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Image: Archi Banal
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KaiJuly 28, 2023

Ingredient of the week: Bok choy

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

This dainty, crisp vegetable is quick to prepare and packed with goodness – just don’t get distracted while you’re cooking it.

Bok choy is one of these slightly confusing vegetables with many names and varieties. Also called pak choy (or in some parts, celery mustard, spoon cabbage, or Chinese chard), bok choy refers to both “white bok choy”, with its dark crinkly leaves and white stems, and “Shanghai bok choy”, which is milder in taste, smooth, green head to toe – and generally quite a bit cheaper. 

Bok choy is one of the earliest cultivated vegetables in the world, originating in China around the Yangtze River Delta – which relates to one of Shanghai bok choy’s other names, which translates to “green river vegetable”.  

For such a dainty, crisp, and mild vegetable, it surprised me to find that bok choy is packed with goodness, and not just water. A 100g serving of bok choy (just over half a cup) includes 30% of your daily dose of vitamin A, 54% vitamin C, 44% vitamin K, and a good helping of folate, vitamin B6, and calcium. Delicious, sleek, green, and nutritious. 

Dumpling soup (Photo: Wyoming Paul)

Where to find bok choy

You’ll always find the best variety of fresh greens at a farmers market or Asian supermarket, but for the sake of keeping our main supermarkets in check, here’s how they compare on bok choy price. At New World, a bag of Shanghai bok choy is $3.29, while a single large white bok choy is $4.99. Pak’nSave has the very same options, but their Shanghai bok choy is just $2.49.

Countdown has a bunches of Shanghai and baby white pak choy for $3.79 each, which have the benefit of being plastic bag-free. Over at Supie, a pack of Shanghai pak choy is $2.49, tying with Pak’nSave for best value greens. All of these options are New Zealand grown.

Chilli chicken mince (Photo: Wyoming Paul)

How to make bok choy terrible

More so than most vegetables, Shanghai bok choy is terribly, horribly ruined when overcooked – and it’s so very easy to do. Bok choy should be cooked until light and crisp, with a gentle crunch to its bulbous bottom and bright green leaves. Bok choy should not be a membrane sack of slime with wet green tendrils for leaves – yet so often, it is.

The trick to perfectly crisp, tender bok choy is cooking it so quickly that you’ll think it’s not cooked at all. Once you’ve pulled the leaves away from the bulb and rinsed away any dirt, two minutes of steaming, simmering, or stir-frying will do it. Even searing a halved bok choy bulb in a hot pan with a lid on for one or two minutes gets you there.

This is not the time to pop away to the loo or get distracted by your phone, children or pets. This is the time to watch your bok choy like a hawk, tongs poised, feet planted, ready to swoop in as soon as the leaves are bright green and floppy, and the white stems have lost a little of their raw crunch. Otherwise, your lovely fresh veg will be almost inedible before you know it.

Teriyaki chicken (Photo: Wyoming Paul)

How to make bok choy amazing

Bok choy is popular in many Asian dishes, often included in kimchi, dumplings, raw salads and slaw, and pickles. It’s wonderful on its own with plenty of garlic and sweet soy sauce, and is also the perfect side to Asian-style rice bowls, the green star of stir-fries and noodle dishes, and lovely in fragrant, brothy soups. You’ll find it hard to go wrong pairing bok choy with ginger, garlic, soy sauce and almost any kind of meat or tofu. 

Because bok choy is so quick to cook, it’s a great vegetable to add when you want dinner ready, like, an hour ago. Often when I’m cooking rice and bok choy at the same time, I’ll add the bok choy leaves to the pot once the rice is done cooking, and let it gently cook in the steam for a couple of minutes before scooping it out. Simple.

A few of my favourites are Teriyaki chicken and bok choy on ginger-infused sushi rice; chilli-fried chicken mince, seared bok choy, and a crispy fried egg; and bok choy simmered in a fragrant broth with premade dumplings or ginger and pork meatballs. 

There’s perhaps no other vegetable that feels as fresh, light, and cleansing than bok choy – as long as you rescue it from the heat in time. 

Wyoming Paul is the co-founder of Grossr, a recipe management website where you can create recipes, discover chefs and follow meal plans. 

Read all the previous Ingredients of the Week here.

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