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By Nancy K. Crevier



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By Nancy K. Crevier

The wonderful thing about Newtown is the trees — tall, ancient maples thick with hand-shaped leaves, giant oaks with arms outspread, towering firs, and groves of delicate birch. The awful thing about Newtown is the trees — endless woods of maples, oaks, firs, and birch that begin where the lawn ends, casting great shadows across the property. And that includes shading any vegetable garden that may be planted within hundreds of feet of the tree line.

It is a love-hate relationship that I carry on each spring and summer season with the trees that cover the majority of the acre I would love to farm. I shake my fist at their lush foliage and overhanging branches that bar the sun from warming the soil. But I love their stately presence and the hospitable housing they provide for the numerous birds that serenade our mornings.

Over the years, I have managed to corral a tiny plot of sunshine (well, it’s really sunny only part of the summer….) and start a garden. I have discovered that if I begin early enough in the season, I can raise an enviable crop of greens to carry us through July when the heat and humidity get the best of the hardiest of the lettuces.

This spring, alongside the Quatre Saison, Oakleaf, Red Sails, and Black Simpson lettuces I have branched out (like my leafy foes in the woods) to include greens that I have not grown before. One of them is the Chinese leafy vegetable called Pak Choi, known more familiarly as Boy Choy.

The dark green leaves top pale green stems clustered above the base of the plant. The entire plant is edible, a quality that I love when growing vegetables. Pak Choi can be harvested whole, or early cuttings of the leaves and stems can be taken, leaving the plant to re-sprout. I am eagerly anticipating the plants’ maturity, which should come any time now.

I’m counting on the literature being true that this plant is more heat tolerant than other greens, just in case an early burst of summer heat blesses our region. My other concern when growing this member of the cabbage family, I’m told, should be slugs. Wet weather and any lower leaves that yellow and droop to the ground are an open invitation to the slimy garden pest. The shallow root system means that this plant can weather a dry spell, however, a plus for gardeners like me who often think, sometime around 1 am, “Oh, I should have watered the garden today….”

Calorie counting has fallen out of favor, but in case you do keep track of your calorie intake, pak choi boasts just 9 calories in one cup of shredded leaves and stem. But just because it is low in calories does not mean it is low on nutrition. That same cup of pak choi contains an admirable amount of vitamin A — 63 percent of the daily value — and 52 percent of the daily value of vitamin C, as well as providing fiber and a respectable vegetable source of calcium.

Pak Choi originated in China centuries ago, according to most sources, and dozens of varieties of the plant now exist. Whether growing the tiny extra dwarf pak choi harvested when two inches tall or the tall Chinese pak choi that grows a foot tall, the crisp stem and smooth, thick leaves are delicious eaten raw in salads or cooked in stir-fry dishes, soups, and sauces.

The flavor of pak choi is much milder than the compact headed cabbage used in American cooking, but has enough zest to add a signature to the finished dish. Store harvested pak choi in a cool part of the refrigerator and use within 3 to 5 days for the best flavor and crispness.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that pak choi will be a successful addition to my spring garden and my spring cooking. Quick to grow, quick to harvest, quick to prepare — and tasty, to boot. What more could a gardener crave?

This easy stir-fry from the November 2007 Gourmet Magazine makes a fabulous side dish for fish or meat.

Stir-Fried Bok Choy & Garlic

1/3  C reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 Tbs soy sauce

1½ tsp cornstarch

3 Tbs peanut or vegetable oil

¼ C thinly sliced garlic (about 8 cloves)

2 lbs baby or Shanghai bok choy, halved lengthwise

2 tsp Asian sesame oil

Stir together broth, soy sauce, cornstarch, and ½ teaspoon salt until cornstarch has dissolved.

Heat a wok over high heat until a drop of water evaporates instantly. Pour peanut oil down side of wok, then swirl oil, tilting wok to coat side. Add garlic and stir-fry until pale golden, 5 to 10 seconds. Add half of bok choy and stir-fry until leaves wilt, about 2 minutes, then add remaining bok choy and stir-fry until all leaves are bright green and limp, 2 to 3 minutes total.

Stir broth mixture, then pour into wok and stir-fry 15 seconds. Cover with lid and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in sesame oil, then transfer to a serving dish.

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