Universal ways to cook Chinese greens: stir-frying and blanching

Society & Culture

There are two easy Chinese ways to cook greens: by stir-frying and blanching. The same techniques apply to almost all types of sturdy leafy vegetables.

Chinese greens - stir fry and blanch
Photo by Lu Zhao

Chinese dinner tables emphasize nutritional balance. It often includes one or two main dishes with meat or other protein, one vegetable course, one soup, and staples like rice or steamed buns. We’ve covered meats in previous columns, but today, let’s look at how to whip up a flavorful, healthy veggie dish.

There are two easy to cook greens: by stir-frying and blanching. The same techniques apply to almost all types of sturdy leafy vegetables, such as choy sum (菜心 cài xīn), Chinese broccoli (芥兰 jiè lán), bok choy (上海青 shàng hǎi qīng), kale, or turnip greens.

Stir-fry is possibly the most common cooking method in China. Veggies are cooked until tender, then covered with a sauce that’s savory and lightly sweet. Be sure to get everything ready before you start, as the process is done over high heat and the greens can be easily overcooked. With the sauce, starch is often used to thicken it and give the vegetables a glowy texture.

Blanching is often used in Cantonese cuisine to create bright, fresh, and tender veggies, especially with a concentrated garlicky sauce. It’s not just boiling vegetables in hot water. With salt and a drizzle of oil in the water, the veggies will turn out green and crispy. A tip to get Cantonese restaurant-style blanched veggies is to not pour the sauce on top of the greens, but instead make it separately as a dip.

I’ll be using bok choy for both of the recipes that follow.

YIELD

Serves 1 or 2

TIME

10 minutes

Stir-fry

INGREDIENTS

  • 200 g greens (I used 2 bok choy)
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon starch
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Tear apart the bok choy leaves and remove the tough ends. Wash thoroughly and rub the bottom end to remove any dirt between the leaves. Drain well.
  2. Combine 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 2 tablespoons of water, and 1 teaspoon of starch in a small bowl and stir well.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over high heat until hot. Add 3 sliced garlic and stir for about 10 seconds until fragrant.
  4. Add the bok choy and quickly stir for 1 minute.
  5. Stir again and swirl in the sauce mixture. Stir until the bok choy is just tender.
  6. Remove from the heat and serve immediately.

Blanching

INGREDIENTS

  • 200 g greens, I used 2 bok choy
  • 2 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Tear apart the bok choy leaves and remove the tough ends. Wash thoroughly and rub the bottom end to remove any dirt between the leaves. Drain well.
  2. Combine 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce, 1/2 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of water in a small bowl and stir well.
  3. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and a drizzle of oil. Add the bok choy and blanch for about 1 minute. Put the bok choy on a plate and set aside.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat until hot. Add the garlic and cook until golden brown. Swirl in the sauce and cook for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat.
  5. Put the garlic on top of the cooked bok choy. Spoon the sauce around the plate. Don’t pour over the bok choy.
  6. Serve immediately

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