Some foods have perhaps been unknown to you. Many such foods will only become familiar as your personal cooking expands beyond the familiar local foods. One such food is bok choy.
Cultivated in China since ancient times, bok choy is found in soups and stir-fries, appetizers and main dishes. Introduced to Europe in the 1800s, bok choy is now grown in the United States and several Canadian provinces and is readily available in supermarkets throughout North America. However, bok choy remains firmly associated with Chinese cooking.
Bok choy’s popularity comes from its light, sweet flavor, crisp texture and nutritional value. Not only is it high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C and calcium, but it is low in calories. Bok choy, or Brassica chinensis to use its scientific name, is classified as a cabbage, but it bears little resemblance to the round European cabbages found in western supermarkets. Its white stalks resemble celery without the stringiness, while the dark green, crinkly leaves of the most common variety is similar to Romaine lettuce.
When purchasing bok choy, look for a plant with firm stalks that is free of brown spots. Wrapped in paper towels and stored in the vegetable crisper section of the refrigerator, bok choy should keep for up to a week. When the time comes to start cooking, you’ll find that bok choy is extremely adaptable. Boiling, steaming, and stir-frying are all possibilities. With full-sized bok choy you’ll want to separate the leaves from the stalks, as the thick stalks have a longer cooking time. Rinse both well and drain, then shred or cut across the leaves, and cut the stalks into small slices along the diagonal or as called for in the recipe. When stir-frying, a good basic method is to stir-fry the bok choy for a minute, sprinkle with a little salt, then add a small amount of water (about 3 tablespoons per pound of bok choy) cover, and simmer for 2 minutes. Adjust the seasonings if desired, adding a little sugar during cooking, or stirring in sesame oil at the end. Whichever cooking method you choose, be sure not to overcook the bok choy—the stalks should be tender and the leaves just wilted.