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Cooking Local Bok Choy Stir Fry

June 28, 2012

    Welcome back to the kitchen. We are now officially celebrating summer, and with summer comes even more local bounty. Sure, we won’t get those warm weather crops like tomatoes for some time yet, but the slower, cooler growing season means I’ve still got some nice greens to work with that would otherwise have bolted long ago.
    One of my very favorite crops in the whole garden is bok choy. Now, there are several varieties and names for this Asian brassica. But whatever the choy variety, I love their tender leaves and sweet, succulent bases.
    Now, as I’ve said before, the brassica family is probably my overall favorite, offering up everything from broccoli to mustard to kale to brussel sprouts and cabbage. It is a wonderful, varied family of plants.
    But for me, bok choy reigns supreme. It is easy to grow, delicious cooked or raw, and is good in many different dishes. The bok choy patch in my garden was started to bolt and flower, and needed to be used, so I pulled it all out at the root and started thinking of recipes.
    Now, one thing about bok choy is that it can certainly capture dirt between its many layers. So cut off the very bottom of each plant, trying to keep the bulb intact, and carefully wash between all the leaves and/or soak the choy in water and wash well. Nothing worse than finding grit in your culinary masterpiece!
    Bok choy is most often associated with Chinese and other Asian cuisines, in part because it hold up so well to an ultra quick, high heat stir fry. But as I said, it is very versatile. I like it raw in salads or as a crudite for dip. I also like it sautéed and added to eggs, as in a garden frittata. Bok choy has a great tender yet juicy texture, and really could be added to just about any savory dish.
    But today I am going to let the choy draw me towards its asian roots. I’ve got just about the simplest possible stir fry, yet it is so tasty even non veggie fans will likely be drawn back for more. I’m going to be a little bit unorthodox and stir fry the bok choy in a pan on the barbecue.
    I’m doing this for a couple of reasons. First of all, I want to grill up some teriyaki salmon steaks as a great main dish protein for our meal. Also, it is beautiful outside and I don’t want to be inside over the stove. And finally, I recently heard that woks, and stir frying in general, really don’t work all that well on your average home stove.
    You see, real Chinese woks are cooked over a roaring fire that licks far up the pan’s curved sides and heat up well over a thousand degrees. This is the only way to get that great slightly smoky taste with vegetables flash fried and just bearly cooked, not slowly steamed or sautéed as on the home stove top.
    Cook’s illustrated, my favorite food publication, recommends using a charcoal chimney, a BBQ starter, and putting the wok directly atop that blazing column. But I have a gas grill, and the charcoal chimney seems a little precarious to cook on at high temperatures.
    So instead I’m going to crank the heat on my grill. I’m also setting the grill itself lower, so it sits right above the hot flames. My grill comes in two pieces, so this may or may not be easily accomplished on your barbecue. In any case, you want basically as high a heat as possible, and you can do this on your grill with a little fiddling about. But do it on the stove if that seems more feasible.
    So start marinating your salmon steaks in a teriyaki marinade, and put some rice or quinoa on to steam. Let’s get started with The Simplest and Tastiest Bok Choy Stir Fry Ever (by the way, this is a great super simple stir fry template for any fresh veggie from your garden or farmers market). We’ll need:

    -about 2 or three pounds of bok choy heads, cut into roughly 1 inch pieces (use the whole bulb down to the roots if it is not overgrown and tough)
    -1 large local onion (use onion greens too if the onion is on the smaller side)
    -4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
    -2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced fine (I actually don’t usually bother to peel it)
    -1 teaspoon tamari (nice soy sauce) or Bragg’s
    -1 tablespoon cooking oil
    -1 teaspoon sesame oil
    -1 teaspoon fish sauce
    -1 heaping teaspoon black sesame seeds (regular sesame seeds are totally fine)
    -a little squirt of sriracha or other hot sauce (optional)

    You can omit the sesame oil or the seeds, I like both, but they don’t bothe need to be there. Basically you just need the oil, garlic, ginger, and soy sauce. But I am a huge advocate for holding your nose and using a splash of fermented fish sauce. It might smell like a dead dog’s breath in the bottle, but it is delicious in a stir fry and adds an indescribable authenticity. Don’t wuss out on the fish sauce!
    Heat up your wok or cast iron pan (ont eh grill or on the stovetop) and add the oils. When the oil starts to shimmer and “smile” (a chef’s term, don’t worry about it, it just means hot but not yet quite smoking), add in the onion. Stir frequently and fry the onion for just a few minutes, until it begins to soften a bit.
    Next add the garlic and ginger and stir for another minute. When the onions are essentially cooked through, toss in all the chopped bok choy along with the tamari, fish sauce, sesame seeds, and sriracha hot sauce if using. Stir everything together and keep cooking, but only for about another two minutes. Once the bok choy starts to darken and wilt, immediately remove the wok or pan from the heat. We want the bok choy just barely cooked, as it will continue to cook for awhile even off the heat and it doesn’t take much time at all to overdo it.
    By the way, don’t bother drying off your bok choy after you rinse it, because that water will help cook the bok choy with steam in the pan, along with the soy and fish sauces.
    And there you have it, from garden to plate in all of about 20 minutes! Total cooking time here at high temperature is about 5 minutes, and this is a really delicious dish. Despite the awesomely grilled teriyaki wild salmon with cilantro and green onions that I cooked to go with the bok choy stir fry, this humble veggie dish was the breakout star of the meal.
    And as I said, this method would apply well to peas, cale, squash, peppers, carrots, or whatever veggies you’ve got on hand. Just don’t overcrowd the pan too much, and adjust cooking times depending on what vegetable you are using. Often times I am tempted to throw every kind of veggie on hand into the wok, but other times I really appreciate the simplicity of one perfect vegetable backed up by onions, garlic, and ginger. Yum!
    Serve up the stir fried bok choy and teriyaki grilled salmon over the steamed quinoa with an extra splash of soy sauce and maybe a squeeze of lime. How about serving this with a mint, melon, sake and vodka cocktail? I haven’t thought of a name for that one yet, but it’s one heck of a summer cooler!
    I want to hear what’s happening in your kitchen! If you have a name for this summer cocktail, or other recipe suggestions or questions of your own, please send me an email to Isaac@kohoradio.com. Cooking local in the KOHO Kithcen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.