafy cabbage? Well, as it turns out, there’s quite a lot to do!
First, it’s important (though not overly difficult) to know what to look for when you’re buying bok choy. Though it is a type of cabbage, bok choy does not look the part: instead, the stalk of bok choy looks very much like white celery, and the upper leafy area is not dissimilar from a spinach leaf. Look for bright white stalks that are very firm (like celery), and large, dark green leaves when picking out a healthy bok choy plant. The more vibrant the coloring, the better. Also note that while bok choy is a year-round vegetable, best harvests occur in winter and early spring. Bok choy relies on a yearly freeze (it is during this time that the stalks truly harden and “crisp” – otherwise you end up with a somewhat limp plant). So feel free to buy the vegetable any time, but know that you’ll likely get the best produce during winter and spring months.
Preparing bok choy is also just like preparing celery. Simply cut off the root that holds the individual stalks together about a quarter inch up the stalk, and then wash everything (stalk and leaf, especially near the base of the stalk as this is where dirt will have collected). Then chop your stalks into ¼ – ½ inch pieces. Separate the leaf of the bok choy from the stem; you’ll want to cook stems first because they take longer while leaves cook very quickly, but feel free to incorporate both stalks and leaves into dishes together as this is commonplace in most South Asian dishes.
The flavor profile of bok choy is mild: stalks tend to be a bit sweeter while leaves are a little on the bitter side (though not terribly) – stalks and leaves conveniently compliment each other and go nicely in lots of different types of recipes. In South Asia bok choy is thought of as a “gateway green” (it’s a good choice when introducing children to cruciferous vegetables because it’s sweeter and not overly bitter). AND bok choy can be eaten either raw or cooked, a lot like celery. Here are some ideas for how to get the most out of this delicious and nutritious veggie:
Bok choy makes a tasty, healthy, and incredibly easy side-dish. Chop both the stalks and leaves and sauté in a wok with a bit of garlic, ginger, sesame or peanut oil, and soy sauce. Sautéed bok choy should end up with the same consistency as cooked spinach (so mushy is okay!): throw some red pepper flakes on top and serve!
Tired of raw spinach? So are we. Use bok choy leaves instead! In salads or on sandwiches, bok choy leaves are going to be mildly sweeter than a spinach leaf but will offer the same great nutritional value, beautiful coloring, and a great crunch! Or pair bok choy leaves alongside spinach in a mixed-greens salad – you’ll get some sweetness from the bok choy and some bitterness from the spinach for a marriage made in heaven!
Anything that can be done with celery can just as easily be done with a bok choy stalk. Adorn your bok choy with peanut butter and craisins for an Asian take on the classic Ants on a Log. Or use bok choy on your next veggie platter or crudité with spinach or artichoke dip. Bok choy dipped in hummus makes for a tasty and healthy afterschool snack option. Use your imagination! If celery can do it, bok choy can do it too!
Bok choy is a classic staple in any stir-fry dish. Try chicken, snow peas, red bell pepper, onion and bok choy for a winning combination that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Or incorporate bok choy into your do-it-yourself fried rice to get some greens infused into this classic East Asian comfort food.
At the end of the week, busy families often find themselves making “kitchen sink” dishes: dishes that incorporate leftovers or whatever meat or produce remains in the fridge or pantry. Casseroles, soups and chilis… these are classic “kitchen sink” dishes, and bok choy can be thrown into any of them! Dice up some bok choy and throw it into slow-cooker chili. Or toss some diced bok choy in with a vegetable medley in your next chicken pot pie. Bok choy is so mild and easy to cook, it will really complement a multitude of flavors and work well alongside so many vegetables in whatever dish you’ve got in mind.
Grilled bok choy as a stand-alone side is so tasty, and so so easy. On a hot summer day, toss a large stalk (with leaf) onto the grill, seasoned with a little salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil. Grill until just before it begins to char, turn once, and done! This summer treat is so easy, and tastes great alongside steaks or grilled chicken.
If you’re feeling adventurous with your bok choy, try this fun recipe:
Mix together bok choy, carrots and scallions, then set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients to create dressing. Pour over veggies, serve cold, and enjoy!
These are just a few of the many things you can do with this versatile vegetable. Have fun with it – bok choy is so easy to cook and prepare and tastes great with so many things that it’s hard to go wrong.
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