Fruits

Fruit Nerd Thanh Truong reveals his top six leafy Asian veggies to cook with beyond bok choy

Bok choy is such an easy vegetable to add to Asian dishes in need of some green.

It’s also very easy to find. But … it isn’t the only leafy Asian green out there.

“One shouldn’t think of bok choy as a vegetable to eat in all Asian dishes,” Melbourne-based fruiterer and cook Thanh Truong says.

“For example, I would rarely — if ever — use bok choy in a Vietnamese dish.”

Thanh shares six other leafy Asian vegetables beyond bok choy.

1. Gai lan (Chinese broccoli)

Gai lan is great in stir-fries or steamed.(ABC Everyday: Matthew Garrow)

“It can also be steamed.”

When looking for the perfect bunch, he recommends going for the shortest one.

“This means it’s younger, so each bite will be tender and much sweeter.”

2. Choy sum

Thanh describes choy sum as a “skinny bok choy”.(ABC Everyday: Matthew Garrow)

“Choy sum is basically a skinny bok choy [that] cooks in half the time,” Thanh explains, adding it’s another great one for stir-fries.

“With choy sum, you get the balance of the savouriness of the leaf and the freshness and juiciness of the stem, which is a bonus if you can get it with bok choy.”

That said, Thanh says choy sum’s shelf life is half that of bok choy, so you’ll have to eat it faster.

Steer clear of bunches with dry leaves and stems that aren’t smooth.

3. Water spinach (kang kong)

To find a good bunch of water spinach, snap a bit off at the base to test its crispness.(ABC Everyday: Matthew Garrow)

This one is Thanh’s favorite vegetable of all time. Why?

He says it’s great for stir-fries.

“And in Vietnamese cuisine, it’s often cooked with garlic and chilli and sometimes fermented tofu or bean curd. It’s also shredded and turned into a garnish,” Thanh says.

When looking for a good bunch, he recommends snapping a single stem at the base and making sure it comes off crisply.

4. Gai choy (small mustard green)

Mustard green boasts a strong flavor — put it in a soup and Thanh says you can expect it to take over about 50 per cent of the flavor.(ABC Everyday: Matthew Garrow)

“I love this in a chicken or pork bone broth,” Thanh says.

“[Mustard green] in a soup is significantly better than a lot of the other Asian veg because it imparts this earthy, herbal — but also savoury and spicy — flavour.

“It will probably take over about 50 per cent of the flavor of a soup.”

Thanh recommends keeping an eye out for healthy leaves and as little shrivelling as possible when comparing bunches.

5. Wombok (Chinese cabbage)

Love kimchi? We have wombok to thank for that.(ABC Everyday: Matthew Garrow)

“It’s a superfood that’s also the basis of kimchi.”

For everyday cooking, it has a fairly neutral flavor, which means it “won’t take up too much energy, but is great for adding crunch and texture,” he says.

“It’s not only great in stir-fries and soups, but also with beef and pork [dishes]and you can eat it raw — it’s good in salads.”

A final bonus? Womboks are generally huge, which means they go a long way. At the shops, look for womboks with leaves that are as unblemished and crispy as possible.

6. Chinese chives

Thanh says Chinese chives (left) should be your go-to for dumplings and mincemeat recipes. (ABC Everyday: Matthew Garrow)

Chinese chives are the spicier version of the French chives you’re probably used to.

“They’re flat rather than circular,” Thanh explains.

“Eaten raw, they’ve got a garlicky spice and flavor. If you’re making dumplings or mixing any mincemeat, that’s your go-to.

“You can also stir-fry [them] with pork belly or heavy beef.”

The one downside of Chinese chives is their shelf life isn’t the longest. So, look for a bunch that’s still able to hold itself up and make sure you use it quickly after bringing it home.

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