What I love most about cooking is experimentation: the freedom to mix and match ingredients and flavors, methods and techniques as the cook sees fit, all in the name of great taste. Still, though, I sometimes find myself inadvertently adhering to the culinary norms of this-goes-with-that. I remember that way back in high school, when a boyfriend who was a talented cook mixed Ethiopian berbere spice into a tomato sauce he was making, I was appalled. I had to eat my words when I tasted the smoky, subtly perfumed results.
I find that I most often fall into this trap when cooking with Asian vegetables. Give me a head of broccoli and I won't feel constrained by a certain cuisine, but if I happen to pick up gai lan, or Chinese broccoli, I'll almost certainly stick it into a stir fry. If Italian eggplant's what's in my fridge, I'll typically prepare something Mediterranean, but if slim, slender Asian eggplants are what's available I'll be braising them in soy and brown sugar before you know it.
So recently, when I bought two beautiful bok choy, I decided to think outside my self-imposed culinary box, setting aside my go-tos of ginger and rice wine vinegar. Instead, I thought about the bok choy's flavor—after all, it is a cabbage, so I decided to accent that earthy, slightly funky taste with sweet, sticky caramelized onions, and stud it with golden raisins. As soon as I plated the dish, I realized that it was crying out for some crunchy, toasty pine nuts; I didn't have any on hand, but I urge you not to make my mistake. The end result is a tasty, boundary-transcending dish that's as at home spooned over fluffy rice as it is mixed into a bowl of toothsome pasta.
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