Crisp greens in a wok

For years, vegetables were simply annoying competitors for real estate on my plate. I needed the room – all of it – for meat. Then I learned how to cook the green things. No boiling to a flavourless pulp: just a moment at high heat in a wok.

Crisp greens in a wok
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To make Vietnamese-influenced vegetables in a wok for four, you will need:

  • 3 small bok choy cabbages
  • 150g green beans
  • 200g broccoli
  • 2 fistfuls of baby spinach leaves
  • 2 spring onions
  • 20ml sunflower or canola oil
  • 100ml light (table) soy sauce
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Awok is not a large frying pan. A wok is a kitchen implement as singular as a fork, and neither has a useful substitute. Since stir-frying and searing are wok-based kitchen arts, consider buying a good wok to extend your culinary skills. If, like me, you are a stickler for tradition, buy a mild steel wok, run it in according to the instruction manual, and replace it each year. For the past three decades

I have settled for a stainless steel, round-based wok and used a gas flame for really high heat – and a bit of drama.
Should some ingredients burn onto the surface, clean the residue by rubbing it with fine water paper.

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For this recipe, a light soy sauce is indicated. Not all soy sauces are equal: some brands, such as Kikkoman, are definitely better. The heavy, dark versions will inappropriately dominate the gentle flavours of the vegetables.

Let’s get down to it.

Top and tail the green beans, break the broccoli into florets, coarsely chop the green leaves of the spring onions and break the leaves of the bok choy cabbage off the central stem. Blanch the beans and the broccoli in lightly salted boiling water for 90 seconds. Rinse everything carefully to remove every trace of sand, especially from the bok choy. Shake off the water, or better still, give the greens a whirl in a salad spinner. This avoids potential injury from drops of water hitting superheated sunflower oil.

Pour 20ml or so of sunflower or canola oil into the wok, light the flame and heat the oil until it just begins to smoke. Quickly – and I mean really quickly – add to the wok the blanched beans, broccoli and whole leaves of bok choy. With a suitable (preferably stainless steel) spatula, stir the contents for 60 seconds, before adding the spinach leaves. Toss these for 20 seconds, pour in the 100ml of light soya sauce, and add a generous sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper.

Serve at once, garnished with chopped spring onion tops, either as a meal in itself or as a powerful and unexpected side-order to the meat, chicken or fish of your choice.