From the soft leaves and chubby stems of bok choy to crunchy Chinese cabbage, Asian greens offer an array of flavours and textures to liven up your winter table.
There are dozens of Asian greens to taste and discover so don’t be afraid to admit you’re overwhelmed when you step into the produce aisle of your supermarket or when you drop in to your local farmers’ market.
They are all great, inexpensive and quick to prepare, but it does help to be armed with some basic knowledge to help you tell your bok choy from your choy sum.
That’s why we have picked out the most common varieties that you’re likely to find and provided notes on what they are, how they taste, how to buy them, and what to do with them in the kitchen.
Bok choy (also known as pak choy) has small green leaves that are tender and crisp, while stalks are crunchy, firm and juicy. There are usually two sorts of bok choy available: a white-stemmed one with dark leaves and a pale green stemmed one with softer leaves. The flavour is very mellow, with its own unique mild, peppery spice that is similar to cabbage.
How to Cook
When preparing bok choy, separate each of the stalks prior to cooking. Because of its soft leaves and stalks, bok choy cooks very quickly. If cooking bok choy in a wok, be sure to add it as the last ingredient to avoid overcooking it and causing the leaves to wilt.
Bok choy is best when stir-fried, braised, steamed, or simmered in soups. Leaves are also delicious when chopped and eaten raw in a salad.
Chinese Broccoli (Gai Lan)
Chinese broccoli has a flavour that is not dissimilar to regular broccoli but is stronger and slightly more bitter. It has wide, flat leaves and stems like asparagus – tender but with some resistance.
How to Cook
Because of its thicker stems, Chinese broccoli takes longer to cook than the more delicate Asian greens like bok choy. It’s best to remove the outer husk of the stalk, as this will make it tender when cooked. If using in a stir-fry, blanche the stalks before tossing in the wok to ensure it cooks fully.
Chinese broccoli is best when blanched and steamed and served simply with oyster sauce, or blanched and stir-fried.
Choy sum is often referred to as Chinese flowering cabbage due to the small yellow flowers on the tip of its leaves. It has crunchy stems and flavourful flowers, which have a hint of a mustard-like bite.
How to Cook
Prepare choy sum as you would when preparing bok choy to avoid overcooking it.
Choy sum is often served at room temperature and dressed with a small amount of sesame oil or soy sauce. It is also a great addition to stir-fries and soups.
Chinese Cabbage (Nappa Cabbage)
A very popular ingredient in Asian cooking, Chinese cabbage has a delicate, mild, and slightly sweeter flavour than that of the common green cabbage. It has a firm and crunchy texture when raw and a soft and juicy texture when cooked.
How to Cook
Chinese cabbage is a very versatile ingredient. It is often cooked in stir-fries, wilted in soup, boiled in a hot pot, pickled in kimchi, and minced as a filling for dumplings. It is also great when shredded finely and added to salads, slaws and wraps.
HOW TO BUY
When choosing Asian greens, look for crisp stalks with bright green, shiny leaves.
HOW TO STORE
Store Asian greens as you would store other greens but for best flavour use within three days of purchase. Generally, both the leaves and stalks can be eaten, but be sure to trim the stalks to remove any fibrous outer husk.
Now that you are an expert in Asian greens, it’s time to get cooking. Here are our favourite green-powered recipes:
Five Spiced Sticky Braised Pork Belly from Bluetrain
Wok Fried Waygu Steak from Quanjude
Braised ‘Tung Po Style’ Pork Belly from Red Emporer
Pan Roasted Snapper with Bonito and Asian Greens from Chiswick at the Gallery
What Else to Buy in June