Bok choi (pac choi) in the kitchen and garden

Bok choi or pac choi is my favorite of all the chinese cabbages. It’s tender and sweet and is sturdy enough to last for a couple of weeks in the fridge after harvesting. I love it fresh and sauteed or grilled, and it is full of the wonderful sulfur compounds that are so healthful. Just like the rest of the cabbage family. 

Grow transplants

It is so easy to grow as long as you start early enough indoors. I haven’t seen many transplants available in stores so I always start my own around February first. These babies do not like to be transplanted into larger pots like tomatoes, so they should be grown in small pots that they will stay in until going out in the garden. I’ve had great luck growing pac choi in containers, and in fact prefer that since I can control cabbage worms easily.   

Bok choi in a container

Full sun, good soil

They grow best in full sun in rich organic soil that is well-drained. They should be planted out early – they have the capacity to withstand frost. They are moderate feeders so benefit from a top-dressing of compost or composted manure when planting. Mulch with organic mulch such as straw once they are growing.

And harvest young. I’ve had the best luck growing some of the “baby” varieties that are harvested when about six inches tall. They stay tender, and are early enough that they often avoid the cabbage worms.  

Cabbage moths are much more a problem on broccoli and regular cabbage, but occasionally they will be out early enough to attack pac choi. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), an organic bacterial pesticide that goes after pesky cabbage moth larvae, is easy to apply and safe to use.

Grilled pac choi

Grilled pak choi

Harvest small heads whole and carefully cut off the root end, taking care not to cut into the heart which will cause the leaves to separate (which is also okay because they can be used in a salad).

Sprinkle with a fruity olive oil and lay gently on a grill rack or in a grill basket. Turn with tongs after about five minutes, grill 5 minutes more and remove to a platter.

Splash with balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and serve as a delicious side to whatever you are having as a main course.

You can change up the flavor a bit by using sesame oil instead of olive oil, and splashing with soy or ponzu sauce after they come off the grill.

Kalecannon

This time of year cabbage and kale are plentiful and nutritious. It’s also time to think about getting those transplants ready for the garden. The cold weather doesn’t bother these hearty (and hardy) plants. 

Redbor kale

All members of the cole family are troubled by cabbage moths, so be ready when your transplants go out to cover them with row covers or be vigilant about treating with Bt, a bacterium specific to butterfly and moth larvae (available at most garden centers). 

Now to the best part – eating!

Whether Chinese cabbage such as bok choi or napa,  round head red or green cabbage, Winterbor, red Russian or laciniato kale, they all can make a wonderful riff on the traditional Irish colcannon. 

This true comfort food is simply made with mashed potatoes and cabbage or kale. It sounds unusual, but I’ll guarantee that there’s something magical about the combination of earthy potatoes and sweet cabbage or kale.  

Start with mashed potatoes

And as great as it is just as the Irish make it, there are so many other things you can add to it to make it even more delicious. You simply make mashed potatoes as you always have (add cream cheese when mashing for more richness).

Choose your vegetables

Then saute vegetables of your choice – kale, swiss chard, chinese cabbage, traditional cabbage, eggplant, zucchini, broccoli – with some onion and a bit of garlic until slightly tender.

Kalecannon

Mix with the mashed potatoes and bake. It makes a perfect side dish to any main course, and is a delicious vegetarian entree all by itself. 

Feel free to add and subtract as your palate desires. You can substitute half the potatoes with parsnips, add carrots or peppers. You can also top the dish with cheddar, gouda or parmesan cheese for a different flavor. If you like, top the dish with bread crumbs or panko before baking. 

Kalecannon 

Serve six as a side or four as a main dish 

4 medium russet potatoes (about two and a half pounds), peeled and cut into chunks. You can use reds or yellow potatoes for a different flavor

2 T. salt (sounds like a lot, but you are salting the water which will give the potatoes just enough saltiness

4 T. butter or 2 T. butter and 2 T. cream cheese

Approximately 1 c. milk or cream

3 c. chopped kale, cabbage, chard, or other leafy green

3 green onions or one small leek, chopped finely

1 clove garlic, minced (optional)

½ c. chopped sweet red pepper or mix in a little hot pepper if you like

In a medium -sized saucepan, put the potato chunks and cover with cold water by an inch. Add salt and bring to a boil.  potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water by at least an inch. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, and bring to a boil. Boil until a fork easily pierces the potatoes, about 15-20 minutes. Drain well.

Saute vegetables

Preheat the oven to 425. Melt the butter in a saute pan and add the greens. Saute about three minutes. Add the onions or leeks and any other vegetables and cook another minute. Set aside.

Mash and bake

Mash the potatoes with a potato masher or mixer, using enough milk or cream to make them creamy but not runny. Combine with the vegetables and salt and pepper to taste. Smooth into an oiled casserole dish and add cheese and/or breadcrumbs if using. Bake about 30 minutes until the mixture is bubbly. Let stand ten minutes and enjoy!