Was your first encounter with Asian greens pretty confusing (to say the least)? Did you end up with a big bag of leaves that looked more or less the same? It may take some time, and a dozen recipes, to figure out what goes well with what, but these greens are far from being the same thing. Here’s a guide to Asian greens to help you see how each one of them is different and why some greens score more over the others.
To begin with, all Asian leafy vegetables either look or taste similar to Bok Choy – a.k.a Pak Choi, a.k.a Chinese cabbage. You should have no trouble finding this leaf, with a white stem and dark green leaves, at the market all year round. When it comes to cooking, you’ll find that you can prepare Bok Choy in almost any style – boiling, steaming, stir-frying or even deep-frying works well (Most people enjoy a good stir fry with bok choy). It’s often considered two vegetables because both the leaf and the stalk can be consumed. Just remember to separate the two before washing it to ensure it’s thoroughly cleaned.
Here’s a fun fact about Bok Choy: The name originated from the Chinese word for “soup spoon” because of the shape of its leaves.
Try our Hoisin chicken with instant noodles where Bok Choy is used to add that extra flavour.
The next and most versatile green on the list is Choy Sum – a.k.a flowering Pak Choy, a.k.a Chinese flowering cabbage. Choy Sum has mildly green-coloured leaves and stalks, with small yellow flowers. The leaves and stalks can both be eaten. Choy Sum has a subtle, mustard-like flavour and it’s a great addition to any dish. It can be served as a dish in itself or can be sliced and added to stir fries. Choy Sum is delicate, so to experience the full flavour, remember to add it to your dish at the last minute.
Did you know Choy Sum literally means “vegetable heart” in Cantonese if directly translated?!
Try our Hokkien mee to get a sense of the vegetables full flavour.
The third green in the basket is Tatsoi, also called Spinach mustard, Spoon mustard, or Rosette Bok Choy. Tatsoi has dark green spoon-shaped leaves which form a thick rosette. It has a soft, creamy texture with a slightly bitter flavor. It lends itself beautifully to a salad when used raw. Everyone who has used Tatsoi before, loves the zing it adds to a soup when tossed in at the last minute. Just remember to buy only as much as you need. You can’t store it for too long even in the fridge.
For a green that has such a short storage life, the amazing thing is that it can be harvested even under snow!
And finally, a universal favourite – Kailan. It’s also known as Chinese Broccoli or Chinese Kale. It has thick, flat, glossy blue-green leaves with thick stems and green flower-heads on top. Kailan looks like broccoli, but is a bit sweeter in flavour. The leaves or heads can be used in soups and in stir-fried vegetables or meat. What’s better, it only takes a few minutes to cook!
Use some Kailan while making pork ribs the next time and see the difference! It absorbs fats and oils from the dish and lends a beautiful balance to it.
Add these super nutritious, delicious and beautiful Asian greens to your grocery bag the next time you are at the store or the market. And don’t be afraid to ask if you aren’t sure. Happy shopping!
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