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Key Ingredient

ELEANOR NAKAMA-MITSUNAGA

Wednesday, October 3, 2001


Ingredient of the week


Toss ung choy in stir-fry
or make side dish with
soy or fish sauce

YOU WON'T FIND this vegetable on many restaurant menus, except for maybe a few Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants around town. It's an Asian green sometimes overshadowed by more hearty greens such as choy sum, gai lan or bok choy. But ung choy remains an Asian staple green for the home cook nonetheless.

A quick stir-fry with beef, pork or shrimp makes for a tasty and nutritious meal that can be prepared in minutes.

The basics: Ung choy, or Chinese water spinach, although similar in taste to spinach, is actually more closely related to the sweet potato.

The plant comes in two varieties -- with narrow and pointed leaves or with leaves shaped like arrowheads. The latter variety, most popular locally, is grown in aquatic conditions similar to watercress. The stems are long and hollow and are ideal when they are young and tender.

Selection: Ung choy is generally sold in bunches. Look for fresh stems and leaves that aren't wilted or brown.

Storing: Ung choy can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three days. Wrap the leaf ends in paper towels to keep them from wilting.

Use: Remove the fibrous part of the stem about 1/2 inch from the bottom. Wash to remove any grit.

Stems and leaves can be chopped into 1- or 2-inch-long pieces. Either quickly blanch or use in stir-fry dishes. As with spinach, do not overcook ung choy. You'll end up with mushy greens.

Since the taste is rather bland, stir-fry recipes using ung choy sometimes call for lots of garlic, pungent shrimp paste, fermented bean curd or spicy chilies.

But don't be afraid to simply blanch the greens and chill.

The Japanese eat ung choy as a side dish with shoyu, or try a little Vietnamese flavoring of fish sauce and lime juice.

Where to buy: Ung choy is available year round and can be found in most supermarkets, priced at $1.79 to $2.25 a pound.

Food Stuffs: Morsels



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