Here’s a concise guide on how to use bok choy, a versatile Asian green vegetable. Here you’ll find lots of tips, including how to buy and prep it, with links to recipes for using this mild, easy-to-love veggie.
If you like greens or have eaten in Asian restaurants, you’re likely to have come across bok choy. Of all Asian greens — and there are many — it’s arguably the most widely known and available in western markets.
What is bok choy?
The more common form of is also known as pok choy. In the west, the term “bok choy” is sometimes generically used to describe the larger kind, with the crisp white stalks and dark leaves, but varieties of baby bok choy have become more widely available as well.
Bok choy is a type of Chinese cabbage in the brassica (cruciferous) family, which also includes other cabbages, greens, broccoli, and cauliflower. According to a helpful post on the varieties on The Woks of Life:
“Bok choy is actually the Cantonese name of the vegetable (白菜 – báicài in Mandarin, or literally, ‘white vegetable’). Many early Chinese immigrants to the U.S. were Cantonese, which is why that name has stuck! Don’t confuse it with dà báicài (大白菜 – literally, ‘big white vegetable’), which is the Chinese word for napa cabbage.”
Baby bok choy
Bok choy varieties
There are several varieties of baby bok choy. I always think of all the varieties as two-for-the-price-of-one item — a crisp veggie and leafy greens in one neat package. The type that has until now been more common in the average Western supermarket is the kind with the large white stalks and handsome dark green leaves. Most varieties are available year-round.
Baby bok choy has become almost as widely available as the large variety just described. Sometimes known as Shanghai bok choy, it has stems and leaves of a fairly uniform, pale green hue. It can be tiny, the length of a finger, or the size of an entire hand.
If you scour Asian markets here at home, you might find a kind that’s half again as small as the kind of baby bok choy we’re used to seeing. If you’re lucky enough to come across it, simply use it whole in stir-fries.
While many of us are familiar with the two more common varieties, there are at least twenty others in parts of the Asia where this kind of green is consumed more regularly.
Other variants of the choy or choi family: Asian markets, both in their native lands and in American and European cities, are filled with leafy green vegetables that rarely make it to western supermarkets or farm markets.
Some of the most widely used are gai lan (Chinese broccoli) and the “choy” vegetables, which go by varied names like yu chow sum and gai choy. Then there are Chinese mustard greens, and the Japanese greens mizuna and tatsoi. It’s worth going a bit out of your way to find these greens and prepare them simply in your kitchen!
Is bok choy good for you?
Yes, most definitely. This practically calorie-free veggie (9 calories per cup) is a good source of vitamins A and C, and is even a decent source of calcium. Here’s a complete rundown of the nutrition facts for this vegetable.
How to prep bok choy and basic ways to use it
To prepare, bok choy is first stemmed; an inch or so needs to be trimmed off the bottom of the larger bok choy stalks; much less for baby bok choy, perhaps half an inch.
Then the vegetable is sliced, leaves and all. The tiniest ones can just be used whole. Slightly larger baby bok choy can be cut once in half lengthwise; once the baby type gets to be larger than the size of a hand, simply slice it crosswise, leaves and all.
Rinse well! No matter which kind, this vegetable should be well rinsed, as sand often clings to the leaves or hides inside the stalks.
Best in stir-fries, soups, or used raw: Any of the common varieties are equally good raw in salads or very lightly cooked in stir-fries and Asian-style soups. Sometimes simple is best, letting the vegetable really shine, as in this 10 Minute Garlic Bok Choy recipe.
Following is a roundup of recipes with if you want to explore further and make this versatile green vegetable a regular in your repertoire.
Lots of recipes for using bok choy in this roundup
- Do you want more greens? See our Guide to 10 Leafy Greens Everyone Should be Eating.
- Explore more of this site’s Good Food Guides.
Photo at top: IriGri/Bigstock