Friday, August 13, 2010

Focus: BOK CHOY (Brassica Rapa var. Chinensis)

Bok choy is a delicately flavored Asian cabbage, native to China, where it has been eaten for over 6,000 years!    It is sometimes known by names such as Chinese cabbage, pac choi, bok choi or bak choy - and so people can get confused over the many varieties and names.   Some people refer to it as Chinese chard.  Both the stems and the leaves are edible and you can use bok choy in any recipe calling for Swiss chard.  Very small bunches are called baby bok choy and may be cooked whole or cut in half - braised, steamed or grilled.   Sometimes you will find bunches with small edible broccoli-like florets called flowering bok choy. 

Bok Choy is very commonly found on Asian restaurant menus.  It is still considered a "specialty vegetable"  but that is changing as more and more American households discover its charms.   It has a mild and sweet taste,  is very nutritious and can be eaten either raw or cooked.  It can be used in stir fries or added to soup - allow about 1/2 pound per serving because it cooks down considerably.  The stalks can be used like celery.

Here are ten ideas for how to use Bok Choy from the Fruits and Veggies More Matters website (our federal tax dollars at work)

One cup of raw chopped or sliced bok choy has only 10 calories.  It also has one gram of protein, two grams of carbohydrates and one gram of dietary fiber.   One cup contains 50% of the daily requirement of vitamin A, 50% of vitamin C and 7% for calcium.  Like most fresh vegetables - it is very low in sodium - 45 mg per cup.

Storage and cleaning
Store your bok choy in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator up to a week.  Don't wash it until ready to use.  To wash regular sized bok choy- separate each stem and rinse well. Make sure the stalks are clean, because dirt and grit can accumulate near the bottom insides of the stalks.  Just rub under running water or if the dirt is stubborn, use a soft vegetable brush to clean the stalk.    

Cut the leaves from the stalks or ribs.  Slice stalks into pieces on the diagonal - usually into 1/2 to 1 inch slices.   Cut leaves into strips - about one inch wide.  The leaves will cook more quickly than the stalks.  The smaller the slices, the quicker they cook.   Don't overcook bok choy - it will get watery.   Half inch slices of stalk, covered and boiled in a small amount of liquid, will cook in 4 minutes.  One inch slices of leaves will cook in about two minutes.  If steamed, stalks will cook in 6 minutes and leaves in 4 minutes.  Two cups of raw sliced leaves will yield about 1/2 cup cooked greens.  When I stir fried a medium bunch - 4 cups sliced stalks and 4 lightly packed cups of strips of leaves- I ended up with 3 cups cooked vegetable - about six servings.

Serving suggestions (These come from the Featherstone Farm Cookbook - Tastes from Valley to Bluff)
Swirl leaves and stems into stir fries

Use tender stalks raw with dip or spread with peanut butter as you would with celery

Wilt in a salad as you would spinach, with warm bacon dressing

Braise or stir fry with mushrooms - the flavors combine well

Thinly slice or shred raw bok choy for a crunchy Asian salad with ramen noodles (use a sesame-ginger-soy vinaigrette)

Basic stir fried bok choy (without mushrooms)
Stir-fried bok choy with mushrooms (adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
Pour 1/2 cup boiling water over 6 dried black or shitake mushrooms.  Stir and let soak about 30 minutes.  Strain the soaking water and save.  Cut the softened mushrooms into 1/4 inch slices.
Cut 1 1/2 to 2 pounds bok choy - stalks and leaves -  into one inch pieces.  Keep stalks and leaves separate.
Warm in a small saucepan: 1 cup chicken stock, 1 T. soy sauce, 1/2 t. sugar
Mix in a small bowl: 2 T. mushroom soaking water, 2 t. cornstarch, 1/2 t. ground white pepper, 1 T. Shaoxing wine (this is a Chinese cooking wine and worth having around your kitchen.  It is easily found in Asian markets.  Joy of Cooking says you can substitute 1 T Scotch Whiskey.  Sherry would do too.)
Heat 2-3 T. peanut or other oil in a wok or large skillet.  Cook mushrooms and bok choy stems about four minutes over high heat, stirring often.  Add leaves and chicken broth mixture.  Cover and steam about 2 minutes.  Uncover.  Quickly stir in the cornstarch mixture, bring to a boil to thicken.  Add 2 t. toasted sesame oil.  Serve.
(variation - add one teaspooon each of minced garlic and ginger to the bok choy stems when stir-frying.)

Japanese noodles, tofu and bok choy
This is a good recipe that can be found at  Good for summer - not too heavy.  While you are there you can check out other bok choy recipes.

Simple steamed bok choy
Steam about a pound of bok choy until tender - about 5 minutes.  (You can slice stalks and leaves before steaming or steam whole.)  Cool.  Mix with a simple marinade of 1 T. soy sauce, 1 T. sesame oil, 1 T. rice vinegar and 1 t. sugar.  Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.  Serve as a side dish with noodles or rice.

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