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What is Chinese Broccoli?
Chinese broccoli, also known as Gai lan in Chinese, is a dark, leafy vegetable that bears large, flat leaves on thick stems, as well as flowering heads similar to broccoli, albeit much smaller. Despite the similarity in appearance to many other leafy greens, the flavor of this vegetable is commonly compared to broccoli, but it is notably more bitter. If you are looking for Chinese greens in the grocery store, it can be difficult to know which to choose. Chinese broccoli should be chosen when the leaves are bright green and have no yellow spots. The stalks should also be fresh and appear newly cut, without any hardening or shriveled areas on the stem.
How to Cook Chinese Broccoli?
There are many ways to cook with Chinese broccoli, and in many ways, this vegetable is easier to cook than many other green vegetables in the Brassica family. You should remove the lower portion of the stems before cooking, as they can be too tough and fibrous to eat. Leave a small amount of the stem before it branches off into the leafy part of the vegetable. The two most popular means of cooking this vegetable is stir-frying and steaming.
One of the most common ways to cook Chinese broccoli is to steam it and then pour a small amount of oyster sauce over the top to cut through the bitterness. If you stir-fry this vegetable, experienced chefs recommend frying it with garlic, as this is a perfect complementary flavor to the strong taste of the leaves.
Chinese Broccoli Uses
You can use Chinese broccoli in much the same way as you would use any other leafy green vegetable, such as spinach or kale. The bitter taste of this broccoli variety makes it less popular as a salad vegetable unless you pair it with a strong vinaigrette. Most of the time, however, people use this broccoli in hot dishes, such as in stir-fries or as a hot side dish, heavily seasoned and spiced. You can also prepare a rich broth soup, similar to a form of ramen, with Chinese broccoli as the main leafy ingredient. Again, this preparation will soften the bitter flavor, particularly when mixed with the right spices.
Chinese Broccoli Substitute
If you don’t have this ingredient on hand, there are a number of other substitutes that can work just as well in the kitchen, such as broccoli rabe and bok choy.
Also known as rapini, broccoli rabe is a slightly more bitter leafy green, although it shares many of the same physical characteristics and cooking uses as this broccoli.
With a more subtle, less bitter flavor, bok choy can be used to replace this specialty broccoli in broth-based soups and salads, and can also be prepared in stir-fries to provide the same heart consistency.