Put “baby” in front of almost any vegetable name, and I am sold. Look how small and cute! And quick to cook!
Baby bok choy is no exception, but there’s much more to love about this member of the cabbage family than its diminutive size. Plus, there’s larger bok choy, which I’ll talk about, too.
Bok choy may be a member of the cabbage family, but it’s fairly mild and clean in taste (with maybe a very slight bitter edge), meaning it takes well to a variety of flavors. It’s especially associated with Chinese cooking. As Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst describe it in “The New Food Lover’s Companion,” bok choy “resembles a bunch of wide-stalked celery with long, full leaves.” You may see two varieties at the store: Standard, with white stems and dark frilly green leaves, and Shanghai, which sports more of an ombre green-to-white look as you proceed farther down the head. When shopping for bok choy, the book suggests selecting bunches with firm, white stalks and crisp, green leaves. Store it in the refrigerator, airtight, for up to four days.
Like other vegetables, such as leeks, bok choy can trap grit in between its stems. If you have baby bok choy, Cook’s Illustrated suggests cutting them in half and swishing them in a few changes of water. For larger bok choy, you can trim the bottom inch of the head and then pull it apart as you would a head of lettuce so you can wash the leaves and stalks. For both types, consider getting rid of excess water in a salad spinner.
How you think about cooking bok choy also depends on the size. Baby bok choy can be grilled or sauteed in halves for an especially eye-catching presentation. Steaming briefly with a little water in a covered pan works well, too. Even if you chop them into pieces, you don’t have to worry as much about the stalks and leaves cooking at different rates since even the stalks on a baby bok choy soften quickly. Larger heads are a little different, and Cook’s recommends giving the stalks a head start, whether you’re stir-frying or braising the bok choy.
Here are a few recipes from our archives to get you started on your bok choy journey:
Lemon-Ginger Baby Bok Choy, above. Here’s a quick and light dish that makes an easy side to go along with almost any protein. Briefly steaming the bok choy in the covered pan makes it tender but not mushy.
Stir-Fried Tofu With Mushrooms, Red Pepper and Bok Choy. Bok choy also gets the stir-fry treatment in this dish, but the addition of tofu and other vegetables turns it into a main course. You can marinate the tofu the night before to make the day-of prep even faster.
Mashed Potatoes With Bok Choy and Crispy Onions. If bok choy is a bit of a hard sell in your house, this mash-up (couldn’t resist!) might turn skeptics into converts. The recipe calls for optional red chile flakes, but a dash of hot sauce would be great, too.
Cod With Ginger Beer and Bok Choy. You can have this dish on the table in less than half an hour. Ginger lovers will appreciate the double dose of spicy flavor, in the form of the freshly grated root and a bottle of ginger beer. Bok choy forms a bed for the pan-fried fish.
Grilled Baby Bok Choy With Miso Butter. Bok choy is sturdy enough to hold up to grilling (the leaves are dressed separately), and it only takes about 10 minutes over the fire to do. The miso butter provides an appealing color and flavor when slightly charred.
Soy and Orange-Marinated Pork Chops With Bok Choy. Bok choy has a natural affinity for Asian ingredients. Here, the it picks up the flavors left behind in the skillet after cooking the pork chops.
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