There are dozens of Chinese leafy green vegetables, but few are available in the United States. Napa cabbage and bok choy are both often readily available at chain grocery stores. The more exotic Chinese leafy green vegetables, however, are harder to source but you may find a good selection in your local Asian markets. Depending on the climate, you may even be able to grow your own. Seeds are available in nurseries and online.
Chinese Cabbage and Chinese Lettuce
Also called Napa cabbage or won bok, Chinese cabbage is more closely related to turnips than cabbages. It is the key ingredient in kim chi. Chinese cabbage can be eaten cooked or raw and is used in soups as well as stir fries. Napa cabbage grows in bullet shaped heads. Winter Chinese lettuce is like a cross between celery and lettuce while summer Chinese lettuce is like a dandelion-lettuce mix. Both have edible stems and lettuce-like leaves and are used in stir fries.
Chinese Spinach, Broccoli and Mustard
Chinese spinach (en choy), or amaranth, looks like beet greens, with red or purple stems and broad, dark green leaves. It is not actually related to spinach but got its name instead from its appearance. Chinese broccoli (gai lan) is a thin-stalked dark green vegetable with a small flower or head that resembles a broccoli crown. It is usually served steamed. Chinese mustard (gai choy) has a spicy mustardy taste and is similar to mustard greens. Its stems are yellowish-green and the thin green leaves often curl in on themselves.
Bok Choy, Choy Sum and Tatsoi
There are dozens of varieties of bok choy, also called pak choi, but only a few are available in the United States. Bok choy has white ribs, similar to celery, and broad green leaves. Baby bok choy is a miniature version of the plant, not a less mature one. Baby bok choy has green ribs and leaves and grows to roughly six inches in height, compared to regular bok choy which can grow upwards of a foot in height. Choy sum is very similar to bok choy, the chief difference being that it has thinner ribs. Tatsoi is another vegetable that looks and tastes like bok choy, but with slightly rounder leaves.
Chrysanthemum Greens and Sweet Potato Leaves
Chrysanthemum greens (tong hao) are not the leaves of the decorative flowering plant of the same name. They are used in many Asian cultures. The leaves are very bitter. Sweet potato leaves are found in Asian and African recipes, usually stir fried with other proteins and vegetables. It seems to have many of the same health properties as the root of the plant.
- The Kitchn: Know Your Asian Greens
- Urban Harvest; Homegrown Chinese Vegetables for the Houston Area; Emily Chen Dunbar; 2004
- The Sydney Morning Herald; Can't tell pak choy from buk choy? Demystifying Asian greens; Paula Goodyer; March 2008
- New South Wales Government: En choy (Amaranthus tricolour)
- Farmspot.org: Chinese Cabbage
- Dr. Gourmet: Bok Choy
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images