We’ve all heard that eating seasonally is better for our bodies and the environment. The foods contain more nutrition because they’re harvested when they’re ripe, and they generally travel fewer miles, supporting the local economy and contributing less pollution. All that usually makes the food cheaper, too.
But sometimes that’s just a hard thing to do, especially here in Western Pennsylvania, when it seems like we haven’t seen any plant life in months! Plus, since we can get just about anything we want year round these days, it’s hard to even know what’s in season at any given time.
But Spring is on its way, we know it! So this month, we’re spotlighting bok choy. While you can usually find it year round in supermarkets, it is a spring vegetable, and is at its peak quality during this time.
Bok choy is just one of about 33 varieties of Chinese cabbage, belonging to the cruciferous vegetable family. It first came to the United States around the end of the 19th century by Chinese prospectors during the gold rush.
Bok choy, also known as pak-choi, looks kind of like celery and Swiss chard, but has a mild flavor that makes it perfect to complement boldly flavored foods. The white, fleshy ribs also remain crisp and crunchy when cooked, lending a nice texture to soups and stir fries. When cooking, the leaves and the stems should be separated, since the stems will require a longer cooking time.
The stems can also be used in place of celery in many recipes, and the leaves can be used in place of spinach or kale. All parts of bok choy can be eaten raw, and is a delicious addition to salads.
Nutritionally speaking, bok choy has many of the same cancer busting benefits of vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, as it is in the same family. It’s not usually a vegetable that comes to mind when we think of cruciferous vegetables! Bok choy is about 95% water, making it incredibly low calorie – 1 cup contains only 12 calories! It’s also helpful in managing blood pressure: bok choy is an excellent source of potassium (which most of us don’t get enough of!), and vitamin A, and a good source of vitamin C and folic acid. It also contains some iron and calcium, making it a great addition for older people, or those who don’t consume dairy. A bonus: bok choy contains lower levels of oxalic acid than other greens like spinach, which makes its calcium and iron more easily absorbed!
Store bok choy in a perforated plastic bag in the produce compartment of your refrigerator. It’s relatively perishable, so try to use it within a few days; although I’ve had larger heads of it last up to a week. Wash it right before using it to avoid having wilty greens.
This recipe is a great primer to bok choy, if you’ve never cooked with it. It’s easy and quick, and the wonderfully aromatic broth nicely complements the different parts of the plant. It’s also light, which is what our bodies crave in the spring! This would be perfect for prepping ahead and taking to work for lunch. If you do, keep the greens separate from the soup until the day you’re going to eat it to keep them crisp. To make it a more substantial meal, add an ounce or two of tofu or cooked chicken breast to each bowl.
For this bok choy miso soup, I use my homemade vegetable broth. If you use store bought broth, I recommend choosing low sodium broth to keep the sodium content in check.
Another thing I highly recommend is to replace your soy sauce with low sodium soy sauce. If you already have regular soy sauce, avoid wasting money by diluting it with 1/3 to 1/2 water. Buy low sodium moving forward. Once you get used to the taste of low sodium, you can start diluting that with 1/4 or more water.
Bok Choy Miso Soup
Lighten things up this spring with this satisfyingly simple miso soup.
- 4 cups homemade vegetable broth (or low sodium vegetable broth)
- 1 star anise
- 2 inch piece of ginger, sliced
- 2 inch cinnamon stick
- 10 oz mushrooms, sliced
- 2-3 stalks bok choy, white stems and green leave separated
- 4 green onions, whites and greens separated
- 2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp miso paste
- Sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
Bring the first four ingredients to a boil in a large pot. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, slice the mushrooms and white part of the green onions, and chop the white stems of the bok choy.
Remove the spices from the broth with a slotted spoon.
Add the mushrooms, the whites of the onions, and bok choy stems to the broth. Simmer for a few minutes, until mushrooms are cooked through.
Stir in the soy sauce and remove from heat.
Measure the miso paste into a small bowl, and ladle some broth into it. Stir until miso paste is dissolved into broth, and pour into the pot.
Thinly slice the green onion tops and bok choy leaves.
Divide soup into 4 bowls, and top with leaves and tops of onions.
Garnish with sesame seeds if desired.