Do you ever feel guilty that we Americans have so many choices in our grocery stores? Even supermarkets that carry just food have between 15,000 and 60,000 different items on hand! When you compare that to the fact that almost half of what we eat comes from fast food or meals eaten away from home, is it any wonder that we never get around to choosing new and different foods?
Well, here’s a challenge. From the produce section (which contains all those great fruits and vegetables you keeping telling yourself you need to eat more of) pick a food you have never eaten or prepared before and give it a try. Alternate between fruits and vegetables. Select your “new food” by location on the stand or, if you have a bit of an obsessive nature, pick new foods alphabetically. Even if you have eaten an apple, have you tried different varieties like Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Orange Pippin or Sweetango? You get the picture.
An often overlooked choice at the beginning of the alphabet is the un-American-sounding bok choy or Chinese white cabbage. It is usually nestled in somewhere among the cabbages and greens. Also known as pak choi this non-head-forming cabbage is most associated with Asian foods. However, it is packed with nutritional goodies, including vitamins (A, B-complex, C and K, which helps bones and brains), minerals, dietary fiber and antioxidants. It helps reduce bad cholesterol and it is filling. Best of all, you can eat a pound of it and take in less than 60 calories. The only negative impact is that like other cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage) it may cause swelling in the thyroid gland for those who are prone to goiters.
If bok choy is not available where you live, take heart in the fact that it is easy to grow. Because you can plant the seeds before the last frost, it is one of the first veggies you can get from the garden. It only takes 45-50 days to grow to about a foot to eighteen inches tall. Smaller plants, which look like whiter, less compressed celery with large green leaves, are more tender. If bought in a store, it should keep for a couple of days. However, it is best to use it right away to retain flavor. Trim off the bottom, remove discolored leaves and wash before eating.
You may eat both the firm stalks and the leaves raw. Try stuffing stalks with cream cheese or guacamole and serve it as an appetizer and see if anyone notices your attempt to sneak in a healthy snack. Stalks may be cut up and added to coleslaw, while the leaves may be used like lettuce in a salad or on sandwiches. Unlike celery, with bok choy you don’t have to deal with any “strings.”
There are many ways to spice up bok choy using garlic, ginger, onion, sweet bell peppers, red wine vinegar and chilis. One of the best ways to prepare it is in a stir-fry. Add protein by cooking it with beans, peanuts, chicken or pork. Sesame seeds are also a nice addition. Bok choy adds moisture to stuffings and texture to soups. Use it much like you would use celery. It can also be steamed. If you need a low-calorie filler, or you run short on a vegetable or salad dish, bok choy is a good choice to add not only more volume, but more nutrients as well.
Isn’t it time you be a little more adventuresome and try this veggie (and other fruits and vegetables) from your produce stand? Who knows, you might just learn to love it enough to include it in your garden next year.