Bok choy is a delicious cruciferous leafy green vegetable that is often included in Asian stir-fries. Yet, there are many ways to use bok choy beyond that. Read on to get plenty of ideas and information about this wonderful, often underutilized vegetable.
Bok Choy 101 – The Basics
About Bok Choy
Bok choy is a cruciferous vegetable that has been given a variety of names: Bok Choy, Pak Choi, Chinese Cabbage, White Cabbage, Mustard Cabbage, Celery Cabbage, Peking’s Cabbage, and Chinese White Cabbage, among others. It is not to be confused with Napa cabbage, which is sometimes also referred to as Chinese cabbage. They are two different varieties of cruciferous vegetables. Unlike other vegetables in the cruciferous family, bok choy does not form a “head.” Instead, the stalks are elongated with leaves loosely clustering toward the top half of the plant. The size can range anywhere from 4 to 12 inches tall.
There are many varieties of bok choy, including those with different colors, some with green stalks and others with purple leaves. The common variety available in the United States has slightly flattened white stalks with spoon-shaped green leaves.
Bok choy has been cultivated in China for over 5,000 years, and has been grown in North America for over 100 years. Most North American bok choy is grown in Mexico, with some also grown in Canada and the United States in California, Arizona, and Texas.
Bok choy has a mild flavor, with the leaves and stalks all being edible. It has a mild flavor, sometimes with a slight sweetness in the stalks. It can be eaten raw, but only in moderation, especially if you have hypothyroidism. (Excessive raw cruciferous vegetables may hinder thyroid activity.) Bok choy can also be enjoyed steamed, stir-fried, braised, grilled, roasted, stewed, and even added to soups. When cooked for a short length of time, bok choy will have a bit of a crisp texture. Extended cooking gives boy choy a creamy texture.
Nutrition and Health Benefits of Bok Choy
Bok choy is an excellent source of Vitamins K, C, and A (in the form of carotenoids), potassium, folate, Vitamin B6, calcium, and manganese. It is also a very good source of iron, Vitamin B2, phosphorus, fiber, and protein. It also contains choline, magnesium, niacin, Vitamin B1, copper, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and pantothenic acid. Bok choy also contains a number of flavonoids and antioxidants. One cup of raw, shredded bok choy has a mere 9 calories, with about 20 calories in 1 cup of cooked bok choy.
Since bok choy is a leafy green cruciferous vegetable, it’s packed with health benefits.
Fights inflammation and oxidative stress. Bok choy contains a number of antioxidants that are known to fight inflammation and protect cells throughout the body. It is an exceptionally good source of quercetin, a flavonoid with antioxidant properties. According to WebMD, quercetin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects which might help reduce inflammation, kill cancer cells, control blood sugar, and help prevent heart disease.
Reduces risk of heart disease. Researchers have found a link between leafy green cruciferous vegetables and a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. A research study found that people who consumed more of these vegetables showed a 15% lower rate of cardiovascular disease.
Fights cancer. Cruciferous vegetables have anti-cancer properties. Studies suggest that eating more cruciferous vegetables helps to protect against various cancers, including prostate, lung, breast, and colorectal cancers.
Low in FODMAPs. FODMAPS are specific types of carbohydrates called “fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides, and polyols. People with irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease often find relief of symptoms when they eat diets low in such carbohydrates. Bok choy is low in these factors and are permitted on a low-FODMP diet.
Non-dairy calcium. Bok choy is an excellent source of calcium, with 158 mg in one cup of cooked bok choy. This can be an important source of dietary calcium for those who do not consume dairy products.
Vitamin K. Bok choy is rich in Vitamin K, a nutrient that is needed for proper blood clotting. Those who take blood thinners may need to regulate the amount of Vitamin K-rich foods they eat so their blood clotting function stays within normal limits. If you are on such medications, consult with your doctor before increasing the amount of bok choy you eat.
How to Select Bok Choy
Choose bok choy with firm, brightly colored leaves, and moist, sturdy stems. The leaves should not be wilted and be without browning, yellowing, and small holes. The heads can be small to very large. In most places, bok choy is available year-round, but its growing peak is from the middle of winter to early Spring.
How to Store Bok Choy
Most resources suggest storing bok choy, unwashed, in a loose (or perforated) plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. It should be used within a few days, but may keep up to 1 week.
How to Freeze Bok Choy
Remove the stalks from the base and wash them well to remove any dirt or debris. Cut the stalks and leaves into desired size pieces. Bring a large pot of water to boil, then place the prepared bok choy into the boiling water. Set the timer right away for 2 minutes. When the time is up, or when the leaves turn a very bright green, remove your bok choy from the boiling water and immediately transfer it into a bowl of ice water. Leave it there for 2 or 3 minutes until it is completely chilled. Drain it well and dry the leaves as much as you can with a clean cloth or paper towel. There are two ways to store your blanched bok choy in the freezer:
(1) Place your prepared bok choy in a freezer bag or container. Remove as much air as possible, and if it is in a bag, flatten the bag and lay it on its size in the freezer.
(2) If you prefer your bok choy pieces to be frozen separately so it’s not in a big lump, spread your blanched/dried bok choy on a waxed paper or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for about 2 hours, until the vegetable pieces are completely frozen. Then transfer them to your desired freezer container and return them to the freezer.
Properly frozen blanched bok choy will keep in the freezer for up to 12 months. It will be safe to eat beyond that, but the quality may decline with age.
How to Prepare Bok Choy
Small, baby bok choy can be cut in half lengthwise, then washed and drained before being cooked. Larger heads should have stalks removed from the base, either individually or by cutting across the base of the head, removing all stalks at once. Rinse them well either under running water or in a tub of water to ensure any dirt has been removed. Drain excess water off, then cut as needed for your recipe.
Quick Tips and Ideas for Using Bok Choy
* For a quick and easy side dish, stir-steam bok choy, snow peas and mushrooms in a small amount of vegetable broth. Season as desired (aromatics like onions, garlic and ginger would work well). A small drizzle of soy sauce or tamari would blend well with these vegetables.
* The bok choy stalks can have a slight sweetness to them. Try adding some raw bok choy to a green salad.
* For an easy side dish, slice baby bok choy lengthwise and braise it in a mixture of your favorite stock, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes. Drizzle it with a little sesame oil for added flavor and garnish.
* Use bok choy leaves on a sandwich in place of lettuce.
* If you like to fill celery sticks with things like nut butter, cream cheese, or guacamole, try filling bok choy stems with those things instead.
* Try grilling halves of baby bok choy. Cut them lengthwise, wash and drain them, and drizzle with a little oil and a sprinkling of salt.
* Add thin shreds of bok choy leaves as a last-minute garnish to soup.
* Bok choy is often eaten stir-fried with a little soy sauce and garlic. If you’re new to bok choy, this is a great way to start enjoying it! Simply heat a little oil in a wok or frying pan. Add aromatics of choice (such as garlic, onion, and/or minced ginger), and stir-fry for 3 to 8 minutes until it is crisp-tender. Drizzle with a little soy sauce and enjoy!
* Try braised bok choy for something a little different. Chop the bok choy into bite-size pieces and heat it in a pan with some broth of choice. Add aromatics as desired (garlic, onion, ginger, chili paste). Cover and simmer up to 20 minutes, until the vegetable is as tender as you want. Drizzle with toasted sesame oil for added flavor, and enjoy!
* Try roasted bok choy, by chopping the leaves and stems into bite-size pieces. Drizzle with some oil and sprinkle with salt. Toss the pieces to coat them, then spread them on a baking sheet. Roast them anywhere from 350F to 425F for up to 20 minutes, until the leaves are tender and starting to brown.
* Baby bok choy is more tender and a bit sweeter than its full-grown counterpart. It can be cooked whole, sliced in half lengthwise, or with the stalks separated, like you would the larger variety.
* Note that the leaves of bok choy will cook faster than the stems, so add the leaves later in cooking if you don’t want them to overcook.
* To quickly and easily remove stalks from bok choy, simply cut across the root end about 1 inch or so up from the bottom. Discard the bottom end. The stalks will easily separate.
* Besides cooking bok choy with aromatics such as garlic, onions, and ginger, the flavor can further be enhanced by adding any combination of soy sauce, vegetable broth, rice vinegar, sesame oil, honey, and chili flakes.
Herbs/Spices That Go Well with Bok Choy
Cardamom, chili pepper flakes, cilantro, cinnamon, curry powder, five-spice powder, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, salt, turmeric
Foods That Go Well with Bok Choy
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beans (esp. black beans), beef, cashews, chicken, peanuts and peanut sauce, pork, seafood, soybeans, tahini, tofu
Vegetables: Bell peppers (esp. red), broccoli, broccoli rabe, cabbage (esp. Napa and purple), carrots, cauliflower, celery, chiles, greens, leeks, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, scallions, shallots, sprouts (bean), squash (esp. butternut), turnips, water chestnuts, zucchini
Fruits: Lemon, lime
Grains and Grain Products: Noodles, quinoa, rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Coconut milk
Other Foods: Chili paste, chili sauce, mirin (a type of rice wine), miso (fermented soybeans), oil (esp. olive, peanut, sesame), soy sauce, stock (i.e. mushroom, vegetable), sugar (brown), tamari, tempeh, vinaigrette, vinegar, wine (esp. dry sherry)
Bok choy has been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Asian cuisines, casseroles, Chinese cuisine, curries, salads, slaws, soups, stews, stir-fries, Thai cuisine
Suggested Flavor Combos Using Bok Choy
Add bok choy to any of the following combinations…
Asian noodles + peanut sauce
Bell peppers + olive oil + mushrooms
Black bean sauce + water chestnuts
Brown rice vinegar + sesame oil + tamari
Chiles + garlic + ginger + sesame oil
Chili flakes + coconut milk + red bell peppers
Garlic + ginger + soy sauce
Garlic + olive oil
Garlic + sesame + tofu
Ginger + tofu
Lemon + tahini
Mushrooms + tofu
Scallions + shiitake mushrooms
Spicy Bok Choy in Garlic Sauce https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/167331/spicy-bok-choy-in-garlic-sauce/
3-Minute Bok Choy http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=260
15-Minute Healthy Sautéed Chicken and Bok Choy http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=120
Salmon and Bok Choy Green Coconut Curry https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/salmon-and-bok-choy-green-coconut-curry
Spicy Feel-Good Chicken Soup https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/spicy-feel-good-chicken-soup
Teriyaki Steak Skewers with Asian-Style Greens https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/teriyaki-steak-skewers-with-asian-style-greens
10-Minute Garlic Bok Choy https://theforkedspoon.com/bok-choy-recipe/
Sesame Ginger Bok Choy https://www.spendwithpennies.com/sesame-ginger-bok-choy/#wprm-recipe-container-162686
Chinese Stir-Fried Baby Bok Choy https://www.thespruceeats.com/stir-fry-baby-bok-choy-recipe-695307
Roasted Bok Choy https://www.thespruceeats.com/roasted-bok-choy-4690759
Bok Choy and Shiitake Mushroom Stir-Fry https://www.thespruceeats.com/bok-choy-shiitake-mushroom-stir-fry-3378425
Bok Choy with Garlic https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a10867/bok-choy-garlic-recipe-fw0410/
Stir Fried Bok Choy with Teriyaki Glaze https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a22292/stir-fried-bok-choy-teriyaki-glaze-recipe-fw0114/
Stir Fried Bok Choy with Peanut Sauce https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a22148/stir-fried-bok-choy-peanut-sauce-recipe-fw0114/
Boy Choy and Oyster Mushroom Stir-Fry https://www.verywellfit.com/bok-choy-and-oyster-mushroom-stir-fry-4144583
Ginger Chicken with Baby Bok Choy https://www.verywellfit.com/ginger-chicken-with-bok-choy-4171639
Hearty Asian-Inspired Soup (Low FODMAP) https://www.verywellfit.com/hearty-asian-inspired-low-fodmap-soup-4122212
Peanut Noodles with Tofu and Vegetables https://www.verywellfit.com/peanut-noodles-with-tofu-and-vegetables-4122516
Chicken Lo Mein https://www.jessicagavin.com/chicken-lo-mein/
Baby Bok Choy Slaw https://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/baby-bok-choy-slaw
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.