Get to Know Bok Choy—the Crunchy Cruciferous Veggie You Need to Try
In Cantonese, "bok" means "white" and "choy" means "vegetable"—but that's only part of the story. Some have more rounded leaves; some are curly or frilly. Some have light green stems. There are both dwarf and standard varieties. While the many varieties of bok choy vary in color, taste and size, it is all essentially the same vegetable—a refreshing combination of crisp, succulent, white spoon-shape stems topped by juicy, dark green leaves that have a touch of sweetness.
What is bok choy?
Bok choy is a member of the brassica or cruciferous family of vegetables that includes cabbages, broccoli, kale, collards, mustard greens, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. It is considered a nonheading cabbage because it grows in a cluster of stems and is sometimes referred to as "Chinese cabbage" (as is napa cabbage).
Pictured Recipe: Chinese Ginger Beef Stir-Fry with Baby Bok Choy
How to buy bok choy
Choose bok choy with firm, moist, unblemished stems and bright green leaves. Avoid wilted or bruised leaves that have yellowing or browning, holes or tears. The term "baby bok choy" refers both to dwarf varieties and to immature versions of standard varieties. Baby bok choy has a slightly milder flavor, a tenderer texture and a higher ratio of green leaves to stem than does mature bok choy.
Pictured Recipe: Baby Bok Choy with Sherry Vinaigrette
How to store and prep bok choy
Store bok choy in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag for up to 1 week. Wash right before using.
For baby or dwarf bok choy, cut a very thin slice from the bottom of the cluster of stems. Halve lengthwise, then plunge the halves repeatedly, leaves-down, into cool water until the base of the stalks is clean and free of sand and grit. Change the water if necessary. For mature bok choy, trim a slice off the end of the base of stems. Remove and discard any bruised or blemished leaves. Separate the stalks in a similar fashion to celery. Rinse each stalk thoroughly, checking the base of the stems, which are the most prone to retain sand and grit.
Pictured Recipe: Spicy Noodles with Pork, Scallions & Bok Choy
Bok choy nutrition
One cup cooked bok choy has 20 calories and 3 grams of fiber. This cruciferous cousin of broccoli is loaded with nutrients that help keep your skeleton strong, such as calcium, vitamin K and potassium. Swap in 2 cups of raw bok choy for lettuce in your salad and you'll rack up as much calcium as you'd get from half a glass of milk.
How to cook with bok choy
Bok choy is widely used in Chinese cooking, frequently in soups, salads, stir-fries and fillings for spring rolls, potstickers, steamed buns and dumplings. Its mild flavor shines when it's stir-fried in sesame oil with a little garlic and/or ginger and a splash of soy sauce or a sprinkle of salt. Although it can be braised or stewed, it is best when exposed to a short blast of high heat—roasted, steamed, stir-fried or stirred into hot soup right before serving. Overcooking destroys its fresh flavor and texture. Here are three simple methods for cooking bok choy: (check out our favorite Bok Choy Recipes here).
Drizzle 4 halved, trimmed baby bok choy (about 1 pound) with 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil and gently toss to coat. Season lightly with coarse salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat for 4 minutes; turn and grill until lightly charred, 4 to 5 minutes more.
Place 4 halved, trimmed baby bok choy (about 1 pound) in a steamer basket over simmering water. Cover and steam until the stem ends are just tender when pierced, about 6 minutes. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon melted butter and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon minced fresh chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Thinly slice 2 pounds of trimmed bok choy. Heat 1 tablespoon each canola oil and toasted sesame oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add 3 cloves of minced garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the bok choy and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds. (Check out more Bok Choy Stir Fry Recipes here.)