Sometimes, you make promises to yourself. Perhaps these promises are noble, centered around accomplishing a goal and hard work. Sometimes they’re about paying someone back or doing a favor. Maybe it’s about small lifestyle changes and self-control. Or maybe…
Maybe it’s about the produce section in your local Asian grocery store. Well, at least mine is.
One day, Nate and I were walking around Fubonn (Portlanders, if you haven’t been to Fubonn before, then, like, what even are you?) on the lookout for our standard stock that we always hit them up for: thai chiles, bulk rice noodles, mega-cheap herbs, dried shrimp, real miso paste, good soy and fish sauces, gochujang, and all those other fermented goodies, etc. We were perusing the produce section and for the first time I took a closer look at some greens that, at first glance, were unfamiliar to me. I expected that I’d be able to identify it as a botanical cousin to something more western upon closer inspection and quickly establish what it could be used for. However, the more I examined it, the more I realized that I had absolutely no idea what it could be. The name was useless to me as well since, alas, I don’t speak Vietnamese. So, I wrote it down in my phone to research later. Then, next to it, I found another unfamiliar stalk of greenery with, yet again, no biological or linguistic clues (Chinese, this time) to tell me what the hell it was; I recorded it as well. I found another, and another, and another until I realized that I had around 20 greens (yes, JUST greens) written down as either totally unknown or have never cooked with once in my life in my phone.
It may sound cocky, but we don’t usually find ourselves in situations where we’re clueless in regards to culinary direction. Our mental ingredient encyclopedia is large, but in this moment, here we felt stumped. So, with our resolve hardened, we made a promise: We are going to create a recipe for every single damn one of these greens; but we should start small, like, really small.
Baby bok choy is exactly what you might think it is. It’s bok choy that’s super small; not much to get here, but it was at least somewhat familiar to us, making it a good place to start for our little experiment. The law with smaller vegetables is that usually their flavor is concentrated, which proves true here. Bok choy keeps a lot of water in its stalks, so when it’s cooked correctly it can be really succulent, almost like celery. Its grassy flavor is refreshing and delicious, and its leaves wilt nicely when cooked to absorb any sauce you mix with it.
The shaoxing wine (Chinese cooking sherry; a pantry staple for us) and soy reduction provides just enough salt to season the vegetable as well as just a hint of sweetness, but not enough to overwhelm the delicate flavors the bok choy is already bringing to the dish. This is a delicious appetizer, side dish, or vegetable course meal suitable for 2–10 people. It’s the kind of plate that people will want to gather around and demolish the moment it comes out of the wok. Oh, and if you’re snappy, it can be ready in about seven minutes. Yeah. Seven.
Shaoxing Baby Bok Choy:
- ½ pound cleaned baby bok choy, stems removed
- 1 teaspoon oil with a high smoking point (we used vegetable oil)
- 2 tablespoons shaoxing wine
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 1 large green onion, chopped
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 hefty pinch of sesame seeds
Heat a wok on high until it just starts to smoke, then add the oil and swirl it around the pan. Add the bok choy to the hot wok and toss well, coating it in oil as well as instantly wilting the green leaves. Let the bok choy sit on high heat for about 30 seconds to achieve a little bit of singing, then flip the vegetables over like one would with an omelet (or just give it a good stir if you’re not comfortable flipping).
Add the shaoxing wine and the soy sauce to the wok, then let the bok choy sit as the sauce reduces, about 1–2 minutes depending on your stove; you’ll want the liquid to reduce by about half. After the sauce has reduced enough and the stalks have become a much deeper green color, add the chopped green onion and give everything in the wok a quick stir; cook for another 30 seconds or so to wilt the green onion.
Remove the wok from the heat and stir in the sesame oil. Transfer the the warm bok choy to a serving plate and garnish with some sesame seeds. Serve immediately.