Also known as pac choi, Chinese white cabbage or Chinese mustard, bok choy was bred from wild brassicas growing in China’s Yangtze River Delta. While its name translates from Cantonese as “white vegetable,” bok choy can in fact grow in a variety of colors, and has long been celebrated in Chinese cuisine not only for its flavor, but also for its medicinal benefits.
Bok choy originated roughly 3,500 years ago in China’s fertile Yangtze River region. Its beautiful color and shape made it a frequent subject for jade carvers. In the 14th century, bok choy was imported to Korea, where it was fermented into the first versions of kimchi. Bok choy was introduced to Europe and North America in the 1900s by Chinese immigrants, who used it not only in cooking but also to treat colds, coughs, and upset stomachs, as well as in a poultice for skin irritation.
Bok choy is high in vitamins A, C, and E as well as a host of minerals including selenium, which plays a crucial role in healing inflammation and infection.
Wrap fresh, unwashed bok choy loosely in a paper towel and keep in an airtight bag in the refrigerator for 3 to 6 days. Avoid washing bok choy until ready to use.
Bok choy is similar to Swiss chard in appearance, taste and texture, and can be used in many of the same ways. Young and tender bok choy leaves are frequently eaten raw, while more mature leaves add a boost of nutrition benefits to soups and stir-fries. Bok choy can also be eaten braised, steamed, or even grilled, and it serves as the foundation for traditional kimchi. Its mild mustardy flavor is a natural pairing with strong condiments such as garlic ginger, soy, hoisin, and vinegar.
Roughly chop garlic, ginger, and scallions, and fry for a few minutes in a very hot frying pan or wok. Slice baby bok choy heads down the center and add to wok with the cut side down. Cook for a few minutes without stirring; when you see the green color deepen, flip halves over to cook the other side. Add any combination of soy sauce, vegetable broth, rice vinegar, sesame oil, honey, and/or chili flakes to taste, and continue cooking over low heat until sauce has thickened.
If steaming or boiling bok choy, pay close attention to the stems. Remove from heat as soon as they can be easily pierced with a fork. Overcooking will lead to an unpleasant mushy texture.