Cooking pak choi | Growing pak choi | Site and Soil | Varieties | Sowing | Thinning | Watering | Picking | Troubles
Interest in oriental cookery expands all the time as more people realise how flavoursome, nutritious and easy to prepare are many oriental dishes. Part of the value in terms of flavour and nutrition of oriental cooking is the use of fresh vegetables, in particular greens, typically used in stir fries, but also in many other recipes to lighten dishes as well as adding texture and flavour. The vegetables that get most attention, and the ones that are most likely to be tried out by home gardeners initially are collectively known as ‘chinese leaves'.
These are mostly members of the cabbage family, but quite varied in their structure and appearance. Some kinds are leafy mustard greens, others are cos lettuce-like soft-leaved cabbages. There is also pak choi, which has broad chard-like stems while mizuna, from Japan, which has feathery loose leaves, rather like rocket. Pak choi is perhaps the classic of these vegetables, widely used in cookery. There are many forms and even hybrids with other cabbage-family vegetables, which is understandable across such a vast area of land with some many people and so many regional variations in cookery and in climate. Most kinds have rather thick, spinach-like leaves with broad chard-like stems.
Cooking pak choi
Also called bok choi, pak choy, celery mustard, chinese mustard and spoon cabbage the stalks can be consumed raw, celery-style, with dip, or chopped and used in salads. Pak choi has a high water content and becomes limp very quickly upon cooking. Sliced up, it should be cooked very quickly over high temperature so that the leaves become tender and the stalks stay crisp, or added toward the end of the cooking process, talks first and then the leaves about a minute later.
Pak choi is a very good source of dietary fibre, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, minerals including calcium and potassium, but it is quite high in sodium. It has next to no saturated fat or cholesterol. It is a good source of protein.
Growing pak choi
Site and soil
Chinese leaves are extremely quick to develop, and unfortunately very quick to bolt, or go to seed. So the site must be warm and moist, not hot and dry. The soil must be rich, with plenty of rotted humus and moist.
Sometimes these are offered simply as pak choi, but named varieties, such as ‘Joi Choi' which has white stems, or ‘Mei Quing Choi' with thick stems and rounded leaves, are available.
Pak choi and the other oriental greens are notoriously likely to bolt as quite small plants and sowing is generally delayed until the June to August period. They are sown directly where they are to grow, a few seeds at about ten centimetres spacings. Successional sowings of small amounts can be undertaken to spread the supply.
When the seedlings appear, they can be carefully thinned to one per station, and further thinned if the space is needed.
Attention must be paid to watering, because any dryness at the roots during hot weather will cause bolting. Cold weather may cause this too and the use of horticultural fleece may help in some gardens.
Pak choi can be used as small plants, cooked whole even, so it may be ready for use in as little as five or six weeks. The flowering shoots can be used too if it does bolt or is left to flower eventually.
As members of the cabbage family, pak choi and other chinese leaves suffer the usual pests of the cabbage family, but because they are so quick to develop they stand less chance of being attacked, although snails and slugs can be a problem.