I'm getting back in touch with my Asian side, all. It started with a little dig into my roots with bulgogi, and now, motivated by the Chinese New Year this weekend, I am going full force with a little lesson in Asian greens. There are so many greens and vegetables that originate in Asia that we could cover, but we're just picking and choosing ones that we see pop up in recipes more often than others.
Bamboo Shoots - These are so common, it seems odd to include them, as if they were "exotic" in some way. Bamboo shoots are the part of the bamboo grass that we eat, which are harvested before the bamboo gets too tall and tough to eat. Most commonly, bamboo shoots are canned, though it is available as fresh bamboo. If you buy fresh bamboo, it has to be cooked, as fresh bamboo is hard to digest. Bamboo shoots are often used as an ingredient in stir-fry dishes, like Beef and Bamboo Shoot Stirfry.
Bok Choy and Baby Bok Choy - Bok choy is essentially a cabbage, though it certainly doesn't look like the cabbage we use for cole slaw and sauerkraut. It's sometimes called "white cabbage" because the stalks are white and turn into dark green leaves at the ends. Bok choy can be used the same way you would use cabbage -- steamed, stir-fried, even pickled. The baby bok choy, which are a smaller version of the larger cabbages, are one of my favorite vegetables. One of my favorite way to eat baby bok choy is braised in a spicy soy sauce.
Chinese Broccoli - Chinese broccoli is also called "kai lan" and is from the same family as the broccoli that we know. However, aside from its bright green color and thick stem, only vaguely resembles the large flowered heads of regular broccoli. Chinese broccoli has broad leaves and tiny flowers that may not even be visible. The stalks are included with stir-fries, but the best way to eat it, in my opinion, is simply steamed and drizzled with oyster sauce.
Lemongrass - Lemongrass is exactly that -- a type of grass that is native to India, though used most widely in Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. Because of its fibers, cannot be easily digested. As such, lemongrass is used for its aromatic properties as a flavoring or herb. Cooks are now using lemongrass stalks to "spear" food like satay and other meats to impart the fragrance while cooking.
Mizuna - Mizuna is a type of mustard of Japanese origin that is often seen in "spring" and "mesclun" salad mixes. It has a mild, peppery flavor, and adds texture to salads with its feathery, frilly leaves and juicy stalks. I rarely see mizuna used in cooked dishes, though some Asian cooks add mizuna to soups.