Since today is the first day of the Lunar New Year (Year of the Pig!) I thought it would be the perfect time to share three of my favorite Chinese leafy green vegetables – Shanghai bok choy, yu choy and pea tips. Some of the more common vegetables found in Asian or Chinese cuisine such as bok choy can often be found at regular supermarkets, but it is my experience that the best variety and freshest options are found at Asian supermarkets.
All of these vegetables listed below are excellent sources of vitamins A and C and are nutritious, tasty and low calorie additions to any meal. If you are sick of eating the same veggies over and over, I would strongly encourage you to try one of the below options!
Shanghai Bok Choy
I have seen this labeled as baby bok choy (which is actually entirely different) as well as baby Shanghai bok choy but this vegetable is actually Shanghai bok choy and since it’s my family’s favorite, growing up it was just referred to as bok choy. This mild vegetable is enjoyed by many and is great as a side dish for most meals. The flavor is mild with a hint of sweetness. There is no bitterness to this vegetable. I like to rinse the Bok Choy well and cut it into roughly one inch pieces and cook in in a pan sprayed with oil for a tablespoon or two of water and a sprinkle of salt until the thicker bottom pieces are translucent in color and have softened. I also love grilling bok choy. I start by cutting these in half lengthwise, spraying them with oil, seasoning them (I usually just use a sprinkle of salt and pepper on them) and grilling them cut side down 5-10 minutes or until the bottoms are opaque and softened. Bok Choy also works well in broth soups, just add it at the end.
Yu Choy/Choy Sum
This vegetable is super easy to cook and serve in its own but it’s hearty enough that you could cook it with other vegetables in a stir fry. Another popular vegetable that looks similar and tastes similar to yu choy despite it being a bit more bitter is gai lan or Chinese broccoli. Yu choy makes a great dish to serve along side of a Chinese meal or with a protein and roasted potatoes. Yu Choy has a mild taste, similar to that of spinach. I cook this vegetable by heating a couple tablespoons of water in a pan and adding in two cloves of minced garlic. Once the garlic begins to become translucent, I add the yu choy to the pan. I cook it for 5-10 minutes and I season it with salt. You could also add a drizzle of olive over or a squirt of lemon!
Pea Tips/Snow Pea Tips/Pea Leaves
In Chinese cuisine, snow pea tips are usually considered a bit of a treat. I almost always see these on the menu at Chinese restaurants being sold at market price and at in my family growing up, this green s usually saved to go with a more elaborate meal or occasion and not just regularly served with dinner. I love the flavor, simplicity and texture of sautéed snow pea leaves so I buy them much more often. While I love having these alone as a side, I have also used leftovers inside an egg white omelet and inside homemade rice or quinoa bowls with tofu and other veggies. The pea tips have a very mild, pea flavor and are tender enough to even eat raw in a salad. While I usually use mostly water even to sauté my greens, these pea tips get special treatment. After washing and drying these bad boys, I heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a hot pan and then add in my pea tips, season them with salt and wait for them to cook down a bit and turn bright green. When I go to serve them, I empty the entire contents of the pan into the serving dish, including any liquid that was produced during the cooking process as it is super flavorful. These are also typically cooked with garlic in a method similar to how I prepare yu choy, but it is my preference to only season with salt and let the flavor of the pea tips star on their own!
Are there any vegetables or fruits that you and your family eat that may not be considered “everyday” items in American cooking? I would love to hear about it in the comments, I love trying new things!