Bok choy has the fabulously crisp texture one expects from a member of the cabbage family with a fresh, grassy flavor that increases in nuttiness as you cook it. Bok choy is widely enjoyed in Chinese and other Asian cuisines. It's typically prepared by stir-frying, roasting, or braising, but it can also be eaten raw. It's sometimes also known as Chinese white cabbage.
What Is Bok Choy?
Bok choy is a cruciferous vegetable, which means that it's a member of the genus Brassica, along with vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Specifically, it's known as Brassica rapa, sub. chinensis, a subspecies of Brassica rapa. It's closely related to rapini (broccoli rabe), napa cabbage, and turnips.
In structure, bok choy is made up of elongated leafy stalks that radiate out from a bulbous central stem, similar to a bunch or head of celery, and about the same length (although a full-size bok choy has a wider diameter than a bunch of celery). The leaves are dark green, sometimes ruffly and sometimes flat, and the stems are either white or a lighter green, depending on the variety.
Sometimes bok choy is harvested when it's immature and sold as baby bok choy. Baby bok choy can range from 3 to 6 inches in length. It tends to be a little bit sweeter and can be chopped like larger bok choy, separated into leaves, or cooked whole.
Bok choy is a common ingredient in Chinese and other Asian cuisines, and it can be braised, stir-fried, and roasted. The entire plant is edible, and other than separating the stalks and rinsing them, there is little prep work involved.
How to Cook With Bok Choy
The quickest and simplest way to prepare bok choy is to stir-fry it in a hot skillet or wok with a small amount of oil for 3 to 7 minutes. The leafy portions cook more quickly than the stems, so some people like to add the leafy parts of the stalks toward the end of cooking.
Braising is another great way to prepare bok choy, either on its own, in a flavorful liquid, or added to a braised meat, as the long, slow, moist heat helps to tenderize the crunchy stalks.
Roasting is yet another popular cooking method. You can roast either whole or chopped stalks, or halve the entire bok choy and roast it that way. Bok choy also goes well in soups such as Vietnamese pho.
Baby bok choy can also be cooked using any of these techniques, whole or halved, or steamed.
And like other cabbages, bok choy can be enjoyed raw. It's particularly delicious in salads, and is excellent for making slaw, finely chopped, combined with some shredded raw carrot and sliced scallions, and tossed in a light vinaigrette.
What Does It Taste Like
Bok choy has a crisp, crunchy texture and a slightly bitter, mineral flavor, similar to other cabbages, as well as a slight nuttiness that comes out during cooking. Baby bok choy, on the other hand, has a bit more sweetness than its mature version. The older, larger bunches have more bitterness and its spiciness, similar to mustard greens, starts to develop. Bok choy pairs well with soy sauce, sesame, chili paste, and aromatics such as ginger and garlic.
A 100-gram serving of bok choy is about 95 percent water, and provides 13 calories, 1.5 grams of protein, and negligible fat, along with 2 grams of carbs and 1 gram of dietary fiber. It is a source of vitamins A, K, and C, as well as beta-carotene.
Bok Choy Recipes
Here are a few recipes that feature bok choy, both the regular and the baby versions.
Where to Buy Bok Choy
Bok choy is commonly sold at grocery stores, supermarkets, and farmers' markets. Asian grocery stores may have more varieties available. Look for fresh, vibrant bunches and avoid any that show any browning or wilting leaves. Unlike other greens, bok choy doesn't lose a ton of its volume when it cooks, so a large bunch will serve two to four people.
Like all leafy vegetables, bok choy should be prepared and eaten as soon as possible after purchasing, at its most fresh and crisp. You can store bok choy in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, loosely wrapped in plastic, for two to three days. After that, the leaves may start to wilt and the stalks lose their crunch. If it was freshly harvested and bought at a farmer's market, you can keep it for up to a week.
There are two main varieties of bok choy, regular and Shanghai. Regular bok choy has white stalks along with darker, crinkly leaves, whereas Shanghai bok choy features leaves that are smoother and oval-shaped, with light green stalks. Regular bok choy has a slightly more mineral flavor, while Shanghai is milder and sweeter. Both types are available in their immature or "baby" versions.
Cabbage, Chinese. Fooddata central, United States Department of Agriculture