Baby Bok Choy (Part I)
Baby Bok Choy, also marketed as Shanghai Bok Choy, has been growing in popularity in this country for over a decade. A miniature version of its full-size cousin, this petite veggie is readily available year-round at most full-service retail outlets. This tender and very versatile member of the Brassica family (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.) can be the star of a dish or part of a cast of supporting ingredients. Here is the first in a two-part series presenting Baby Bok Choy in very different roles. This month our regional representative in New York, Frank Fimano, shares his deceptively simple Crispy Shanghai Salad, while next month, the same veggie will be incorporated into a spicy Miso soup!
“As the winter season approaches, I always find myself gravitating towards and craving a few more greens than during those busy, fruit-filled days of summer,” Frank explained. “While many choose to cook baby bok choy, it’s delicious raw as well. Similar to a shaved Brussels Sprout salad, but more closely related to celery in texture with a delicate, cabbage-like flavor. Quite unique, really.”
Frank’s dish is impressive looking and delicious, though even a novice in the kitchen can prepare this recipe with professional results if the process and plating are followed. While there are only two core ingredients in his salad – Baby Bok Choy and shredded carrot – do not be deceived by this simplicity. Frank’s special vinaigrette upgrades this veggie combo into a head-turning dish of textures and flavors. His culinary mentor, like most who enjoy the art of cooking, was his mother.
“My mom taught me to focus on techniques and ingredients vs. recipes. When you become familiar with techniques and ingredients, the recipes will flow. Her #1 rule: taste, taste and taste some more! When I was younger, it was my job to stir the Sunday gravy. The first time I stood on a chair to reach the large pot on the stove, I remember her asking if it was ready yet. I asked her how I would know. Mom answered, ‘stir and taste, then stir again and taste some more...you will know when it’s done when you can taste the love.’ I think about that day and those words every time I find myself stirring something in a pot to this day!”
As for technique, here’s a tip for beginners to accomplish the first line in Frank’s ingredient list: “Baby Bok Choy, thinly sliced, including leafy greens.” Sounds simple enough for those who grew up standing on a chair in front of a stovetop, but for many, there is a first time for everything. Cut the Baby Bok Choy in half lengthwise, then, with the cut sides down, slice each half crosswise into very thin ribbons. Also, one of Frank’s key ingredients is soy sauce, which adds a deep, savory flavor to vegetables that work well with their light, fresh flavors. He suggests mixing a few drops of soy sauce into any favorite vinaigrette to give even a simple green salad multiple layers of complex tastes; he does caution adding the soy sauce before any other additives to avoid over-seasoning the salad.
Frank Fimano spent twenty years on the retail side of the produce industry in the State of New York, which he feels gave him the industry knowledge and experience to make the transition to the wholesale side of the business with Melissa’s. For the past 17 years, as the company’s Regional Business Manager operating out of his Rochester, NY office, Frank lends his retail expertise to our many retail accounts in the area by providing implementation, information, education, and continuous collaboration through the seasons as harvests present new marketing opportunities almost daily. Frank focuses on promoting the consumption of fresh produce, which contributes to the company’s growth through increased sales.
“This is such a fascinating industry, but it was at arm’s length back in my retail days when my view had more to do with displays, data and category management. Behind those retail produce departments is an army of dedicated people who love the business of perishable produce. I mean, just walking through a field of strawberries or an apple orchard, I can now appreciate the pride that has gone into bringing those beautiful crops to life! It takes a collaborative effort of growers, food safety managers, accountants, sales managers, marketers, and even specialized warehouse workers and truck drivers to get a crop from the field to a retail display. If you are in this business, you can feel the dedication and hard work that has gone into each piece of fruit or vegetable. We are not dealing with nails, so the perishability factor in our industry makes it wholly unique and ever-changing.”
When not tending to his accountants for Melissa’s, Frank loves to cook in and dine out. His approach to cooking is that the best things are the simplest things, but at the same time, also the hardest to do. He enjoys challenging himself by trying dishes that are outside of his comfort zone as well as making simple meals that look impressive, like his Shanghai Salad recipe. His two favorite ingredients are mangoes and garlic (separately); he admits to being somewhat of a “garlic head.” When dining out, Frank confesses to always overdoing it on both appetizers and the dessert cart with a so-many-dishes-so-little-time approach!
This same “the whole cart” appetite was evident when asked what survival items he would need if stranded on a desert island: “Internet connection, my laptop, and Dodger baseball (okay, family), a Japanese knife and matches to make a fire. And for drinks, I’m going to be presumptuous and assume there are coconuts on this island, so I’m going to bring along some rum, a paper umbrella, and a can-do attitude.” A far cry from Tom Hanks’ infamous smiley soccer ball; that island must be Manhattan! Good thing, too…you forgot the soy sauce!
Crispy Shanghai Salad
For the salad:
8 Baby Bok Choy, thinly sliced, including leafy greens
½ cup shredded carrot
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (garnish)
For the vinaigrette:
1 clove fresh garlic, pressed through garlic press
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon Melissa’s Blue Agave
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
To thinly slice baby bok choy: cut each head length-wise, cut off one half-inch at the butt, then slice crosswise in thin cuts up the head, ribboning the green tops.
Combine sliced bok choy and shredded carrot into a large bowl, then place in refrigerator for an hour to chill.
Combine all the vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl, then whisk together thoroughly. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes to give the flavors a chance to meld together. Bring back to room temp before applying.
Pour the vinaigrette over the bok choy and carrot mix, and toss until well coated. To plate: Stack the greens high on the plate; sprinkle generously with sesame seeds to garnish. ENJOY!