In season: pak choy

Farmers grow some fruits and vegetables because their customers demand them. Strawberries. Tomatoes. Melons. Spinach. All showy and luscious in their season.

The choys – bok choy and pak choy with all their variant spellings — may not be the most glamorous vegetables available at your local farmers market, but they are a real workhorse for Georgia farmers.

Jim Fraser, former farm manager of Elm Street Gardens, says the choys have always been a good crop for him. “We like them because they grow fast and you can plant them densely,” he said. “It’s a crop that makes good use of space and our customers really like the choys. They’re very popular.”

Two-acre Elm Street Gardens is in Sparta in Hancock County. The farm sells its produce at the Saturday morning Morningside and Freedom farmers markets. And pak choy is so popular that they generally sell all they can bring to market each week.

“I’ve grown mostly Shanghai Green Pak Choy,” Fraser said. “It seems to do well here and doesn’t attract as many bugs as other varieties. You can plant pak choy any time except in the summer. We usually plant about 50 every two or three weeks. The baby size is ready at about 30 days. In another 10 or so days the plants are medium-sized. We like to pick them when they’re small. If they stay in the field too long, they can get eaten by bugs, despite their insect resistance.”

He manages the crop through succession sowing and then harvesting about half the grown pak choy at one time. Half one week, half the next week, then it’s time to plant again.

When asked for cooking ideas, Fraser suggests a simple preparation, just adding pak choy to a quick stir fry.

All parts of the choys are edible from thick, light-colored stalks to smooth dark green leaves. Since the stems are thick and watery, if you’re using large pak choy, you may want to separate the stalks and leaves. That would be important in a recipe where you wanted to cook off the liquid from the stalks without overcooking the greens. Otherwise, everything can go into the pot together.

Baby pak choy can be cooked whole or quartered and make an attractive side dish. No matter what the size, trim off the stem end and be sure to rinse completely to get rid of any dirt that can be lurking between the stalks.

Bill Schroeder’s Tofu Stir Fry with Buford Highway Greens

Bill Schroeder is now the Culinary Ambassador at the Buford Highway Farmers Market, but for many years, he and his wife Shi Yi owned the Pan Asia Bistro in Roswell. This dish was the No. 1 item on his menu. He made it then, as he makes it now, with greens from the Buford Highway Farmers Market, hence the recipe name. “You can use any of the choys. Look for crisp stems and firm, not wilted, leaves.”

Shao Xing wine is Chinese cooking wine, available at the Buford Highway market or at any Asian grocery. You can substitute sherry, if you wish.

As in all stir fry recipes, the cooking goes quickly once all the ingredients are prepped and ready.

2 1/4-inch thick slices fresh ginger

2 large cloves garlic

1/2 cup water, divided

1 tablespoon Shao Xing wine

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

Few drops toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 carrot, cut into 1/4-inch slices

8 cups chopped pak choy (about 1 pound)

Vegetable oil

1 pound firm tofu, cut into lengthwise sticks

Jasmine or sushi rice, for serving

Using the flat side of a chef’s knife or meat cleaver, smash ginger slices and garlic cloves. Set aside.

In a small bowl, make sauce: stir together 1/4 cup water, Shao Xing wine, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. Set aside.

In a measuring cup, dissolve cornstarch in remaining 1/4 cup water. Set aside.

Steam or boil carrot slices just until color changes but carrots are still crisp. Drain and set aside.

Cut stems of pak choy at an angle into 1/2-inch slices. Chop leaves coarsely. Set aside.

Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat. When hot, add enough oil to coat the wok completely and leave a little at the bottom of the wok. Swirl oil around until hot. Add tofu and brown on all sides. Add a little more oil and toss in the ginger and cook 1 minute, then add garlic and cook until the edges start to brown. Add carrots and greens, tossing in hot oil until greens turn brightly colored and stems just begin to soften. Add reserved sauce mixture and toss. It will come to a boil quickly. Stir cornstarch and water mixture again and then add to wok. Keep tossing as sauce thickens and coats vegetables and tofu. Cook until leaves are just wilted but still brightly colored. Remove coins of ginger and flattened garlic before serving, or warn guests to avoid. Serve over rice, if desired. Serves: 2

Per serving: 123 calories (percent of calories from fat, 45), 6 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 7 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 10 milligrams cholesterol, 439 milligrams sodium.

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