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Groundwork: Bok choy

We here at Green Spring Gardens can be in denial no longer. Surrounded by foliar Technicolor, the kitchen garden volunteers and I blissfully ignored the inevitable. But Wednesday’s night frost chilled our sanguinity. We were forced to accept the end of a successful growing season. Tomato and pepper foliage was blackened and any remaining wizened fruits were beyond culinary magic. Into the compost pile they went.

Spicy-Sweet Stir-Fried Bok Choy. (Cynthia A. Brown)
Recipe Included

Once the decaying summer crops were removed, the garden was rejuvenated. Instead of bare soil, multicolored vibrant leafy blankets astounded visitors. Swiss chard, endive, lettuce, radicchio, arugula and mustards shrugged off the winter chill and inspired the volunteers to dream of soups, vegetable-flecked pastas and stir-fries. White-ribbed bok choy caught my eye and I cut several heads to tuck into my harvest basket.

Donna, the kitchen gardener, had direct-sowed the bok choy seeds the first week in September. The Asian green matures in 45 to 60 days, but small heads can be harvested earlier. Bok choy, also called pak choi (Chinese for "white vegetable"), thrives in fall’s crisp, chilly temperatures. If planted in spring it will bolt when temperatures rise above 79 degrees. Spring or fall, its major pest is the cabbage moth. Bok choy isn’t as riddled with holes as European cabbages are, but it is still munched on by the caterpillars. Dusting occasionally with Bt will help keep the heads unblemished.

Bok choy is a member of the brassica family that has been cultivated in China since ancient times. Its sweet flavor and crisp texture are similar to European cabbages, but botanically it is more closely related to a turnip. Introduced to Europe in the 1800s it is still more commonly used in Asian cuisines than any other. Eaten raw or cooked it is low in calories and high in nutrients.

Barry Sears, author of "The Top 100 Zone Foods," says it is the healthiest type of “cabbage” you can eat. It has the same amount of calcium as a cup of milk and a significant amount of the nitrogen compounds, indoles, which are believed to deactivate estrogens that can stimulate growth of tumors.

So this fall, instead of grabbing a head of broccoli, try something new. Bok choy can be boiled or steamed, but I like to braise sliced stems in spicy sweet sauces. Paired with ginger and garlic it makes an excellent, simple stir-fry. A Shangai casserole dish, Lion’s Head Meatballs, a combination of large pork meatballs with braised baby bok choy, is a special addition to holiday meals. You could even use large leaves to make stuffed cabbage rolls.

This fall I will mourn the loss of my favorite scarlet orb, but my despair will be soothed with a big bowl of spicy-sweet stir-fried bok choy.

-- Cynthia A. Brown

P.S. Adrian Higgins will return next week.

Spicy-Sweet Stir-Fried Bok Choy
6 servings

Serve over hot rice. Adaped from a recipe in the November 2009 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce, such as Kikkoman's brand
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 clementines (may substitute one 11-ounce can mandarin orange sections, drained)
1 1/2 pounds bok choy (1 large or several small heads)
3 tablespoons oil (olive, peanut or canola)
1 pound London broil or round steak, trimmed of fat then cut into thin, bite-size strips
1 1/2-inch piece peeled ginger root, minced (1 tablespoon)
1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and ctu into bite-size pieces
1 medium sweet onion, cut in half and cut top to bottom into bite-size pieces
Leaves from 4 to 6 stems cilantro, finely chopped (1/4 cup)

Combine the orange juice, sweet chili sauce, hoisin sauce, soy sauce and cornstarch in a small bowl. Peel the clementines, then cut off the tops of the fruit sections to extract any seeds. Separate the sections, discarding any white pith.

Trim the tough root ends of the bok choy; separate the leaves and wash thoroughly. If the bok choy has been grown organically, watch for squiggly protein (caterpillars). Separate the leafy sections from the stems either by cutting or ripping them. Cut the stems crosswise into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl. Stack the leaves and roll tightly, then cut into 1/4-inch slices (chiffonade) and place in a separate bowl.

Heat a large saute pan or wok over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles and evaporates when dropped in. Add 1 tablespoon of oil, swirling to coat the bottom of pan or wok. Add half of the meat; stir-fry for about 2 minutes, until the meat is evenly browned. Transfer to a plate.

Repeat with the oil and remaining meat, then add the cooked meat to the plate.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and swirl it to coat. Add the ginger, bell pepper, onion and pieces of bok choy stems. Stir-fry for about 4 minutes, until the vegetables are crisp tender. Reduce the heat to medium, then add the orange juice-cornstarch mixture. Stir to coat the bok choy and onion, then add the leaves and stir-fry just until they begin to wilt.

Return the meat to the pan or wok and cook for 1 minute, then add the seeded clementine sections, stir-frying gently so they retain their shape. and simmer for a minute. Add the cilantro and toss to combine.

Divide among bowls, preferably with some hot rice.

Per serving: 241 calories, 18 g protein, 19 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 43 mg cholesterol, 661 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 13 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  November 9, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Groundwork , Recipes  | Tags: Cynthia A. Brown, Groundwork, bok choy, recipes  
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Next: Holiday favorites: Vegetables


I just like saying "bok choy" -- even more than eating it :-) BTW Nice photo!

Posted by: KathyMJ | November 11, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

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