Chinese white cabbage, popularly known as pak choi or bok choy, is a nutritious and versatile vegetable. It has been grown in China since ancient times. Although there are many varieties – in Hong Kong alone 20 kinds are available – the most common, best known and most popular is the one with a long, smooth, milky-white stem and large, crinkly, dark green leaves, found in many supermarkets today. Pak choi has a light, fresh, slightly mustardy taste and requires little cooking. In China, it is used in soup, stir-fried with meats, or simply blanched. When cooked, the leaves have a robust, almost spinach-like flavour, while the stalks are sweet and mild with a refreshing taste. Pak choi is often said to resemble Swiss chard in taste. however, in fact, it is milder and juicier – and much more popular – than chard!
Look for firm, crisp stalks and unblemished leaves. The size of the plant indicates how tender it is: the smaller the better, especially in the summer, when the hot weather toughens the stalks. Look at the bottom of the stalk; if it has a hole, it means that the pak choi is old and fibrous, and best avoided.
Store pak choi, wrapped tightly in paper towels, in the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator. It will keep for up to 1 week.
The best way to rinse pak choi is to cut it according to the recipe, then rinse in at least two or three changes of cold water. Drain thoroughly before cooking.
Pak choi is delicious cooked in olive oil and garlic. Use it as you would spinach or cabbage in fillings or stuffings.
A close relative is Shanghai pak choi, often called baby pak choi. Use it in the same way as pak choi.
© Ken Hom and reproduced with his kind permission.