Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, which means it’s time to start thinking about the ones we love more than usual. There’s no better way to express our love than to introduce a new leafy green vegetable into our diets, right? OK, so I’ll admit that perhaps flowers and candy express that love a little better and more commonly this time of year. However, introducing a new tasty and nutritious food into our meals speaks volumes to expressing our desire to live long, happy, healthy lives with our loved ones as well. This food I’m speaking of is bok choy. You may know it as pak choy, pak choi or bok choi, but however you decide to spell it, bok choy will make a great addition to salads, stir-fries and more at meal time.
Bok choy is in the Brassica, or cabbage, family. You’ve probably seen it in a salad or sautéed in Asian cuisine. It’s a huge staple in China, where it’s been cultivated for 6,000 years. Today, bok choy can be grown all around the world, including our very own East Texas.
Bok choy can be grown as an annual in the cool season. Frosts are tolerated, but hard freezes are not. Bok choy prefers well-drained, fertile soil with pH 6.0 to 7.5 and high in organic matter. It also needs plentiful, consistent moisture.
Bok choy has crisp, white stalks and dark green leaves. In Chinese its name means “white vegetable.” There are over 20 varieties of bok choy; the two most common in the U.S. are the traditional and “baby” or “Shanghai” bok choy. However, if you visit an Asian market, you may see several more of these varieties.
Bok choy is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the world, and it is uniquely beneficial in terms of calcium availability because it’s low in oxalate, a substance that binds up calcium and prevents it from being absorbed. It provides abundant amounts of vitamins A, C and K as well as folate. Being a relative of the cabbage, it falls under the category of cruciferous vegetables, a family of especially nutrient-dense vegetables that contain unique anti-cancer compounds. Like all cruciferous vegetables, more cancer-preventive compounds are produced when bok choy is chopped before cooking. Chop leaf portion into 1/8-inch slices and the stems into 1/2-inch lengths for quick and even cooking.
Try adding bok choy in salads, green smoothies or vegetable juices, or cooked in stir-fries, soups or other vegetable dishes. Unlike some of the other cruciferous vegetables, you can consume virtually all parts of bok choy without much trimming or worrying about problematic textures or cooking times.
Being the food nerd that I am, I always share my excitement about new foods with my lovely wife, Meagan. For her patience in trying so many new foods this year, I think I’ll make her a nice stir-fry with bok choy and other vegetables. Trust me, I’m still going to get her flowers and candy this Valentine’s Day, but I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to introduce a tasty new food to her as well. Perhaps cooking stir-fry at home or even going to an Asian restaurant this Valentine’s Day can help get bok choy in your diet.
For more information on growing or preparing bok choy, please contact your local Extension office.