The last rays of the late afternoon sun streamed through our balcony, casting shadows from our potted plants onto the ashy green floor tiles. It was almost a ritual, to sit there with my mother preparing cooking ingredients in this semi-outdoor space. Our balcony was relatively small and narrow but two or three people would sit comfortably together, we even once had our dog house there. Mother and I were sitting on the plastic stools and trimming a colander full of Choy Sum – one of the most popular leafy greens in Chinese cuisine. We snapped off the bright green leaves and put them in a pile and the slender light green stems on the other, as according to mother, they require slightly different cooking time. Some of the plants bear pale yellow eatable flowers which grow shyly among the almost oval shaped leaves. Young Choy Sum require little amount of time to cook, and with only the simplest methods such as quick-fry, steam or blanch, to emphasis its sweet, tender qualities. Mother’s favorite way to cook them was blanch them quickly and then topped them with oyster sauce. Or quick-fry with sliced beef filets, or with homemade crispy fish cakes. Sometimes, mother would add a handful of Choy Sum into noodle soup to give the dish a nice texture and a nutrient boost.
Choy Sum is my childhood greens, it is available all year round and is sold abundantly in food markets in China, alongside other Chinese greens such as Pak choi, Gai-Lan (Chinese broccoli), peas shoots, mustard greens, water spinach and the like. It is one of the aspects I most miss living in Asia, which is the overwhelming (in a good way) choices of fresh green vegetables, one can consume a kind every day without repeating it for a week. Although I can find a couple of types of Chinese greens in Asian store in Berlin, but it is hardly comparable.
So when I saw Choy Sum in the Asian market the other day, I immediately bought some and wanted to make something that reminds me of home. This recipe is highly adaptable, you can use any type of green vegetables in place of Choy Sum, but I do recommend you to look for them in Asian market, since its mild sweet flavour pairs brilliantly with the strong umami mushroom sauce. It is well worth the effort, trust me, you will not find the same (or similar) delicate taste in Kale or Chard, it is just the fact.
Note: Separated the leaves and stems (in two piles, see picture) of the larger plant, (leave the leaves that are growing on top with the stem) and then cut the long stems in half, leave the smaller plants whole. Blanching the greens in oiled water preserves the colour of the vegetables, it also gives them a nice shine. If the Choy Sum are young and thin, blanch them (all parts) in rolling boil water for 30 seconds only. Keep the water after blanching the vegetables and use it for the sauce.
Braised Mixed Mushrooms with Choy Sum (Chinese Greens)
Served 2 as a main (served with rice), 4 as a side of a larger meal
- 200g Choy Sum (or Pak Choi, Gai-Lan, Spinach, if not available), see note for how to prepare
- 150g mixed mushrooms of your choice (I used Shimeji and chestnut, but others such as oyster, enoki, shiitake, king oyster etc. would work well too), sliced
- 1 small carrot, julienned
- 1- 3cm ginger root, peeled and julienned
- 1 spring onion, sliced (for garish)
- 2 tablespoon of vegetable oil, plus 1tsp. for blanching the Choy Sum
- 1 cup vegetable broth (see note)
- 2 tbsp. gluten-free oyster sauce (or regular oyster sauce if not gluten-free)
- 1 tbsp. Tamari (or regular soy sauce if not gluten-free)
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 1tbsp. cornstarch or potato starch mixed with 2 tbsp. water
- Steamed Jasmine rice, basmati rice for whole grain rice (I used brown rice)
Bring a small pot of well salted water to boil, add the 1 tsp. vegetable oil and the stems of the Choy Sum. Cook for 30 seconds, then add the leafy parts. Blanch for about 1 minute (not longer). Removed the pot from heat. Use tongs or chopsticks to removed the Choy Sum on a serving platter, set the platter on top of the pot to keep the Choy Sum warm.
Warm the 2 tbsp. of oil in a wok or a high rimmed non-stick frying pan. Add ginger and carrots batons and fry for a minute. Add mushrooms and continue to fry until slightly brown, about 2 minutes. Add a cup of the vegetable broth from the pot. Season with the oyster sauce, tamari, sesame oil and bring to simmer for about another minute. Slowly stream in the cornstarch water mixture until the sauce is thicken (but not lumpy) as your preference (you might not need all the mixture).
Remove the wok from heat and then carefully pour the mushroom and sauce over the Choy Sum. Served immediately with steamed rice.