Cooking hydroponic farm to table Asian Greens: Stir frying Pak Choi

Monday, September 25, 2023

Asian greens grows very well and it is also a daily staple for most local families. Since this is a cooking blog, I will keep the focus in this post. If there are some who are interested in the technicalities of growing a home hydroponic system, I will be more than happy to share my experience in another post. (Or perhaps in another blog?)

My hydroponic set up on my balcony: Pak Choi and Cai Xin. 

There are those who think that soil-grown greens taste better. Perhaps so, especially soil grown greens tend to take a longer time to grow, developing better texture and flavour along the way. My home grown veg has a 4-5 weeks cycle. It's quick and the advantage is we can eat it freshly harvested and it is off course pesticide-free. And if you use the right cooking technique, you can bring out the best of your greens.     

A few words about Asian greens. I must admit that they do not have the best of names: Pak Choi, Bok Choi, Cai Xin, Kai Lan and so on. Or "chai" if you are going Mandarin. If you search on the Net, you can see that there is a bit of confusion on how some of these are named. I will work out a few recipes along the way. The good thing about greens is that they are easily interchangeable in these recipes. 

I will group cooking greens into four categories: 

1. Quick stir-fry in a wok
2. Blanched in hot water 
3. Cooked with a stock 
4. Cooked in a soup

In this post, I will start with the most common household method of cooking Asian greens - stir-frying using the wok.

The science of this is simple. All greens- soiled or hydroponic - contains water. For this method,  you want to end up with a juicy and crunchy green, instead of a shrunk, soft and wet plate of it. Therefore you want to cook it fast and in high heat. It is intuitive to think that the high heat will "seal" the veg and prevent water from oozing out. Actually the veg will turn out watery if you use low heat and cook it slowly (thus longer). 
As green cook fast, what you want to do is to ensure maximum heat input and quick. You want the veg to be cooked just right and retain its texture. And using sufficient oil will also coat the veg and prevent water from oozing out. The idea is same as how we use olive oil for salads. You will end up with a wet salad without an oily dressing. 

To ensure you end up with a plate of crunchy veg, you want:
  • The veg to be dry when entering the wok
  • The heat to be as high as possible - this means using the right work (steel or iron has best heat transfer) and avoiding over crowding. 
  • Quick spatula action to move greens around and plate the veg when it is sufficiently cooked. 
You will know by now that the wok is the best for this. Large surface, good heat transfer and a bottom round shape which allows for good spatula action. As your home stove fire do not roar like this in Cantonese restaurants, you compensate by cooking your veg in smaller batches. 

Let's get down to the recipe. I will keep it simple, leaving out the need to add meat, slices of carrots etc. The cooking takes about 2 minutes. So just have the ingredients readied by the side of the wok. I am using three bunches of pak choi, which has white stems. I just harvest it, cut it up and then stir-fry. 

3 bunches of Pak Choi, quartered
1 tsp of minced garlic
2 tablespoons of oil
1-2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  1. Heat up the wok in high fire.
  2. Add the oil. After a minute, add garlic and the pak Choi. Stir fry
  3. Splash soy sauce on to the side of the wok and stir the veg. 
  4. After a minute, dish out and serve immediately. 
Best eaten with rice. 

Below is a short video showing some of the stir-frying.


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