Chinese Greens 101: Stir-Fried Choy Sum With Minced Garlic

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[Photographs: Shao Z.]

Growing up, not having a plate of Chinese greens on the table for dinner was like not having rice--it was simply unthinkable. Quick to cook, simple and delicious, Chinese greens are a great way to add a vegetable dish to your meal. In this series, we'll be talking about some of the most common types of Chinese greens, common cooking methods, and a few ways to bring some Western greens into the fold as well. Check out the entire series here!

Stir-frying in a light sauce flavored with a little soy sauce and a lot of garlic is my go-to method for cooking Asian greens. Quick, simple, and flavorful, it's really hard to go wrong, no matter which greens you decide to cook.

Aside from choy sum, the list of other Chinese greens that would work well in this recipe is long. Popular greens such as Chinese broccoli, bok choy, and watercress work well, but even Western vegetables like kale, collards, swiss chard, frisée, or even romaine or iceberg lettuce are good, as well.

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Leafy vegetables such kale and frisée can go straight into the wok, but heartier stem vegetables like bok choy and watercress, and crisp vegetables like iceberg and romaine fare better with a quick par-boil to tenderize them and get them ready for rapid stir-frying. Similarly, you'll want to chop longer vegetables like Chinese broccoli down to size.

Here's how you do it, step by step.

Step 1: Blanch

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If you have hearty greens, you'll want to blanch them briefly in boiling water—just long enough to slightly tenderize them and turn them bright green. This ensures that they're tender after a brief stir-fry, and also helps set their color by destroying the enzyme that turns the dark green.

Step 2: Stir-Fry

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Get some oil smoking hot in the center of a wok, then add the vegetables. As they've already been par cooked, the stir-fry process is extremely brief; just a couple of moments.

Step 3: Push to the Sides

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Once the vegetables are cooked, press them to the sides of the wok to clear a space in the middle for your sauce.

Step 4: Add Sauce

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Next, add your sauce to the center of the wok. I use a mix of soy sauce, sesame oil, water, and corn starch, with some ground white pepper and minced garlic added to the mix. If you prefer the milder flavor of cooked garlic, you can add the garlic first, stir-fry for 30 seconds or so, then add the remaining sauce.

Step 5: Toss to Combine

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Toss everything to combine, and you're ready to serve.

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Now wasn't that easy? The whole thing happens from start to finish in just a few moments. Don't ever let me hear another excuse for not eating your veggies!

About the Author: Shao Z. was born in Guangzhou, the birthplace of dim sum, and raised in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia. As a sibling-less child, cooking was a way to cure after school snack attacks and a way to keep herself entertained. That's how her love for food and cooking started, and it continues to grow. She blog at friedwontons4u.com and is on Twitter at @friedwontons4u.

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