When it comes to preparing Chinese vegetables, a simple recipe is always best. The key to success with Chinese green vegetables is to preserve the freshness without making them overcooked or overwhelmed with sauces or other ingredients. There is no need for a technically challenging recipe for vegetables; you want to just briefly cook them with the most basic ingredients. We all know that vegetables are healthy and necessary parts of our daily diet, but they don’t have much flavor by themselves and often they are construed as boring to eat.
Vegetables don’t have to be boring; the key to cooking an exciting vegetable dish depends on the creative use of side ingredients and sauces to bring out their taste and texture. Chinese restaurants usually serve vegetables with either a brown sauce (flavored with oyster sauce) or a translucent white sauce. There are so many varieties of Chinese greens, and the most popular ones include:
- 菜心 “cai xin”, literally translated as vegetable heart but is also called the Flowering Chinese Cabbage with reference to its yellow flowers. Its appearance is similar to the Italian rapini (broccoli rabe) vegetable, with tender and delicious green stems. However, the term cai xin can be used to refer to the inner stalks and tips of any Chinese leaf vegetable.
- 芥蘭 “kai lan” or “jie lan”, which is known as Chinese broccoli since it belongs to the same species as broccoli. It is also referred to as Chinese kale because of its thick glossy leaves and crisp, thick stems. Like cai xin, both stem and leaves are eaten, and they also grow vestigial flower heads on their stems. Their stems are generally thicker than cai xin.
- 芥菜 ”gai choy” or ”jie cai”, known widely as Asian mustard greens or mustard cabbage. This vegetable has many different varieties, but they all generally have large broad leaves with ruffles and short, thick, fleshy stems that may form a head or a semi-head. They have a distinct horseradish-mustard flavor that increases in pungency as the plant matures, which makes it ideal for pickling.
- 白菜 “bok choy” or “pak choy”, categorized under the ambiguous term of Chinese cabbage. It has glossy, dark green leaves with long, white fleshy stems. You will most commonly see the full sized white bok choy in the supermarkets, but there are many varieties. Shanghai bak choy (上海白菜) is a shorter less-mature variety with stems that are also green. Then greener variety eventually develops into a smaller version of the original white stemmed vegetable when left to mature; then it is referred to simply as baby bok choy.
For this recipe, I purchased fresh baby bok choy which I purchased from the local market. I made sure that I am not overcooking my vegetables by leaving them too long in the boiling water. Perfectly blanched vegetables should still have some crunchy texture without being limp or wilted. I also recommend that you drain the water thoroughly after blanching, just to be sure that there isn’t any excess water to dilute your tasty sauce. It’s as simple as that, but in reality, not many people can make it right – even in restaurants! Once you have perfected the basic techniques of making this dish, you can go on to cook any Chinese greens tastefully.
After trying this recipe, you will find that vegetables never look or tasted this good!
Your favorite Chinese greens (I used 6 baby bok choy for my dish)
1 tablespoon oyster sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand preferred)
1 tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon cooking oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 dashes of white pepper powder
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon oil
Prepare the garlic oil first by heating up your wok and stir fry the minced garlic until they turn light brown.
Dish out and set aside. For the garlic oil, the garlic will continue to cook in the oil so as soon as they turn light brown in the wok, you should dish it out. Eventually, they will turn golden brown.
Heat up a pot of water and bring it to boil. Add two small drops of cooking oil into the water.
Drop your vegetables into the boiling water and quickly blanch them for about 20-30 seconds (depends on the quantity). As soon as they turn slightly wilted, transfer them out and drain the excess water off the vegetables. Arrange the vegetables on a plate.
In a wok, heat up the cooking oil, and then add the oyster sauce, water, sugar, and white pepper powder.
As soon as the sauce heats up and blends well, transfer and drench it over the blanched vegetables. Top the vegetables with the garlic oil and serve immediately.