Chinese Greens 101: Shanghai Baby Bok Choy With Black Bean Sauce

Shanghai Baby Bok Choy With Black Bean Sauce
Stir-fried baby bok choy in a punchy sauce made with garlic and black beans 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.

Incorporating a few fermented black beans to a vegetable stir-fry—like this crisp version with baby bok choy—instantly adds a punch of flavor. Magical flavor beans (as I like to call them) are salty, a little funky, and a wonderful ingredient to have in your kitchen if you stir-fry frequently.

You may notice some similarities between this recipe and the Stir-Fried Beef With Kale and Frisée in Black Bean Sauce I wrote about a couple weeks ago. The main difference is that that recipe relied on tender greens that were briefly stir-fried. When dealing with heartier greens like bok choy or broccoli, you have to blanch them before stir-frying them so that they have a chance to tenderize properly. Other than that, the process is nearly identical.

You can find jars of fermented black bean sauce easily in most Asian and Western markets, but what we're looking for here are the dried beans themselves, which are usually found only in Asian markets (or you can order them online). If you only ever used the jarred version of black bean sauce, it's time to make your own.

Baby bok choy being cooked in a large pot of water.

Start by cutting your baby bok choy in half and blanching it in boiling salted water just until it turns bright green and lightly tender, about 40 seconds. Remember: you're going to cook it again, so no need to overdo it here!

Chopped fermented black beans and chopped garlic in a small bowl.

Next, chop up your fermented black beans and garlic and combine them in a small bowl. This is the base of your sauce.

Stir-frying fermented black beans and chopped garlic in a wok.

Start your stir-fry by cooking your garlic and black beans in oil. This will flavor the oil, which in turn will flavor all of the vegetables as you toss them.

Stir frying blanched bok choy, garlic and fermented black beans in a wok.

Next up, the blanched baby bok choy, which gets stirred around with the garlic and black bean. Stir-fry just until the bok choy is nearly done (it'll cook for about a minute longer when you add the sauce)

Adding sauce to a wok with bok choy, chopped garlic, and fermented black beans.

When the bok choy is almost ready, press it up the side of the wok and add your sauce, a mixture of a touch of soy sauce, white pepper, sesame oil, corn starch and water. Adding it to the center allows it to rapidly come to a boil, which thickens it.

Cooking bok choy with garlic and fermented black beans in a wok.

Toss everything together, and you're ready to serve. I love this dish because it's packed with plenty of flavor from the garlic and black beans, without the need to be swimming in a heavy sauce. Wasn't that easy?