chinese new year: the year of the snake
pan roasted baby bok choy with oyster sauce

The Chinese New Year is the most elaborate and joyful celebration of the Chinese calendar -- and the most indulgent as well. Vast amount of food is prepared not only for family and friends, but also to honor relatives who have died.

For the Chinese, a food may have symbolic significance because of its color, its shape or even the name of that food. Often homonyms -- words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings -- make foods symbolic, especially when the name of the ingredients sounds similar to a wish expressed during the Chinese New Year.  Bok Choy represents over 100 unique Chinese fortunes.  It's a most auspicious vegetable, and as such, is found in abundance in dishes and on plates all over China at this time of the year.  It can be one of many ingredients, or, as in this dish, prepared simply in order to enjoy it's slightly sweet, fresh, crispness in all of it's simple glory.  

But certainly don't save this healthy vegetable simply for the celebration, as it is a nutritional powerhouse you'd do well to include in your daily diet as often as possible.  Mildly-flavored it it holds its antioxidant-filled own among the more bitter greens, making it a popular choice for those who just can't seem to develop a taste for the strong taste of many cruciferous veggies.  It boasts only 9 calories per cup, and one serving, containing over 100% of vitamin A, is also an excellent source of vitamins C and K.  

This simple incarnation, served with the recent and popular Orange Sesame Roasted Chicken, is the product of only 5 ingredients, including the sesame seed, sea salt and seaweed sprinkle, gomashio, atop, which while a delicious and attractive addition, is used as no more than garnish.  If you're interested in making your own, and have a unique condiment that makes a bowl of nothing more than rice into a satisfying and tasty lunch and makes a most excellent seasoning for fish, chicken and more, there is a very good recipe, here, on Edible Tulip.  

Oyster sauce is a flavorful, savory sauce of Chinese origin. As the name implies, oyster sauce is traditionally made with oysters, although it is also possible to find vegetarian versions. There are a number of ways to use this piquant sauce, making it a useful addition to one's Asian sauce cupboard.  (this, and more, courtesy of Wisegeek)

Like olive, sesame oil is one type of oil that is good for you. It is full of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids which helps to reduce bad cholesterol. Some research even suggests that it can help reduce high blood pressure. It also contains two types of antioxidants—sesamol and sesamin. Antioxidants help reduce free radicals—substances in your body that can lead to the destruction of cells. Toasted sesame oil is pressed from toasted sesame seeds, and is darker in color, and more intense in flavor.  Because it is high in antioxidants, it does not become rancid as quickly as some other oils, nonetheless, refrigeration after opening is recommended.  

Baby bok choy is best suited for this dish, which uses the whole head, halved. Mature bok choy can be substituted, but should be chopped into bite sized pieces, using about 1 cup per serving.  

Pan Roasted Baby Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce
serves 4
2 heads baby bok choy
1 tablespoon vegetarian oyster sauce (or to taste)
1/2 cup mirin (rice wine for cooking) or sherry, diluted with 1/2 cup of water
gomashio, to garnish (optional)

Slice bok choy heads in half, vertically, rinse well, and set aside for ten minutes.  Why set aside?  See How to Bring Out the Health Benefits of Bok Choy.  

Whisk together oyster sauce and mirin, or sherry.  When bok choy has rested ten minutes, coat thinly, a wok or cast iron pan with toasted sesame oil.  Bring to medium high heat, when oil begins to shimmer.  

Sear uncut side of bok choy first, allowing surface to brown, and then turning cut side down to sear well.  Add sauce to pan, and lower heat to a low simmer.  Cover with a lid, or heavy dinner plate.  Allow to steam until thickest part of the head is crisp-tender, and greens are wilted, about 5 minutes. 

Remove to plate, garnish with gomashio, if desired, and serve immediately.

If a more complex sauce is desired, the additon of minced garlic, grated fresh ginger, citrus zest, and cracked red pepper, individually, or in any desired combination to the oyster sauce/sherry or mirin dressing would all ratchet flavors up nicely.  If serving with Orange Sesame Roasted Chicken, or other full-flavored or highly-seasoned dishes, keeping these additions to a minimum will assure a more palatable complement.  

Falling on the night of the first full moon of the lunisolar New Year, the Lantern festival brings an end to the Chinese New Year season.  Join us this Sunday as we conclude our celebration of the Year of the Snake with Sesame Noodles with Lucky Greens, on Notes From Maggie's Farm.

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