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Bok Choy

Bok choy's delicate flavor is featured in soups, stir-fries and appetizers


Whole baby bok choy
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Sign up for a course in Chinese Cooking and at some point you're likely to find yourself happily shredding leaves and chopping up the stalks of a bok choy plant. Cultivated in China since ancient times, bok choy is found in soups and stir-fries, appetizers and main dishes. Bok choy's popularity comes from its light, sweet flavor, crisp texture and nutritional value. Not only is bok choy high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C and calcium, but it is low in calories.

Bok choy - the "white cabbage"

Bok choy, or brassica chinensis to use its scientific name, is classified as a cabbage. Nonetheless, bok choy bears little resemblance to the round European cabbages found in western supermarkets, or to Napa Cabbage for that matter. Its white stalks resemble celery without the stringiness, while the dark green, crinkly leaves of the most common variety is similar to Romaine lettuce. The Chinese commonly refer to bok choy as pak choi or "white vegetable." Another common name is white cabbage.

Bok choy around the world

Although bok choy was introduced to Europe in the 1800's, and is now readily available in supermarkets throughout North America, other cuisines have been slow to embrace it. Bok choy is widely popular in the Philippines, where large numbers of Chinese immigrated following Spain's conquest of the islands in the 1500's. You'll sometimes find bok choy replacing cabbage in pancit, a Philippine noodle dish, and in kimchi, a Korean hot pickle made with garlic and red peppers. Bok choy or pak kwahng toong also appears in Thai recipes. However, you're unlikely to see a piece of bok choy enlivening your Greek or Italian salad anytime in the near future. Ditto for ordering bok choy soups or salads at the local fast food restaurant. While bok choy is grown in the United States and several Canadian provinces, it remains firmly associated with Chinese cooking.

Types of Bok Choy

Mention the word bok choy, and most of us think of the plant with dark green leaves; however, in Hong Kong over twenty varieties are available. You can also find Shanghai or baby bok choy, a miniaturized version of bok choy, at Asian markets. Cookbook author and television show host Martin Yan notes that westerners have a "bigger is better" philosophy when it comes to Chinese vegetables. The opposite holds true in China, where the smaller varieties are valued for their tenderness. An added benefit is that recipes often call for them to be cooked whole, reducing preparation time.

Yet another member of the bok choy family is choy sum or bok choy sum. Distinguishable by its light green leaves and tiny yellow flowers, choy sum - also known as Chinese flowering cabbage - is the cream of the bok choys. Grocers normally sell only the trimmed leaves and stalks of choy sum instead of the whole plant. Expect to pay more for it, in the same way that celery hearts are more expensive than a celery bunch. You may even find choy sum called bok choy sum hearts; in Asian Vegetables, Bruce Cost notes that the word sum in Cantonese literally means heart.

  Bok Choy Recipes
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Shrimp With Chinese Greens Stir-fry
Stir-fried Baby Bok Choy
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Chicken Stir-fry With Bok Choy and Garlic Sauce

Next page In the Kitchen - Bok Choy Cooking Tips

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