Bok choy is one of my very favorite greens. Anytime I’ve had too much rich food, or just not enough vegetables, I start craving bok choy like crazy. I’ve tried to grow it, without a lot of luck, but luckily I can get it pretty easily – at Uwajimaya, in my Full Circle box, even at the QFC near my house, and for a few weeks in the summer, from the single farmer at my “farmer market”.
I was talking with friends recently and they mentioned bok choy making them feel like they’re going to choke, which means next time we’re out for an International District lunch I won’t feel so guilty about trying to get all of the bok choy, but also that I need to share my favorite way to cook bok choy at home: a stir fry with plenty of garlic, ground pork, and basil. This stir fry works well with large or baby bok choy, choy sum, pea shoots, asparagus, green beans…you get the idea. The key is to cut the green stuff – whatever you choose – into bite size pieces, and separate the softer, leafy pieces from the thicker pieces so they can cook separately, and so it’s more manageable to eat.
I may not be able to convince you to love bok choy the way I do, but this ought to give a reluctant bok choy eater a bit more enthusiasm.
Bok choy and pork stir fry
Almost endlessly adaptable, but written to serve two with leftovers for one lunch the next day. A teaspoon of five spice powder added during the pork cooking stage makes an interesting variation. Substituting black bean garlic sauce for the oyster sauce is another good variation.
1 large head bok choy or 8 to 10 heads baby bok choy (or other green vegetable), cut into bite size pieces and separated into a pile of the soft leafy pieces and a pile of the thicker pieces
Peanut or vegetable oil
One yellow onion, roughly chopped
Three to four medium cloves garlic, finely minced
Two to three bird’s eye chiles, thinly sliced, or four dried Thai chiles
1/2 lb ground pork
2-3 Tbsp oyster sauce
2-3 Tbsp fish sauce
Handful of Thai basil leaves
1/2 package rice noodles (or enough steamed jasmine rice for two servings)
If using rice noodles, boil the noodles until just shy of al dente, drain, and rinse. You’ll add them to the stir fry at the end. If using rice, steam and reserve for serving.
Heat wok over high heat until lightly smoking, then add a small splash (about a tablespoon) of oil, swirling to coat the wok, followed immediately by the onion and chiles. Stir fry for about 30 seconds or until the onions are beginning to turn translucent around the edges, then add the thick pieces of bok choy. Stir fry for about 30 seconds, then add a quick splash of fish sauce (about 1/2 Tbsp) and continue stir frying for about a minute or until the bok choy is becoming tender but still has bite. Quickly stir in the leafy pieces of bok choy, then add about a Tbsp of oyster sauce and toss to mix well. Stir fry just until the leafy pieces are beginning to wilt, then scrape contents of wok out onto a plate and set aside.
Return empty wok to the heat and heat until smoking again (this time there will probably be more smoke), then add the pork. Cook for about a minute, then stir well and add the garlic and a splash (1/2 Tbsp or so) of fish sauce. Continue cooking until the pork is cooked through, stirring frequently.
If serving over rice, mix the bok choy back in at this point, taste for seasoning and add more oyster sauce or fish sauce as needed, then stir in the basil and serve over the steamed rice you (hopefully) cooked before starting your stir fry.
If using noodles, scrape the cooked pork out onto a plate and reheat the wok. When the wok is smoking, add a healthy splash of oil (approx 2 Tbsp), then add the noodles and a healthy dollop of oyster sauce and stir to coat the noodles, then stir in the cooked pork and bok choy. Stir fry for about 30 seconds or until everything is heated through again and the noodles are cooked through, taste for seasoning and add more oyster or fish sauce as needed, then stir in the basil and serve.
Another good addition to this stir fry is crisped extra firm tofu. My favorite packaged tofu – and yes, I do realize having a favorite tofu is a little weird – is Island Spring, made nearby on Vashon Island, but any good firm or extra firm tofu should work fine. Cut your block of tofu into 1/2 to 1 inch cubes, then place in a single layer on a pan lined with paper or clean kitchen towels and sprinkle with sea salt then cover with another layer of towel. Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes on the counter, or longer in the refrigerator, to drain out some of the excess water. When the tofu is drained, heat a tablespoon of oil in a nonstick skillet and then add the tofu in a single layer. Sprinkle with a bit more salt and allow to sear for a few minutes, until the side of the tofu touching the pan is golden brown. Flip the tofu to get a good crust on the other side. If you’re a perfectionist, keep flipping the tofu until all sides have a good brown crust. If you’re not quite so high strung, crisp the tofu on at least the tops, bottoms, and one or two of the sides, then check for seasoning and sprinkle with salt again if needed. Once the stir fry is done, top with any of the tofu you’ve not snacked on while stir frying, and serve.
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