Joys of Bok Choy

Bok ChoiOne of the most beautiful sights in the summer garden is the deep, rich green color of bok choi leaves, bunched like a bouquet, standing above the creamy white stalks that support them. The form and intense shades of the plant almost — almost — keep us from reaching down and cutting it off at ground level. There’s only one thing we like better than growing bok choy in the garden: the sight of this cabbage family member chopped, stir-fried (maybe with some garlic) and heaped next to a dollop of brown rice.

Bok choi or pak choi, or pak choy is a cool weather crop that does best planted in early spring or late summer. It can be successfully sown mid-season if it’s harvested very young before it has a chance to go to seed (strangely, very cool weather will also cause it to go to seed). Cabbage moths and other pests are more active in late summer so you’ll want to protect your plants with row covers. The secret to growing attractive, loosely bunched, erect choi is to plant sparingly and thin judiciously, allowing as much as eight inches between the larger varieties. The good news is that the thinnings can be added to stir-fry no matter their size.

When using mature bok choi in cooking, remember that the leaves cook more quickly than the stems. Give the stems some time in the pan ahead of adding the leaves (almost at the last moment). Cooked, the stems give up some of that lucious snow-white color but have a texture — nothing like cooked celery — that’s smooth and creamy. Mark Bittman, author of How To Cook Everything, (his blog is a must for cooking and food-issue fanatics) recommends splashing the cooked stems with some virgin olive oil, adding the leaves and then stirring in some capers and chopped, pitted olives (a touch of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar will sharpen the flavors) to create a very sophisticated, Mediterranean-style dish that is great served with barbecued salmon (okay, that last recommendation comes from us, not Bittman). We also like to splash some oil on the choi and throw them on the grill whole, turning frequently and removing them quickly, as soon as the leaves wilt. Hit them with oil again after you put them on the plate. The crunch of the stems and the delicate leaves go well with fish or (vegetarian) any fluffy whole grain including, quinoa, barley and rice. And they look great served whole. Here are some tips for growing pak choi (yes, they love them in the U.K). Also here.

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