Chinese cabbages

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As members of the genus Brassica, Chinese cabbages have all the health benefits associated with their better-known relatives, such as broccoli and cauliflower. There are literally scores of varieties of Chinese cabbages. What all these vegetables have in common is texture that can be both crunch and creamy, and a sweet, juicy, mild flavor that blends well with other foods. There are differences among the Chinese cabbages, but most of them are virtually interchangeable. And they can easily be distinguished by dividing them into heading and non-heading categories.

Of the heading cabbages, Chinese celery cabbage, also known as Peking cabbage (wong nga baak in Cantonese)is widely available in two forms: Napa, with full leaves and an oval head; and Tientsin, also known as Michihili, which has a long, cylindrical shape.

Of the non-heading, leafy cabbages, bok choy is the most widely available. It typically has dark green leaves and ivory stalks, and is traditionally used in soups, stir-fried dishes with meats and seafood, and in pickled salads. Like broccoli, this is really two vegetables in one: the stalks have a sweet cabbage-like flavor, the leaves a mildly bitter bite.

Flowering bok choy (choy sum), an immature plant, is found sporadically throughout the year. It looks like bok choy with narrow stalks and yellow flowers. Also used in stir-fries, flowering bok choy is sometimes arranged around the outside of a dish as an edible garnish.

Shanghai bok choy, Shanghai cabbage, or baby hearts of cabbage (seut choy), another member of the bok choy family, has spoon-shaped, vivid green stalks and flat, full leaves. So small that many markets bundle five or six plants together, Shanghai bok choy is sweeter (and considerably more expensive) than ordinary bok choy, and is used whole or split, in stir-fries or as an edible garnish.

Chinese oil vegetable, or flowering cabbage (yow choy), is the treasured cabbage of Hong Kong and was traditionally grown for its oil. Look for it year-round in Chinese and other specialty markets.

With slim, tender stalks, oval leaves, and bright yellow flowers, this slightly bitter plant is often simply stir-fried in smoking hot oil with rice wine and a pinch of salt. Like Shanghai bok choy and flowering bok choy, it is also used as an edible garnish.

Cook's Illustrated Charter Issue Submitted By DIANE LAZARUS On 12-23-94

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