If asked to identify bok choy’s vegetable cousins, would you ever guess it’s in the same species as the turnip? Of course, it’s related to other cabbages, too. And it's a bit of a two-for-one vegetable, with its succulent dark green leaves and white stems, all deliciously edible.
In Chinese, the name means "white vegetable," thanks to those white stems. And speaking of names, there's no shortage of synonyms for this veggie, which also goes by Chinese cabbage, pak choi, pak chow, Chinese chard cabbage, Chinese mustard cabbage, spoon cabbage, celery mustard and Peking cabbage.
Originally from China, bok choy is now popular wherever Chinese cooking is enjoyed, and increasingly beyond. It was studied in the Ming Dynasty for its medicinal properties, brought to Europe in the 1800s, and to Japan by soldiers who fought in the Russo-Japanese War in the early 20th century.
Bok choy is a nutritional powerhouse as well as a culinary star—high in vitamins A, C, B6, and K, iron, potassium, manganese, calcium, folate and fiber.
While cultivated in China for centuries, bok choy is now grown in the United States, Canada, and Europe. And there are over 20 varieties available. The most popular have dark green leaves and white, spoon-shaped stems, but others have light yellowish green, frilly leaves or a rosette of dark green leaves close to the base. Varieties include: Mei Qing Choi and Hanakan (compact green varieties), Fun Jen (frilly leaves), Red Violet Tatsoi (purple variety), Chinese Pak Choi (thick white leaf stalks). Baby bok choy (aka Shanghai bok choy) is a more delicately flavored variety, with lighter green leaves.
The distinctive, peppery-fresh (and sweet when just-picked) flavor of bok choy is enjoyed blanched, steamed, pickled and sautéed. Hugely popular in Asian cuisine, you'll find it in chow mein, kimchi, soups, and meat and noodle dishes. The tender leaves can be eaten raw (with a dip) or thinly sliced in a salad, like this Asian Cabbage Salad with Pan-Seared Tofu Steaks. Bok choy is also a classic addition to stir-fries (learn more about making these in Stir-Fry: Simple and Sensational.)
Bok choy is delicious with mushrooms, red peppers, snap peas, shrimp and other seafood (be sure to try it in Vietnamese Pho with Shrimp), bacon, chicken, and nuts like peanuts, cashews and almonds. Sesame oil, soy sauce, and wasabi all complement bok choy's flavor, as do garlic, chili peppers, ginger, curry powder, cilantro, rosemary and garlic.
Choose bok choy stalks that are firm, thick and white, with leaves that are free of brown spots and not wilted. You'll find it fresh in the produce aisle from about mid-June through September.
Store bok choy in the refrigerator in an unsealed plastic (or veggie-storage) bag or wrapped in paper towels for three to seven days. Don't wash it before storing or it may become slimy. Bok choy is more perishable than other cabbages, but it's not a veggie that's likely to go unused for long, is it?
Take a look at Asian Vegetables, Explore the East in Your Own Kitchen to learn about other Asian vegetables.