While I am an avid fan of most types of Asian cuisine, I have always been rather underwhelmed by bok choy. Perhaps it’s the similarity in color and texture to celery, another vegetable I dislike; perhaps it’s that I can’t help but note how its bulbous bottom and fan-leaf top bears an eery resemblance to the comic strip Dilbert‘s eponymous character; either way, bok choy has always seemed more trouble to me than it’s worth. Besides a bit of a crunch, really, what does it offer? An insipid, watery base and limp, lackluster leaves. Bleh.
Last weekend, however, I found myself with three of those babies (and I mean that literally: they were baby bok choy) courtesy of our weekly organic produce box, and wondering what the heck to do with them.
Now, it’s true, a weekly delivery of assorted organic produce is normally a good thing. For one, you get to eat assorted organic produce (and weekly!). I love the fact that I can reduce my time in the grocery store, as the organic bag is delivered right to our door each Friday. All I need do is haul it inside, allow The Girls to sniff their approval of its contents (“We really appreciate that, Mum!“), then unload it onto the kitchen counter where, before depositing them in the appropriate storage bins, I might admire the brilliant carmine of this week’s pomegranate, say, the stiff, tan sheaths protecting hardy yellow onions, or the crisp, shiny trio of red and gold-flecked Gala apples I received.
For me, one of the great pleasures of having the service is how it often introduces as-yet untried wonders from the world’s vast array of fruits and vegetables, such as persimmon (loved it) or fiddleheads (not so much). What’s not so great, however, is that we sometimes receive items that are never eaten.
Considering that the HH is willing to try pretty much any (cooked) body part from a dead cow, he’s woefully unadventurous when it comes to the vegetable kingdom. Offer him some parsnips, and he crinkles his nose in disgust (though he did like them disguised as oven-baked french fries–give it a try!); dish up some scrambled tofu and he shakes his head forcefully; suggest even a sprinkling of spirulina, and he clamps his mouth shut like a toddler faced with cough syrup. He wouldn’t even take one bite of my breakfast Apple-Quinoa Cake the other week (though he did seem to enjoy the baked Tagine).
This leaves me alone to consume all the produce the HH has spurned. Sometimes, I just can’t eat it all before it begins to, shall we say, “mature.” Of course, the most sensible way to deal with the undesirable fruits or veggies would be to take advantage of the company’s generous substitution policy: you can replace up to two items with those of your own choosing, as long as you contact them before your delivery date. Unfortunately, as I may have mentioned before, my organizational skills ain’t what they used to be, so I (too often) tend to forget. And end up with feeble, neglected veggies.
Well, this was one of those weeks. I forgot to replace the dreaded bok choy, and it was rapidly approaching decrepitude in the bowels of the crisper drawer. Given what’s going on in the world of food these days, I simply couldn’t bring myself throw it away. But I wasn’t looking forward to yet another mediocre stir-fry, brimming with pallid bok choy and other dreary veggies in the wok, either.
Then I remembered Heidi’s recipe for caramelized tofu. About a month ago, I had a little love-in with the sweet, crispy cubes enhanced by bits of browned, crackly, caramelized garlic and toasted pecans. At the same time, I’ve always been intrigued by what’s called “crispy spinach” in some of the Chinese restaurants I’ve patronized. I decided to combine the best of both dishes, while avoiding anything deep-fried.
And so, I chopped up the bottoms of the little brassicas, made chiffonade of the greens, then stir-fried both in a slightly sweet, ginger-soy base and waited until it crisped up on the edges. The result was truly ambrosial: the white base of each stalk cooked down to something much like caramelized onions in both taste and texture; and the green leafy tops crisped somewhat along with the garlic and cashews, transforming that homely crucifer into something spectacular. A sprinkling of sesame seeds finished it off for a passing crunch in each mouthful. (Really, my amateur photo does not do it justice.)
The HH adored this as a side dish and inhaled two servings. I was rather enamoured myself, as I finished up what was left.
Would I make this again? Most definitely. In fact, I may even need to order it specially with next week’s produce delivery–that is, if I can remember to get the order in on time.
Caramelized Baby Bok Choy with Cashews and Sesame Seeds
This sweet, slightly crunchy dish makes the perfect side for a spicy main course, accompaniment to steamed rice, or a great snack just on its own.
3 baby bok choy
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or peanut oil
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped (not too finely)
1 tsp. freshly grated ginger root
1/4 cup raw cashews, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
3 Tbsp. Sucanat
1 Tbsp. sesame seeds
Prepare the bok choy: Wash each bok choy carefully. Cut the leaves to separate the white bottoms from the green tops (just guesstimate–it doesn’t have to be an exact science as long as most of the white is separated from most of the green). Keeping them in separate piles, shred both the whites and green leafy tops as you would for coleslaw.
In a large frypan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, white portion of bok choy and cashews. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bok choy is very soft and the garlic and nuts are beginning to brown.
Sprinkle the mixture with the soy sauce and add the shredded greens from the bok choy; stir quickly to coat the bok choy, as much as possible, evenly with the tamari. Sprinkle with the Sucanat and stir to coat evenly. (At this point, the Sucanat will melt quickly and may cause the vegetables to exude water; this is fine).
Allow to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until all liquid is absorbed and the bok choy is intensely brown; the garlic and nuts should be browned and crispy (this will take 10-12 minutes). Sprinkle with sesame seeds and continue to cook until heated through.
Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings.
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