The first time I tried hollow root vegetables was at a restaurant with my Dad’s side of the family somewhere in Flushing. It was after a weekend of pizza, bread, and other heavy items, and the lightly cooked greens were a godsend.
Cooked in a little broth with some garlic and ginger, they were salty and refreshing. I like to think they worked as little scrubbing bubbles on the plaque that had accumulated in my arteries over the weekend.
So imagine my surprise when I was walking around the Asian Food Market (Colvin Ave, Albany, NY) and saw “Ong Choy $1.79/lb” for sale. Hmm, what? Hollow, light green stems, and some large leafy greens… maybe this was like what I had in Flushing. They were pre-packaged in bundles, so I grabbed one that was about two hands around.
I didn’t get a picture of the ends, but they’re completely hollow all throughout the stem. In Cantonese they’re known as Tong Choy, and in English you might call it Water Spinach. I tend to like most spinachy kind of greens.
If you don’t know how to cook Chinese veggies, it’s really easy, with no right or wrong method. The way I’ve been cooking my veggies lately has been like this:
Sear chunks of garlic until outsides are browned.
Toss in some of the veggies (like the firmer stem ends) and stir-fry until softened.
Add some water or chicken broth to speed up the process. Once those start to soften up, add in the leafier greens and cook until desired doneness.
Maybe a little salt, white pepper, sesame oil, oyster sauce… whatever other condiments you want can get tossed in, too.
You end up with something like this. A bowl of cooked Chinese veggies. I like the tong/ong choy because it doesn’t need any blanching (I like to blanch some of tougher or bitterer veggies before stir-frying), and has a great light texture. The garlic becomes softer, since the liquid will steam it up and cook it through. Still a lot of garlicky flavor, but it’s mellower and you don’t need to reach for the parsely when you’re done eating.
Are there any stem lovers up in here? I usually go for the stems of vegetables over the leaves or greener parts when they’re cooked like this. Broccoli, bok choy – doesn’t matter. I want the firm crunchy bottoms and not the leaves. It’s like the leaves are too soft for me. I don’t mind it when it’s all one texture, like just spinach leaves, but on the whole, If there’s diced broccoli, I want the stems. I didn’t really have the problem with the tong choy – the leaves and stems were both enjoyable.
I can never get Chinese veggies to taste as buttery and light as they do in Chinese restaurants, but I am guessing that might have something to do with a very flavorful and salty chicken broth, and oil.
Eat it when it’s fresh. I made the mistake of only making half of the amount I’d purchased and letting the ong choy sit in the fridge for a week or so. They stems turned woody, and some of the leaves got a little gooey/melty. Not ideal flavor or texture in the final product.