Featured Item—Pac Choi
This week’s featured vegetable is a fun one for me.A few years back, I was one of those people that ran from anything that ended in choi.But I could not be a bigger fan of this special vegetable than I am now.Pac choi, also known as Bok Choy, is a part of the cabbage family.It is also known as Chinese cabbage, and amazingly, hails from the same vegetable species as the turnip.It has whitish green stalks protruding from a base and ending in delicate green leaves.The entire plant is edible, which is a good thing, because it is delicious, with a taste halfway between celery and cabbage, but much more delicate than that.
Pac choi can be enjoyed whole, or with leaves/stalks separated.To clean a whole pac choi, rinse under cold water, bending leaves back gently to expose center to water without breaking them from stem (which holds them together).If using pac choi in cut pieces, separate leaves from end and rinse well, then cut (or cut and place in salad spinner to rinse and then spin dry).
Choose unblemished pac choi with firm stalks and crisp leaves.Avoid any that are slimy or limp.Pac choi is best stored, unwashed, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Younger or inner leaves of Pac Choi are more tender than outer or older (large) leaves.Thus the inner or younger leaves are wonderful raw, while the older or outer leaves may be best cooked.
As a traditional Asian vegetable, pac choi stars in any stir-fry.See the recipe below for a tasty, peanuty stir-fry recipe.It is also great in stir-fried rice dishes, which offers a more complete meal.
However, there are many more ways than stir-fry to enjoy this special vegetable. Both the stalks and the leaves are great added to salads, as long as the pac choi is young or otherwise tender.In one cookbook, I found a recipe for a sliced pac choi and fruit salad (apples, grapes and mandarin oranges) with a poppy seed dressing…sounds like a great new way to try the vegetable.I imagine it would be even more delicious with fresh sliced strawberries added from the farm.
Moving in to the cooked arena, both pac choi stems and leaves are wonderful added at the end of cooking in soups/stews. However, the stalks and leaves will require different cooking rates.You want to cook the stalks just until they are tender (usually a couple of minutes) and the leaves just until they are wilted, about 30 seconds, in simmering liquid.
Try braising pac choi whole in your favorite broth, wine, or wine/broth combo.I recently braised whole pac choi in a simmering vegetable broth for 2 minutes, or until the stalks were crisp tender.The result was surprisingly delicious for such minimal preparation.You can also braise pac choi in sake and then reduce the resultant braising liquid to make a sauce.Braised pac choi is great alone or served alongside roasted fish or chicken.You can also steam whole or separated pac choi like you would any other vegetable, tossing it with your favorite vinaigrette or sauce afterwards.
My favorite ways to cook pac choi are as simple and delicious as braising.One great method is roasting or broiling.If the pac choi is fairly young and small, you can do it whole.For larger choi you might want to consider halving or even quartering it.Brush or drizzle well with your preferred cooking oil and roast/broil just until the stalks are crisp tender (don’t get too close to the heat source as the leaves are quite tender and burn easily).
Recently, I discovered the joy of grilled pac choi.It can be tricky to grill this vegetable, depending upon the idiosyncrasies of your grill.For our gas grill, which tends to run uneven and hot, I do the following: Wash and then pat dry whole young pac choi.Brush the stalks and leaves well with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.Preheat the grill until hot. Turn down burners to low (or if your grill runs unusually hot, you may want to consider putting the back and front burners on low while the middle burner is turned off).Grill, turning frequently (like every 2 minutes), until the leaves are crisp and browned at the edges (but not black), and stalks are tender (about 10 minutes total).
The grill gives pac choi an unmistakable and irresistible smoked flavor that is great on its own, and is even more awesome with grilled meats. I love finishing grilled pac choi with a sprinkle of Parmesan, or drizzling it lightly with toasted sesame oil and sprinkling it with sesame seeds (YUM!!!).See recipe below for a fun and simple way to cook shrimp and pac choi on the grill.
This recipe is a great stir fry for those who love a good sauce (or are peanut butter fans).See note below for instructions on adding in meat, if desired.
Pac Choi and Red Pepper in Peanut Sauce Serves 6
– 4 teaspoons peanut oil, divided
– 3 cloves garlic
– 1/2 teaspoon chili garlic paste
– 2 tablespoons tomato paste
– 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– 1/4 cup natural peanut butter
– 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
– 2 small bunch pac choi
– 2 small red bell pepper
1. In a small saucepan, heat 2 teaspoons peanut oil on medium heat until hot.Add garlic, chili paste and tomato paste.Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes or until tomato paste turns a deep, dark red color.Add chicken broth, sugar, peanut butter and hoisin sauce.Whisk until peanut butter melts and is incorporated into the sauce.Bring sauce to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until sauce is thickened slightly.Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Trim stem end of pac choi to release leaves.Rinse each leaf well to remove dirt.Cut off leaf ends and coarsely chop.Slice stalks into 1/3″ slices, keeping stalks separate from leaves.Seed red pepper and slice into thin slices.
3. Heat 2 teaspoons peanut oil in a large non-stick skillet or wok on medium-high heat until hot.Add red pepper and stir fry two minutes or until beginning to soften.Add pac choi stalk slices and stir fry another 2-3 minutes or until tender.Add chopped pac choi leaves and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 1 minute.Add reserved sauce and bring to a boil.Cook 1-2 minutes or until sauce reaches desired consistency.Add salt if needed (typically only if using no sodium broth).
Note:There is plenty of sauce in this recipe to allow you to serve it over rice/noodles and/or to add more vegetables or meat (chicken works great).If you wish to add meat, cook it first, remove it from the pan into a bowl, and then proceed with the recipe (to stir-fry the vegetables you will want to add more oil).Add the meat back in to the pan when you add the peanut sauce to the veggies.
Hobo packets are a fun, healthful and convenient way to cook meat and vegetables.The foil packet allows the food to cook in its own juices, reducing the danger of drying out as well as the need for adding lots of fattening oils.Plus, clean up is a snap!!Below you will find directions for cooking these packets either on the grill or in the oven.This particular recipe is adapted from Eating Well Magazine, July/Aug 2009.
Asian Shrimp and Pac Choi Hobo Packets Serves 4
– 3 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
– 1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
– 3 tablespoons Mirin rice wine or sherry
– 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
– 2 cloves garlic, crushed
– 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
– 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
– 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
– 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste
– 1 1/4 pounds raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, and patted dry
– 1 cup canned or fresh baby corn, cobs halved (or use fresh/frozen corn kernels)
– 1 medium pac choi, leaves cut and thinly sliced, stalks cut into 1/3″ slices
– 1 medium red bell pepper, julienned
1. Whisk soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin, honey, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, and five-spice powder in a medium bowl until honey is dissolved and fully incorporated.Add shrimp and toss to coat evenly with marinade.Marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
2. Preheat oven to 400, or the grill to hot.
3. Make foil packets by cutting 8 pieces of 14″ x 14″ sheets of foil.Place 4 sheets on a work surface and top each one with a second piece of foil.Using a slotted spoon, place 1/4 shrimp onto the middle of each foil sheet pair, reserving marinade.Top each with 1/4 of the baby corn, pac choi, and red bell pepper.Bring two opposite foil ends together and make several folds sealing them together.Then bring other sides in and fold similarly to form a tightly sealed packet.Repeat with remaining packets.
4. For oven:Place packets on baking sheet and place in oven for 15-20 minutes, or until shrimp is cooked through and vegetables are tender.Be careful when opening hot packets as steam will be released.
For Grill:Set burners for indirect heat.I set the front and middle burners between med and low and the back burner on med and place the packets on the cooler side of the grate (the front).Cover grill and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until shrimp is cooked through and vegetables are tender.Be careful when opening hot packets as steam will be released.
5. While packets are cooking, place reserved marinade in a small saucepan.Heat on medium heat and simmer until marinade has reduced by half, but at least for 1 whole minute.
6.Open foil packets and carefully slide shrimp and veggies with any juices onto plate (it is great on top of rice).Drizzle with reduced marinade and serve.