2 Easy Ways to Love Your Chinese Greens

If you've ever walked into an Asian supermarket, marveled at the variety of beautiful greens available and wondered what on earth to do with them - keep reading. Growing up in Malaysia, we were blessed to have the bounty of the Chinese vegetables available to us all year round. We enjoyed gai lan, various mustard greens, choy sum, bok choy, snow pea shoots, Chinese cabbage, snake beans, winged beans or dragon beans, water spinach, mustard spinach, radishes, turnips, lotus root, jicama, taro and I could go on for days. My mum's style of home cooking was a wonderful combination of all the various cultural influences that existed around us but when it came to vegetables she almost always cooked them Chinese style. Her reasons? a. Ease and quickness of prep, b. The Chinese way of lightly cooking vegetables maintains the freshness and nutritional value of them, and c. Mum always enjoyed the crunch of quick-sautéed greens and taught us to love the same. In most Indian and Malay cooking (the other two main cultural influences in Malaysian cuisine), vegetables are often cooked to within an inch of their lives. The vegetables are murdered, massacred and mutilated beyond recognition and I'm pretty sure that all nutrition-related intentions for eating healthy can be forgotten. You may as well be eating potato chips. This is not to say that I don't enjoy the incredible vegetarian feasts that are served on banana leaves at Indian restaurants all over Malaysia - trust me, a banana leaf vegetarian lunch is high on my list of favorite meals and a life-changing experience for those of you who have yet to experience it. However, on a daily basis and on weekdays when time is a commodity nothing beats cooking veggies the Chinese way. I can whip up a delicious veggie side dish in 15 minutes or less, while something else is cooking and so can you! My husband tells me that he never loved vegetables until he met me, and my four-year old LOVES her greens. He's my husband and has to say such things - she, however has no filter and is brutally honest. Tonight, as we were eating a dinner of soy sauce chicken, jasmine rice and blanched baby bok choy with garlic oil, she said "The bok choy is the best part!" There's no reason to serve boring, bland, blah veggies - trust me, anyone can make these dishes. There are definitely more complicated, time-consuming ways to cook vegetables Chinese-style, but these two preparations are designed to be quick and easy, and get you into cooking Chinese greens regularly. Take a look at these simple instructions, go to your favorite Asian supermarket, get some greens and try your hand at cooking them. Give yourself a few tries - in no time at all, you'll be a superfood, veggie-cooking machine.

Easy Chinese Greens, Style 1 (serves 3 - 4 as a side dish)

1lb Chinese greens (Gai Lan or Chinese Broccoli shown in these pics) 3 tablespoons peanut oil 5 garlic cloves - minced or sliced thinly into garlic chips Vietnamese fish sauce, oyster sauce or soy sauce (optional)

Salt to taste

1. Mince garlic or slice into garlic chips. Depending on how I feel, I use both methods pretty interchangeably. If I'm tired, lazy or crunched for time - chips. If I'm enjoying a glass of wine while cooking and pretending to be a famous chef on my own tv show, I mince away. IMG_27342. Separate leaves from stems, particularly if the greens you are using have tough stems. Cut leaves and stems into bite size pieces. Try to keep the pieces the same size, however there's no need to be a stickler for perfection (oh, please Mum, I hope you're not reading this!) IMG_27263. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Add garlic and salt. Sauté for about a minute until fragrant. Be careful of the temperature of your wok at this point - with so little stuff in the wok, the risk of it getting too hot too quickly is high. Turn it down to medium if you feel it's too hot. This just takes a couple of tries and experience to get the hang of it. We want to make sure the garlic cooks and releases that great flavor into the oil, but we don't want it to burn. If by any chance the garlic burns, please start over. The bitterness of the burnt garlic will make the dish inedible. Once the garlic is fragrant and your kitchen smells divine, add only the stems. Give them a few stirs, then add a couple of tablespoons of water - the steam will help them cook. Cook for about three minutes, adding small amounts of water to generate some steam. IMG_27554. Add the leaves. At this point, add whatever other seasonings you like - oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce. Just a teaspoon or so of any one of these is enough. Two quick stirs to mix the seasonings through and you're done. The leaves literally cook in about 15 seconds. You'll know they're done when they turn a bright, beautiful green and are slightly wilted.

Easy Chinese Greens, Style 2 (serves 3 - 4 as a side dish)

1lb Chinese greens (Baby bok choy shown in these pics) 3 tablespoons peanut oil 8 garlic cloves - minced or sliced thinly into garlic chips Vietnamese fish sauce, oyster sauce or soy sauce (optional) Salt to taste

1. Peel and mince garlic. No garlic chips for this recipe - only finely minced garlic will do. IMG_31842. Slice each baby bok choy in half lengthwise, from bottom of stem to tip of the leaves.

3. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add baby bok choy and cook until bright green - about one minute depending on size. Work in batches if you need to, to avoid over-crowding. As you're removing them from the pot, arrange them in a dish in a nice pattern. Sometimes I use a large round dish. Here they are in a square pyrex dish.

IMG_3186 IMG_3192

4. In a wok or sauté pan, heat the oil over high heat. Add minced garlic and about a half teaspoon of fine salt, and turn down to medium. Stir the garlic, keeping a watchful eye for when it begins to brown. As it begins to brown, you have to really baby it - the key is medium heat and moving it around in the pan a lot. Once it turns a gorgeous nutty, brown color, add whatever seasonings you would like and remove from heat. I generally don't add any seasonings, and prefer it with just the oil, garlic and salt. It's deceptively simple, but incredibly delicious.

IMG_31935. Pour the garlic, oil and seasoning mixture slowly over the baby bok choy, making sure to get some on every piece. I've taught this recipe at a number of cooking classes, and it's always a class favorite. The crispy garlic takes on a slightly nutty flavor and it's amazing how something so simple can be so good. If you're looking at this, and you're not compelled to eat it - geez, you must be from another planet!

IMG_3200And here's the same dish made with mini bok choy, which seem to be popping up at Asian markets everywhere these days. In this version of bok choy, the stems are very tender and thin so the cooking time is cut down to almost nothing - drop these in the water, turn around to get some tongs and begin fishing them out. Happy cooking and happy, healthy eating! - Auria
Auria's Malaysian Kitchen: Over 2,000 Served!

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