Bok Choy: The Perfect Winter Veggie, Ready for Chinese New Year

Laura Thomas -- Bok Choy means “white vegetable” in Chinese.
Laura Thomas -- Bok Choy means “white vegetable” in Chinese.

Bok Choy: The Perfect Winter Veggie, Ready for Chinese New Year

A cool weather plant, Bok Choy grows well in Alameda all year round. Bok Choy or Pak Choi means “white vegetable” in Chinese for its shiny white stalks. There are two kinds that can be grown: Canton White, or white Bok Choy, which has large, crisp juicy stalks with crinkly green leaves; and Shanghai, or Mini Bok Choy, a smaller, shorter variety but also crisp and juicy with possibly better flavor.

It can be started by seeds in late summer or late winter while seedlings can be planted as late as October. The plants thrive in local gardens all winter long. Planted in a row, they make a beautiful hedge, each plant like a tiny mandala. They can be grown in part shade in the summer as well, but will require extra watering.

A popular Chinese or Asian vegetable, it’s included in many stir-fry dishes. The flavor is delicate with a slight taste of mustard from the leaves.

Joy’s Chinese mother would often separate the leaves from the stalk and put them in a soup, reserving the stalks for stir fry.
Here are two recipes for simple stir fry preparations, one with a separate dressing, and a meat or protein option for both:

Simple Stir Fry
1 pound Bok Choy stems, washed well to get dirt out of crevices and dried; cut into 1-inch pieces; chop leaves and include if desired
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon high temperature frying oil
2 tablespoons water

Heat oil in frying pan or wok until almost smoking. Put garlic and Bok Choy stems in oil for one minute. Add the water. Cover pan for one minute. Remove and serve.

Dress with soy sauce or oyster sauce to taste and/or a few drops of sesame oil and pepper flakes.

Strips of chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or tofu can be stir fried in the same pan. First, season the meat with a teaspoon of soy sauce, a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper, then lightly dredge in one tablespoon of corn starch. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, heat on high, and stir fry until cooked 1 or 2 minutes. Serve on top of Bok Choy.

Ginger and Scallion Mini Bok Choy
1 pound Mini Bok Choy, wash and dry, cut in half, lengthwise, holding the base intact.
2 small cloves of garlic, chopped fine
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped fine
4 green onions, chopped fine
Dash of soy sauce
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons high heat oil
2 tablespoons water
Garnish of chopped cilantro

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan on full flame. Stir fry Mini Bok Choy with garlic and a little salt for one minute. Add water. Cover and steam for one minute. Put Bok Choy in a platter. In a small sauce pan, heat the second tablespoon of oil to smoking point. Add ginger, green onions, salt, and soy sauce for a few seconds to sizzle. Remove from heat and pour over Bok Choy. Garnish with cilantro.

For Chinese New Year, the Mini Bok Choy prepared in this manner is laid under chunks of poached chicken that is typically prepared in a broth with many ingredients. However, substituting poached sliced chicken breasts would be a simple way to replicate this holiday dish.

Bok Choy is a good stir fry companion to other vegetables from the garden such as carrots, onions, celery, or cabbage. Chop everything in julienne fashion so they will cook quickly along with the more delicate Bok Choy, following the method above.

This vegetable is good in any vegetable soup or to add a vegetable flavor to a strained bone, miso, or chicken broth.

Alameda Backyard Growers (ABG) is dedicated to teaching our neighbors how to grow food. Visit to join the mailing list.