Choy sum ideal as side dish, in stir fry

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In the produce department, you're bound to come across a vegetable that's unfamiliar.

Recently, I noticed something that looked like it could be a cousin to baby bok choy — a favorite in stir-fries.

It's called choy sum. And, as it turns out, it is much like baby bok choy but with slightly darker green leaves. Like baby bok choy, it's also a member of the cabbage family. The leaves of choy sum have a bit of a bitter taste, but once cooked the bitterness mellows. The stems are mildly crunchy like cabbage, but not as crunchy as regular bok choy.

Choy sum (and bok choy) are ideal steamed or sauteed and served as a side vegetable or used in a stir-fry.

My plan was to use choy sum in a recipe I tagged in "Vegan Cooking for Carnivores" by Roberto Martin (Grand Central Publishing, $29.99).

The full-color photo of the recipe looked inviting, and the recipe seemed easy. It also caught my eye because it was heavy on the vegetables and called for shiitake mushrooms — a favorite of mine. And it's a meatless dish — something I try to make at least once a week.

The dressing for this salad is a simple soy sauce-based Asian-style dressing with ginger and garlic notes.

If you're not familiar with shiitake mushrooms, they're native to Japan and now cultivated in the U.S.

This recipe is so versatile. The dressing can be made in advance and has multiple uses. You can use just about any variety of vegetables. The original called for julienned baby spinach — which I substituted with coarsely chopped choy sum. And to make it a smidge heartier, I served it over some Chinese noodles.

Once you gather the ingredients, the recipe comes together quickly. You can cut all the vegetables in advance or chop and prepare them while the dressing simmers.

With the dressing, be sure to use a low-, less- or reduced-sodium soy sauce. Because the dressing cooks a bit, the flavor becomes more concentrated. If you use regular soy sauce, it will be much too salty.

When choosing low-sodium soy sauce, be sure to read the label because it can still have a lot of salt.

Stir-Fry Vegetable Salad with Asian Dressing

Serves: 6; Prep time: 15 minutes; Total time: 45 minutes.

Serve this salad warm or cold. Adapted from “Vegan Cooking for Carnivores” by Roberto Martin.

1 package fresh Chinese noodles

For the dressing:

1½ cups low-sodium soy sauce

1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

1 bunch green onion (about 6, white and green parts), chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tablespoon sesame oil

Juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon agave nectar (or to taste)

1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with ½ cup cold water

For the salad:

1 tablespoon canola oil

12 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced about ¼-inch thick

2 large carrots, peeled, julienned

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, julienned

½ head green cabbage, finely shredded

3 baby choy sum or baby bok choy, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup frozen shelled edamame

1 bunch green onions (about 6, green parts only)

1 cup chopped cilantro

1 bunch mint, chopped

½ cup sliced or slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Cook Chinese noodles to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Place the dressing ingredients in a saucepan and bring to just a boil and then reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. The dressing will thicken just a little. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. When cool, strain dressing into a jar (discarding solids) and refrigerate. Can refrigerate up to two weeks.

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the mushrooms and sauté until tender. Add carrots, red pepper and cabbage and sauté 1 minute. Add choy sum, edamame and green onion and sauté 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add cilantro and mint and toss. Drizzle with about 1/3 cup of dressing. Serve over noodles with side of dressing. Garnish with almonds.

Per serving for noodles and ½ cup of the dressing and almonds: 333 calories (30 percent from fat), 12 grams fat (1 gram sat. fat), 47 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams protein, 908 mg sodium, 5 mg cholesterol, 7 grams fiber.