By Julian Chua
Eating local fare in Singapore needn’t be bad for the waistline. Asian greens are the base of many nutritious and relatively healthy dishes that hail from this corner of the world.
Asian greens are fast-growing vegetables originating mostly from China, that comprise the plant’s fresh green leaves, tender stems, and/or the plant’s fruit or flower. Used in a wide variety of Asian cuisine for stir-fried dishes, soups, dumplings and many other dishes, Asian vegetables are used widely to add texture and taste.
The word ‘Choy’ is the Chinese word for varieties of Chinese cabbage that include bok choy, bok choi, pak choy, boy choi and pok choi. Other examples of popular Asian greens include baby kai lan (Chinese broccoli), Chinese spinach and kangkong (water spinach).
Their emerald green leaves and stalks are valued for their high vitamin, fiber, and iron content, with fabulous flavors, from subtle-sweetness to a gentle, mustard-like peppery edge, that make them versatile to cook with. These vegetables go well with classic Asian condiments, such as soy, ginger, black bean, hoisin, oyster, garlic and chilies.
I spoke to Sarah Reynolds from Expat Kitchen, who shares her knowledge and suggestions on what to select and how to cook Asian greens.
What to Look For
All Asian greens should be clean, fresh and crisp. Flowering varieties are better when in bud, rather than full bloom.
Like all green leafy vegetables, Asian greens are highly perishable so they need to be handled with extreme care. Buy small quantities regularly and sprinkle with water to minimize moisture loss. Refrigerate in plastic bags at 2 - 4°C with a relative humidity of 90 - 100% to keep them fresh.
Stir frying, steaming, blanching and boiling are best. When stems are thick, it is best to cut them from the leaves and cook first, then use a slotted spoon to transfer stems to a large bowl and cover with foil to keep warm. Cook the leaves next and this will ensure even texture.
Allow one and a half packed cups of greens per person and serve the vegetables as a side with grilled chicken, beef or fish. For a main course, add diced, firm tofu and serve with brown rice for another nutritious option.
Baby Kai Lan - Dry fry a quarter cup of sliced almonds in a frying pan over a medium heat until toasted and let cool. Whisk together two teaspoons of olive oil, one teaspoon of finely grated lemon rind and one teaspoon of fresh lemon juice. Steam the kai lan until tender. Drizzle the dressing over kai lan and season with pepper. Toss to combine. Top with almonds to serve.
Bok Choy - Dry fry two tablespoons of sesame seeds in a frying pan over a medium heat until nicely toasted and allow to cool. Blanch or steam the bok choyfor five minutes, or until bright green and tender crisp. Combine two crushed garlic cloves, one and a half tablespoons of oyster sauce, two tablespoons of kecip manis (a sweet Indonesian soy sauce) and one teaspoon of sesame oil. Place the vegetables onto a serving plate. Pour over the combined sauces and toss well to coat. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
Chye Sim - Heat two teaspoons of peanut oil in a wok over high heat. Add two thinly sliced garlic cloves and stir-fry for one minute or until fragrant. Add chye sim stems and one thinly sliced chili. Stir-fry for two to three minutes. Add the chye sim leaves and stir-fry for one minute or until just wilted. Add one teaspoon of sesame oil, one tablespoon of soy sauce and one tablespoon of oyster sauce. Stir-fry for one minute or until heated through.
Chinese Spinach - Make a dressing by whisking three tablespoons of olive oil, two tablespoons of red wine vinegar, two teaspoons of Dijon mustard and one tablespoon of finely chopped parsley, salt and cracked pepper. Blanch 300 grams of Chinese spinach and refresh in ice cold water. Drain and dry. Place the spinach and a handful of torn mint leaves in a salad bowl. Drizzle the dressing and toss. Sprinkle with a quarter cup of pumpkin or sunflower seeds and serve.
Kangkong - Pound together with a pestle and mortar one or two chili, two garlic cloves, two tablespoons of shrimp paste, one teaspoons of sugar, a quarter teaspoon of salt, two tablespoons of crushed dried prawns (pre-soaked and water drained) to form a fine paste: Cut the kangkong into 8cm (3 inch) lengths, omitting the tough stalks and roots. In a hot wok, heat one tablespoon of oil and fry the chili paste for half a minute. Add the kangkong and stir-fry over high heat for one minute. Serve immediately.