August: What should I plant now? BOK CHOY!

August 25, 2012

August is an interesting month garden wise in the South Bay. It is difficult to plant anything right now because it is too late for summer vegetables, yet a bit too hot for winter brassicas like broccoli and cauliflower. Sure, you could seed beets and carrots as an old standby, but maybe you are craving something different, something a bit more. . . cruciferous. Well then might I suggest baby bok choy.

August is an interesting month garden wise in the South Bay. It is difficult to plant anything right now because it is too late for summer vegetables, yet a bit too hot for winter brassicas like broccoli and cauliflower. Sure, you could seed beets and carrots as an old standby, but maybe you are craving something different, something a bit more. . . cruciferous. Well then might I suggest baby bok choy.

.bok choy closeup Baby bok choy, also known as pak choi is a member of the brassica family and has a celery-like crunchy stem with a green spinach-like leaf. It is packed full of antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin A and potassium. In fact, baby bok choy packs more vitamin A than any of it’s relatives (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts). Vitamin A, also known as beta carotene keeps our eyes healthy and boosts immunity. 

Just like radish, this fast grower can be ready thirty to forty days after planting. The best way to grow baby bok choy is from seed. Kitazawa seed company out of Oakland has some great options. To plant the seeds, make a quarter inch deep trench along your drip line, or where the seeds will receive regular watering. Then sprinkle the seeds in the trench liberally. I usually try to get one seed every half inch or so. Gently cover with dirt trying not to displace any seeds. The plants are generally pest free, but you should make sure the ground is constantly moist while establishing seedlings.

The reason I plant so many seeds is because baby bok choy makes a great micro green, which is really trendy (and tasty) right now. So, in two weeks use needle nose clippers to thin your plants to one every three inches. There is a great post from Troy about thinning beets. If you are unsure how to properly thin your plants watch his video. The technique is the same. Save those miniature plants for a micro salad. My favorite way to eat them is with a thinly sliced cucumber and a some asian sesame dressing. Seriously, try it. bokchoyyy

After about a month or two you should have fully formed baby bok choy plants. They are five to six inches high and two to three inches in diameter. They can be harvested by pulling the entire plant, or cutting it right at the base of the stem. The crunchy stem tastes great with hummus raw, or it can be cooked.

For the adventurous cook I will share my favorite bok choy dish. It is a sort of Filipino chicken soup called Tinola. I start by sauteeing four cloves of garlic and four inches of ginger chopped into tiny pieces in a bit of oil. Then I add four boneless skinless chicken thighs cut in to cubes and brown the meat with the garlic and ginger. I then cover the chicken/ginger/garlic mixture with three to four cups chicken broth, one tablespoon fish sauce, and four peeled and cubed chayote squash. Let it simmer, covered, for ten minutes. Next, I add my bok choy right to the top of the pot. I separate the individual  leaves, but I do not chop them up. I also do not stir them in to the soup mixture. I cover the pot again and let the leaves steam on top for another ten minutes. After ten minutes, then I stir them in. It is up to you how many plants to use. I LOVE them, so I usually end up with six or seven in my soup. However, you may use as many as you like. You can also use less or more ginger based on your personal tastes. I serve the Tinola over rice with a sprinkle of black pepper. Since I started making Tinola I have completely given up traditional chicken noodle soup. Something about the spicy ginger and crunchy greens is so soothing when I feel down. So give it a try and let me know how it goes.