5-A-Day: Chinese mustard greens (Gai Choy)

Whew . . . !! After 7 days away 4 and 1/2 of which were spent in a car or plane, or at an airport it is GOOD to be back home. In addition to the stress of travel, we were traveling to a funeral so there was the added emotional toll as well. Having arrived home after too many meals that were deep-fried or involved hamburgers, I am really craving greens of any kind! A leisurely trip to Chinatown yesterday allowed us to pick up some of our favorites at their freshest -- watercress, Chinese mustard cabbage, and baby bok choy.

It's true that all these greens are available at most of the groceries around the island, so why do we trek 25 miles into town and pay for parking to shop in Chinatown? Selection. Quality. Prices are also generally 20-40 percent cheaper than at the supermarkets, too, but unless you are buying in quantity or buying a lot of groceries, the savings may not make up what you will pay to park your car (see earlier
post about Chinatown for details). The main reason we like the produce in Chinatown is the incredibly high turnover rate of both fruits and vegetables in almost all the markets there. What is put on the shelves at 7 or 8 a.m. is generally gone before lunch time! This translates to produce that is really fresh, and hasn't been sitting on a too-cold supermarket produce counter for days. Many vendors continue to replenish their tables until lunch, but by the afternoon the remaining produce has been pretty picked over.

Today will highlight the first of two lovely green vegetables that deserve a larger place in our vegetable repetoire, Chinese mustard cabbage. The next post will highlight our all-time favorite, Watercress.

Chinese mustard greens, also called
gai choi, is a peppery variety of the cabbage family. The specimen in this photo is fully mature and should be cooked. Both the stems and leaves are edible and will cook to a pungent, peppery finish. If slow-cooked, it will become meltingly tender, like collards or mustard greens, but will keep its peppery bite. If you like broccoli rabe, arugula ("rocket" to our friends in the UK), or Belgian endive, you will probably like gai choy. Younger gai choy will have slender, straight, dark green stems, and can be eaten raw as a salad green, or quickly stir-fried. It has less of a bite than a fully mature cabbage, more like a nibble.

Cleaning Vegetables in a Vinegar Wash
To prepare mature gai choy for cooking, remove stems from core and wash well first in clean container of water, rubbing away the soil and grit at the bottom of the stems. Remove vegetables from water, drain water and fill container with a solution of 2
TBL. white vinegar and 2 quarts/liters cool water. Rinse stems and leaves thoroughly in this solution. Lift out of water, swishing leaves gently as you lift (avoid dumping water out of container while greens are still in the water it is easier for grit and dirt to remain on your greens. Rinse again with clean water. Drain in colander.

Separate stems and leafy parts. Halve and julienne leafy greens; and halve and dice stems. If using for braised dishes or soups, add thick stem pieces early to cook down, and leafy bits in the last 15-20 minutes of cooking. Recipes previously posted that would work well with gai choy:
Portuguese Bean Soup, or Chicken Tinola (Chicken and Green Papaya soup) or Plasto (Greek cornbread and greens). Or try substituting gai choy for all or half the regular greens in your favorite recipe for slow-cooked Collard Greens or Mustard Greens. Here is a quick and simple way to cook gai choy: Garlic Braised Mustard Cabbage.
Garlic Braised Mustard Greens

I large bunch mustard cabbage, or gai choy, cleaned, stemmed and diced/julienned (see above)
2-3 TBL. olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth, or water
tsp. sea salt (optional)
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper (optional)

Heat oil in wok over medium-high heat. Add garlic and stir to release fragrance and gently brown, then remove garlic and keep aside. Add cleaned mustard greens stem pieces to oil, add broth, cover and let cook 10-20 minutes, or until beginning to soften. Stir to mix well, then add leafy parts of cabbage, cover and cook another 5-8 minutes, or until leafy parts are bright green. Remove cover and allow broth to reduce by half. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper, if using. Remove to serving plate and garnish with browned garlic.

We serve this as a side dish with any meal, from meatloaf and mashed potatoes, to rice and pan-seared tofu (Okinawan Champuru). I especially enjoy gai choy prepared this way and served with its garlicky pan gravy on top of mashed potatoes for a filling and delicious non-meat meal.

More recipes with Mustard Cabbage:
Tian of Roasted Potatoes & Chinese Mustard Greens