Asian cuisine continues to climb the consumer trends ladder, so Lunar New Year is the perfect time to highlight the vibrant greens currently available in Asian markets and select Western grocery stores. From the mildly sweet bok choy to the sharp, pungent mustard greens, we take a look at how you might want to incorporate each of these veggies into one of your meals.
Also known as Chinese cabbage, this cabbage is slightly less bitter than other cabbages, so it easily adapts to added flavours in marinades and sauces. The soft, wrinkled leaves can be used in soups and stir-fries, as a filling in egg rolls, and eaten raw in salads and slaws. It is also the main ingredient in kimchi, a fermented side dish of vegetables and seasonings.
Known as Gai Lan in Chinese, this leaf vegetable features thick, flat, blue-green leaves with thicker stems. It’s similar to, but much smaller than, traditional broccoli. Common preparations include stir-fried with ginger and garlic, or boiled and steamed and served with oyster sauce.
This crunchy bulb-bottom vegetable with tender, spinach-like leaves is mildly sweet, and a great gateway green for those looking to incorporate more Asian vegetables into their diet. It can be served on its own, in a stir-fried side dish, added to soups, or shredded into slaws. Look for bok choy that’s fresh and vibrantly green and steer clear of the ones with soft white stems. Also known as either bok choi or pok choy.
Baby Bok Choy
Smaller than bok choy, and light green in colour, this is the more widely used variety of bok choy. It has a white, crunchy stem and dark green, spinach like leaves.
Shanghai Bok Choy
With light green leaves and pale green stalks, Shanghai bok choy has a milder flavour and more tender texture than baby bok choy but can often be used in the same way. When cooked, the greens will wilt easily while the stalks retain some crunch.
Also known as choy sum, yau choy, yao choy, bok choy sum this dark green-leafed veggie can be used like bok choy and is delicious steamed or stir-fried. The stalks and stems of yu choy are similar to gai lan, but have leaves that have a similar texture to swiss chard or spinach.
Snow Pea Leaves
These may also be labeled as snow pea tips, snow pea shoots, or Dau Miu. While slightly grassier than snow peas, these are crisp in flavour and freshness. With tender leaves and thin stems, they can be consumed fresh in salads and or added to a simple stir-fry.
At their peak from January through April, mustard greens may also be referred to as Gai Choy or Chinese mustard. Baby mustard greens are great eaten fresh in salads, while more mature mustard greens have a sharp, pungent bite, and are better off steamed, stir-fried or sautéed. Blanching before cooking helps to mellow their flavour.
Also known as ong choy or river spinach, the crunchy leaves are very mild and slightly grassy. They taste great when steamed and topped with oyster sauce, or cooked into soups or curries.
With deep green leaves and pale stems, watercress is one of the strongest-tasting salad leaves available, and is laced with a pungent, peppery flavour. Like most of the other greens, they can also be stir-fried and served with sauces and seasonings. In British cuisine, watercress is often incorporated into egg salad sandwiches.
Aromatic and grassy, the flavour of Chinese celery is stronger than that of Western celery, and the stems are thinner, curving into rounded, hollow stalks. This vegetable is often added to soups and stir-fries for its flavour more than its texture.
A favourite vegetable to stir-fry, amaranth greens can be streaked with shades or red and purple. Often astringent when eaten raw, they turn soft and mellow when cooked down and often need nothing more than garlic to slightly embellish them. When purchasing, look for young bunches that don’t display any flowering, a sign they are already too mature.
Important facts to note:
- As mentioned, many of these greens are commonly stir-fried or added to soups.
- Most, if not all, of these greens are stir-fried with garlic, braised in oyster sauce, or simmered in a soup.
- Some of these greens are more common in East-Asian cuisines, but many of them are common in Indian/other South Asian cuisines as well.