Use our guide and recipes to get the most out of these healthy, leafy greens
Linda Lau Anusasananan
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The choy of cooking
The farmers’ market table is buried in shades of green. Questions ― “What’s that?” “How do you cook it?” ― punctuate conversation as customers spot unfamiliar, leafy Asian greens, called choy in Chinese. In California, many come from the San Joaquin Valley, where Hmong immigrants from Laos settled after the Vietnam War. These farmers, struggling to grow the vegetables of their homeland, have created a bonanza for those in the know, a mystery for the uninitiated.
The most familiar of the greens, such as bok choy, are now sold in supermarkets, but farmers' markets and Asian groceries offer a wonderful range.
Small, curvaceous, jade-green heads (4–10 in.) with mellow flavor.
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Chinese mustard greens
(gai choy, gai choy sum, juk gai choy, small gai choy, or leaf mustard)
Several forms, with a mild to pungent mustard bite and jade-green leaves and stems ― some broad, smooth, and succulent with ruffled leaves, others thin with smoother leaves.
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(also called pak choi or Chinese white cabbage)
Dark green leaves top smooth, ivory stalks with a crisp, juicy texture and a mild, slightly cabbage-like flavor. Most supermarkets carry the mature sizes (up to 20 in.). Shorter heads (6–8 in.) are found mostly in Asian markets.
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(yau, yow, or yu choy; choy sum; ching choy sum; flowering green; or flowering cabbage)
Bright green, slender, fleshy, leafy stalks with tiny yellow buds or flowers have an earthy, slightly bitter mustard flavor. Young ones are often labeled choy sum.
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(bok choy sum; yao, yau, yow, or yu choy; yao choy sum; or Chinese flowering cabbage)
Literally, choy sum means "the heart of the vegetable," but this confusing name can refer to several things, including both yao choy or a miniature bok choy with yellow flowers.