Photo by Katy G. Wilkens.

You Are What You Eat: Oh, baby! Bok choy!

By Katy G. Wilkens

Until last year, I had no luck growing bok choy, also called pak choi (white cabbage). Every spring it would send up flowers before I could harvest it. Once it bolted in this way, it wasn’t edible.

After reading about this great veggie, I learned that bok choy is perfect for Pacific Northwest gardens. It needs only three to five hours of sun a day to produce leaves high in vitamin C and beta carotene. I moved my plants out of the direct sun to a partially shaded bed and I was rewarded with more bok choy than my family could eat.

If you garden, now is the time to think about planting these great veggies. Start them indoors about a month before your last frost date; or if outdoors, start two weeks before that date. Wait to transplant seedlings until the nights are above 50 degrees or they will flower right away.

If you don’t have a garden, Asian produce markets carry bok choy year round, often fresher and cheaper than you’ll find in regular grocery store. Choose bok choy or the more tender baby bok choy, and you have the makings for several healthy and delicious dishes.

Bok choy stir-fry
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup onions, thinly sliced
2-3 tablespoons garlic
2-3 tablespoons grated ginger root
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups (¾ pound) baby bok choy
½ cup sliced red pepper
½ cup white wine vinegar or unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Chop baby bok choy in quarters. If using the large type, strip greens off the stems. Heat oil in frying pan or wok. Sauté stems first, and then add greens for 1 to 2 minutes. Sauté onions 2 to 4 minutes and add garlic and ginger. Sprinkle curry powder over onions. Add sugar, bok choy and peppers. Cook 1 to 3 minutes, until bok choy is bright green and peppers are bright red. If using the large bok choy, add tender greens and cover. Reduce heat and let greens steam in their juice until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and turn occasionally. Add a little water if sticking. Don’t overcook or greens will turn dark. Remove greens with slotted spoon, leaving juice in pan. Add rice vinegar and heat to boiling. Remove from heat and pour over greens. Sprinkle with sesame oil and serve. Serves 4.

Nutritional information:
Calories: 101, Carbohydrates: 9 grams, Protein: 2 grams, Sodium: 58 milligrams

Grilled baby bok choy
4-6 baby bok choy
3 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil
1/2 teaspoon each dried spice:
cayenne pepper
black pepper
garlic powder
onion powder

Heat grill or broiler. Mix spices and butter in a bowl. Cut bok choy in half or thirds. Put on preheated grill or grilling rack in oven. Brush with seasoned butter. Cook 2 to 4 minutes until heads show grill marks and edges of leaves are crispy. Using tongs, turn bok choy over, brush again and grill. Serve with barbecued chicken or pork. Serves 4.

Nutritional information:
Calories: 89, Carbohydrates: 3 grams, Protein: 1 gram, Sodium 114 milligrams

Baby bok choy ramen salad

4-6 heads baby bok choy
½ cup chopped green onions
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup sugar
1 package ramen noodles
½ cup whole almonds
¼ cup white sesame seeds

1 tablespoon tahini or sugar (depending on how sweet you want to make it)
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

Chop bok choy and onions and put in large bowl. Crush noodles with your hands or a rolling pin; throw away seasoning packet. In saucepan, melt butter and add sugar. Add noodles, almonds and sesame seeds, and then cook until golden brown. Be careful not to burn. Set aside to cool. Mix salad dressing in small bowl or jar. Add ramen and nut mixture to greens, sprinkle with salad dressing and toss. Serve right away. If taking to a potluck or buffet, carry the ramen nut mixture in a separate container and add right before serving. Serves 6.

Nutritional information:
Calories: 294, Carbohydrates: 24 grams, Protein: 7 grams, Sodium: 280 milligrams

The information in this column is meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.

[Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. A recipient of the Susan Knapp Excellence in Education Award from the National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition, she has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of her recipes at]

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