The Chinese Vegetable of Champions

The Chinese Vegetable of Champions

I don’t know how I managed to get by the first five years of marriage without learning how to cook choy.  My mother-in-law undoubtedly did her best to bury her Tiger mother instincts and refrained from throwing my Cup-o-Noodle to the floor while telling me to feed her only son more choy, although I’m sure her resolve was tested every time she peeked into our choyless refrigerator.  Every once in a while, a bunch of choy sum would magically appear in our refrigerator.  She probably thought, “These kids don’t even have to grow it themselves and they still too lazy to cook choy.”  But she never said it out loud.  I really love that about her.

I don’t need to lecture you on the benefits of eating your vegetables.  Everyone knows choy does wonders for your system and waistline.  Not to mention it appeases my guilty conscience after a necessary trip to McDonalds’s; and it’s a no-brainer side dish on most evenings.  It’s never a matter of if we’re having choy for dinner, but what choy we’re having for dinner.  Thanks to Popo, my children know that green leafy vegetables are foods, not garnishes, and that vegetables can actually taste good without adding meat or dressing.  I’m not in any position to be giving dieting advice, but Dr. Oz is, and he says bok choy helps starve cancer.

Yes, Popo was always ahead of her time when it came eating healthy.   She would serve her children wheat bread when everyone else was raving about white bread, and if she ever got desperate enough to go to McDonalds, she would water down the fruit punch and split the hamburgers between her four kids.  No french fries.  Ever.  Well, maybe once a year.

Because of her, Gonggong (Low Dao’s father) lived to the ripe old age of ninety-nine, despite eating bark during the Cultural Revolution and nearly dying from Yellow Fever. Low Dao is seventy and he’s still cutting down trees and pouring concrete (Chinese people love to make concrete patios, concrete koi ponds, and anything concrete for that matter).  My point is, either they have good genetics, or Popo is right about eating choy.

Choy Sum

There are so many different types of choy out there.  Choy sum is probably the most well-known of the Chinese vegetables.   You can find tons of recipes for choy sum on the Internet, but the most basic preparation of choy sum is still my favorite.  Simply boil the choy for about five minutes.  Add a little oil to the water to preserve the bright green color in the leaves.  Then remove the choy sum to a plate and drizzle it with oyster sauce.  In five minutes, you have the perfect vegetable dish – healthy, tasty, and verdant in presentation.

Oong Choy

A lesser-known choy that deserves just as much recognition is oong choy, aka water spinach or swamp lettuce.  In my opinion, it’s neither spinach-like nor swampy.  The best thing about oong choy is that you can grow it anywhere there’s water.  Low Dao used to plant his oong choy in the stream behind the rec center.   I love the crunchy texture mixed with the tenderness of the leaves.  When flavored with fermented bean curd, it’s my favorite choy.  Don’t let the name turn you away, fermented bean curd swamp lettuce may become a staple at your table.

Prep Directions:  Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan.  Add 2 pieces of garlic (smash it with the flat part of your knife to get the juices out) and saute for 1 minute.  Cut the oong choy into thirds and add to the skillet.  Saute for another minute, then add a splash of water (about 3 ounces) and cover.  Steam the vegetables for 3 to 5 minutes.  Open the lid, add 1-2 cubes of fermented bean curd and mix well.  Remove from heat and serve hot!

Yield: 1 pound makes 4 servings and I only cooked half the bunch so this cost $.75!

Baby Bok Choy

Baby Bok Choy

Bok choy is another choy that’s rising to celebrity status, especially after Dr. Oz’s endorsement of bok choy as a cancer starving food.  Although slightly more bitter than its two previously mentioned cousins, baby bok choy is still one of my favorites.  I’ve found many awesome non-asian recipes for bok choy, but Popo always makes it like this, which I like to think of as the Chinese way.

Cooking Directions:  Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet.  Add a piece of ginger (smashed like garlic) to the hot oil and saute for 1 minute.  Add baby bok choy and saute for another minute.  Add 3 ounces of water and cover the pan.  Steam the choy for a few minutes, then uncover.  Add salt, pepper, sugar and soy sauce to taste.

Yield: 1 pound makes 4 servings. Like lettuce, fresh choy should have firm stalks and perky leaves.  Check the leaves to make sure the edges aren’t browning and there aren’t too many holes, which could mean a worm beat you to it.  You also want to wash your choy thoroughly – you never know where it’s been.  Have you ever noticed that  Chinese people always cook their choy?  It’s because unlike you or me, they know where it’s been.


I can always find comfort in my father-in-law frying something delicious in his wok, a masterpiece of welded parts that he fashioned himself like a Chinese MacGyver. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him pick up a measuring spoon or use a kitchen scale. He simply uses his hand as his scale and a rice bowl as his measuring cup.

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