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Baby Bok Choy

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B. rapa chinensis, white vegetable

What is it?

This miniature Chinese cabbage has tender stalks without the tough fibers of full-size bok choy, and its bright green leaves have a sweet, clean flavor balanced by a hint of peppery, mustardy bitterness. This vegetable is fast-cooking, versatile, and available year-round.

Baby bok choy is part of a massive family of Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa) plants that have been cultivated since the 1400s. Among these, there are two major subspecies: pekinensis, which forms a head, and chinensis, which grows as clustered stalks. Bok choy (B. rapa chinensis) is the latter. Its Chinese name translates to “white vegetable” for its stalks, which are often white but also can be light green. Baby bok choy can be either a dwarf strain, which is stout and often as small as 2 to 3 inches long, or an immature plant, picked when it’s 4 to 5 inches long and a little more slender. All varieties can be used interchangeably.

Baby bok choy is tolerant of both mild heat and cold, so it grows in temperate climates worldwide, though it’s still a much larger crop in China,  Japan, and Korea than in other parts of the world.

Chopped raw baby bok choy is delicious in salads and slaws. There are many ways to cook baby bok choy, too. Leave small ones whole. Halve or quarter larger ones lengthwise (this also allows browning of the cut sides), and then stir-fry, roast, or sear them. To keep the leaves extra green, cut them off the stalk and cook them for a shorter time. Dress it lightly with soy sauce and garlic as a side dish for chicken, seafood, and pork, or tossed into Asian noodle or rice dishes.

Baby bok choy has a sweetness that is complemented by ginger, miso, and sesame. It also pairs well with fruits, sweet potatoes, carrots, and sweet spirits like sherry that contrast its peppery notes. A hint of something salty and umami-rich like prosciutto, bacon, or a sharp cheese adds depth to dishes made with baby bok choy.

How to choose:

Baby bok choy can be found at Asian markets and well-stocked grocery stores. Look for tight bunches with bright-green leaves that don’t have any wilted or yellow edges.

How to prep:

Before using, rinse thoroughly or soak briefly to remove any dirt that may be trapped in the stalks.

How to store:

It can be refrigerated for up to a week in an unsealed plastic bag.


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