Lifeskills: How to Cook Baby Bok Choi

One of the best things about food in China is learning just how good vegetables can taste. Who knew?Bok choy is one of my favorite vegetables to cook. Not the great big heads of 白菜 bai cai (literally, white vegetable, aka Chinese cabbage) nor the immature, baby, version of the plant the Southern Chinese call 小白菜 xiao bai cai (small white vegetable) but the similarly sized, light green vegetable bunches that we call baby bok choy in the States. Eight or nine times out of ten, the term 青菜 qing cai (green vegetable) got me what I wanted in China, though that term could refer to a whole host of different leafy greens.

This is what I'm talking about.

Anyway, this is how to cook that lovely vegetable. It’ll work for just about any other substantial leafy green.
Have on hand:

  • Bok choy (remember, this boils down quite a bit so buy more than you think you’ll want to serve)
  • salt
  • sesame oil
  • oyster sauce
  • soy sauce

Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil.
Cut the ends off the bok choy to separate into individual leaves, and wash these.
Blanch the bok choy leaves, a handful or two at a time, in the boiling water for ~30 seconds. Remove from the pot and set aside in a colander placed in the sink or in a large bowl to catch drips.
Toss out the water and, over *low* heat, add a tablespoon or so of sesame oil to the pot. Be sure the heat is low, as sesame oil has a very low smoke point. Add a couple good-sized globs of oyster sauce and a dash or two of soy sauce. Mix these together well and let a bit of the moisture boil off. Add the blanched bai cai back to the pot and stir to coat. Et voilá!

I serve this with just about every Asian dish I make. You just can’t get enough dark leafy greens in your diet. It’s especially good with my famous Whole Pink Fish with Orange Juice and Cumin or Pai Gu (Spare ribs) in Black Bean Sauce.

Let me know how this works out for you and what you pair it with!

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Dim Sum and Applause

We took my parents out for dim sum last week. It was an impromptu affair, as we suddenly found ourselves near the International District around lunchtime with time to kill. I’m not too familiar with the Seattle restaurant scene (in my defense, I’ve never really been an adult in this town) and phone calls to my go-to Canto-friend went unanswered (rant for a future post: why NO ONE picks up their cell phone in the States anymore) so we kinda just parked the car around 6th and Dearborn and decided to wing it.

We almost went into the promisingly named Ocean City Restaurant & Night Club when I spotted a gaggle of Canto-grandfolk chattering away animatedly on a street corner. We passed them and stopped for the light to change (this IS Seattle, after all…best not to jaywalk here). This gave me the moment’s pause I needed to muster up boldness, double back, approach the group, smile and, in my best gutteral slur greet them with a: “M’ho yisee, ngomen yiu yumcha. Bindoh ho?”

And then the heavens opened and angels sang because they didn’t give me I-Don’t-Speak-English Face. We did have to carry out the rest of the conversation in Mandarin, but they understood my opening line and directed us down the street to a place called Honey Court Seafood. The light changed, our little party of Westerners moved off down the street with many a goodbye smile and head-bob, and the Canto-grandfolk burst into a spontaneous round of applause. Really. They did!

I love Canto-grandfolk.

Honey Court doesn’t look like much from the outside, and the hubs speculated (in typical Southern China Expert Expat style) was probably owned by one of our newfound friends’ family members. He may well have been right, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t about to spoil this glorious linguistic exchange by letting my new friends see us walk into any other establishment. They might’ve thought I didn’t understand them.

The dim sum wasn’t half bad, though. In addition to the requisite har gao and shu mai and char siu bao, which were consumed too rapidly to be digitally documented, we had these:

    

Sadly, our dim sum lunch could not be considered a complete success because we were unable to procure a plate of lok bak gou 萝卜糕, which is, of course, China’s greatest contribution to the culinary arts. This, along with eliminating the opportunity to practice food characters, is why I’m not a fan of the dim sum cart system. Oh well.

A couple days later, we were telling a Cantonese 华侨 friend about our dining adventure (and my linguistic triumph). His only question: “How long did you wait in line?”

No more than five or ten minutes, we told him.

He snorted. “Food must not have been good, then. Good place, you wait hour, maybe hour and half.”

I’ll do better next time.