This week's look at what's new, bountiful or mysterious in the produce aisles:
As far as cabbages go, baby bok choy are pretty darn irresistible.
Cuteness quotient aside, baby bok choy are more tender and incomparably milder than big bok choy. They've also got it all over their adult counterparts when it comes to relative ease of cooking. Whereas the adult counterpart demands a sort of tag-team approach -- the crunchy stems must be separated from the leafy greens and cooked far longer -- the diminutive bunches can be braised whole.
Baby bok choy are also surprisingly lightweight and possess a far greater leaf-to-stalk ratio, an economical choice for anyone in the habit of lopping off the leaves and tossing the stems in the trash.
True to its name, these diminutive bunches are immature bok choy or a bok choy dwarf variety. They are typically available year-round at Asian markets and some supermarkets.
NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION: Bok choy, which belongs to the cabbage family, contains the cancer-thwarting compound common to cruciferous foods. It is also a viable vegetable source of beta-carotene, calcium and folate.
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE: Take only those bunches with vibrant green leaves that bear no trace of yellowing or wilting. Figure a head or two per person. Place in a plastic bag -- but do not close -- and refrigerate for no more than three days.
HOW TO PREPARE: The mild sweetness of baby bok choy is easily overwhelmed. Reserve the pungent black bean and chili stir-fry sauce for another night and rely instead on simple techniques that emphasize the vegetable's innate flavor.
Halved lengthwise, brushed with peanut oil and tossed on the grill. Left whole and braised with chicken broth or with sauteed garlic or toasted sesame oil. Steamed and drizzled with toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds. Or thinly sliced and stirred into a Vietnamese chicken broth, a chilled soba salad or summer minestrone just prior to serving. As with common bok choy, baby bok choy can be steamed, braised or tossed into any stir-fry.
Perhaps the simplest approach is to coarsely chop the leaves (and stalks, if desired) add them to a hot skillet slicked with peanut oil and stir-fry (with slivered garlic if desired) until wilted and, for those so inclined, barely crisped about the edges. Tuck the greens into an egg-white omelet, toss with pasta or transfer to a serving dish.
-- Renee Schettler