This week I’m in major recipe-development and photo-shoot mode, as I’ve got some last-minute assignments from magazines that need spring vegetable recipes. So I have been tiptoeing off to the grocery store, hoping none of my locavore friends see me pouring over the out-of-season vegetables in the produce section. I’m not sure why I feel guilty, as we’ve definitely done our best to make do with our winter CSA veg (and we STILL have some in the fridge and in the attic). We deserve a little fresh green stuff. But I hate the fact that it’s shipped from so far away. It’s one of the most ironic parts of my job—I encourage people to eat and cook seasonally, but often I’m developing recipes out of season.
Well, I guess it’s not so bad this time—spring is right around the corner; I actually saw a forsythia bush in bloom yesterday. (It was wedged between two barns, so I think it must have its own micro-climate, as the rest of Martha’s Vineyard is still chilled by the cold Atlantic waters swirling around us.) But next week I’ve got an assignment to work on some summer recipes, and talk about challenging—ripe, juicy tomatoes in March?
Anyway, when I got home the other day with all these pretty green things—peas and sugar snap peas and fresh mint and frilly lettuce—I got a little giddy. There’s something about the color green that knocks my socks off. And there’s one particular spring green that really tickles me. It’s baby bok choy. These mini-versions of the big honking Asian cabbage barely resemble their big sisters. They’re slender, curvy, and petite—about 6 to 7 inches long—and their color is a soothing mix of celadon and shamrock. Best of all, their fabulous flavor borrows from the nutty side of arugula and the tangy bite of a mellow mustard. (In the photo above, you can see that these baby bok choy were starting to bolt (sprout flowers). The good news is that they still taste good, unlike some bolted greens that become unbearably bitter.)
It won’t surprise you that I take this pretty green thing and brown the heck out of it. I’m like a broken record on that subject—browning green veggies almost always makes them sweeter. So I cut these babies in halves or quarters lengthwise (keeping the hint of that lovely shape—why slice these across and wreck that?), and sear them cut-side down, in a little combo of oil and butter. Then I finish cooking them (sort of part steaming, part braising), covered, in a little bit of liquid. You can easily add garlic, ginger, citrus, soy, or other flavorings to the liquid or at the end of cooking to fancy up the side dish. But this basic cooking method gives a perfectly delicious result.
Baby bok choy can vary in size a lot; choose heads that are all about the same size for this technique. If the heads are wider than 2 inches, cut them in quarters, rather than halves, for cooking.
¼ cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon honey
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
4 baby bok choy (6 to 7 inches long, 2 inches wide), about 10 to 12 ounces, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, washed and spun dry
¼ tsp. kosher salt
Combine the chicken broth, the soy sauce, and the honey in a glass measuring cup and whisk to combine well. In a 10-inch straight-sided sauté pan that has a lid, heat the vegetable oil and ½ tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. When the butter has melted and is bubbling, sprinkle the ¼ teaspoon salt over the pan. Arrange the bok choy, cut-side down (or one cut side down), in one layer in the pan. (They will be snug.) Cook, without stirring, until the undersides of the bok choy are deeply browned, 6 to 7 minutes.
Carefully pour the liquids into the pan and cover immediately. Simmer until the liquid is almost completely reduced (a teaspoon or two will be left), 5 to 6 minutes. (Check occasionally to make sure the liquids don’t reduce entirely and start to burn.) Uncover, remove the pan from the heat, and transfer the bok choy to a serving platter. Add the remaining ½ tablespoon butter and a tablespoon of water and stir well with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon as the butter melts, scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Scrape and pour the pan sauce over the bok choy.
Serves 2 to 3