Of the two distinct groups of Brassica rapa, the pekinensis variety of Napa Cabbage forms heads with tight and wide, crinkled leaves. The chinensis variety of Bok Choy has smoother leaves and loose, celery-like ribs bound at the base.
Growing 白菜 Pak Choi
Pak Choi grows in sun or part shade. The best time to plant this cool season crop is early spring or fall. In warmer climates or when using row covers in cooler areas, harvest can last into the winter. Choi prefers well-drained, fertile soil rich in organic matter. Direct sow seeds in rows about 2 feet apart. Seeds can also be winter sown or started indoors, although starting seeds indoors is not always recommended.
Varieties of Choi vary from white-stemmed to green-stemmed selections and range in height from 18-inches to 5-inches, depending on the cultivar.
In the Garden
Our Master Gardener friend, Linda, recently shared her bounty of freshly harvested Pak Choi. Like most gardeners, she grows the biennial as an annual. Linda gardens by the square foot gardening method and never fails to amaze us with what she yields from her organic backyard home garden. "We direct sowed, new to us this year, Black Summer Pac Choi in May. Last year we sowed outside Joi Choi," she said. "They acted and tasted the same, but this year's Choi is slow to bolt, which is why I chose this variety." Next year she plans to stagger her sowing because all 32 heads she planted this spring were ready at once.
Her extra harvest was our good fortune. We really enjoyed the flavor of the cooked leaves and stems as a summer side dish.
Pak Choi Varieties
You'll find many cultivars among Brassica rapa var. chinensis including: 'Canton Pak Choi Dwarf', with compact, 6-12-inch white stems; 'Win Win', with spoon shaped leaves and 6-12-inch white stems; 'Baby Bok Choy', 18-24-inch; 'Toy Choi', 18-24-inch; 'Joi Choi', which bears yellow blooms on erect stalks, 8-10-inches tall; and slow bolting 'Black Summer', with 6-12-inch vase-shaped, pale green stems and darker green leaves.
Search Dave's Garden PlantFiles for many more selections.
Pak Chois also add botanical beauty to your gardens. When I first spotted the chocolate color of Brassica rapa Pak Choi 'Violetta' hybrid in a garden catalog, I knew we had to grow it. The seeds germinated quickly, and within a few days the tiny leaves turned a rich, chocolaty color. Violetta keeps its chocolate color even after cooking.
Cooking with Pak Choi
Chinese, Philippine, and Thai recipes often call for chopped Bok Choy (Pak Choi) greens. The flavor is mild with a hint of mustard in some cultivars. My preferred cooking method is to rinse and chop the stems and greens and sauté them in vegetable or olive oil along with a generous amount of garlic and fresh ginger. The greens cook to perfection with added liquid (broth or water) for a quick stovetop braise. Some recipes add oyster sauce or soy sauce.
The cooked texture should be a combination of melt-in-your-mouth with a slight fresh picked crispness. Choi can be cooked alone or combined with other veggies like peppers, onions, edamame or snow peas. Add Asian greens to your stir fries, soups and noodle dishes.
For an added bonus to growing Pak Choi, let a few of your plants go to flower - the edible yellow blossoms will add interest to your entrees, sides and salads.
Pak Choi Nutrition
Pak Choi is on the list of cruciferous vegetables that includes: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, kale, collards, mustard greens, turnips, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, rutabaga, watercress, horseradish and radish. As members of the Brassica genus and Brassicaceae mustard family, cruciferous veggies contain phytonutrients, such as isothiocyanates.
Studies link cruciferous vegetable consumption with reduced cancer and inflammation risks, prompting ongoing global scientific research.
According to the USDA, 1 cup of chopped Chinese Pak Choi (170g) provides an excellent source of: Vitamin A - 7223IU (144% DV), Vitamin C - 44mg (74%DV), Vitamin K - 58mcg (72%DV). And is a good source of: Calcium - 158mg (16%DV), Potassium 631mg (18%DV), Manganese - 0.2mg (12%DV), Vitamin B6 - 0.3mg (14%DV), Folate - 70mcg (17%DV) and Iron 1.8mg (10%DV).
Photo Collage of Linda's garden used with permission. All other photographs Copyright ©2011 Wind. All rights reserved.
Percent Daily Values (%DV) are reference values for adults and children age 4 or older, and are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your personal daily values may be higher or lower based on your individual needs.
Pak Choy Growing Guide Cornell University
Growing Asian Vegetables: Pak Choi -Our Happy Acres Blog