Every region in China has its own cuisine style and signature dishes. My family always orders Shanghai Rice with Greens whenever we visit a Shanghainese restaurant. The dish is a staple in Shanghainese homes, similar to corn bread in Southern homes.
The star of the dish is one of the most common Chinese vegetables – Bok Choy. Its English name is translated based on the Cantonese pronunciation but goes by several other names in Chinese. In Shanghai it needs no introduction and is simply known as “the Greens”. Luckily it is also available at Chinese supermarkets in the US all year round.
Chinese have been growing and eating this vegetable for over 6000 years; its seeds were found in an earthen pot at a Xi’An Neolithic archaeological site. It is one of the earliest known foods in China besides rice. It is closely related to the much larger Nappa Cabbage and a distant cousin to the green cabbage in our cole slaw. It has a crunchy juicy stem and nutritious green leaves. It’s most often just sauteed with some garlic as a simple and delicious side dish.
For this dish, traditionally Bok Choy is cooked with the rice so its fragrance can be absorbed by the rice during the cooking process. But the leaves end up yellow, mushy and unappetizing so I dug around the internet for a fix. Fortunately I found a wonderful blog “Anthropologist in the Kitchen” outlining an updated method which cooks the diced stems first with the rice then mixes in the shredded leaves at the end. So the rice still absorbs the fragrant vegetable flavor and has bright green leaves for a refreshing taste at the end.
Another key ingredient is Chinese sausage. Similar to western sausage, Chinese sausage is also made mostly with pork, has a good amount of fat and seasoning. Cantonese restaurant often hang a few long links of cured and air-dried sausages in their shop window along with roasted ducks and braised pork.
Personally I prefer Taiwanese style sausages which is non-cured and sweeter than the mainland China varieties. These need to be refrigerated and have a shorter shelf life than the cured variety. Barbecued Taiwanese sausages on a stick are very popular and can be found in every night market in Taiwan. Some stalls owners also play a dice game with customers to gamble for double or nothing. But I’m getting off topic here.
This is a fairly straight forward one-pot dish that can be served as a side dish or simple lunch.
Shanghai Rice with Greens (上海菜飯)
Makes 4 servings
1 teaspoon Oil*
1 link Taiwanese sausage, diced (Cantonese style can be used too)
3-4 cloves Garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
3-4 Bok Choy, stems diced and leaves sliced into even, thin strips
1 cup Rice
1 cup Water (or chicken stock)
1. Heat pot and oil then lightly brown diced sausages and garlic
2. Add diced Bok Choy stems to pot and cook until stems soften a bit (~3 minutes)
3. Add rice and cook until all the oil has been absorbed
4. Add water to the pot and evenly distribute with rice
5. Cover and heat on medium-high for 5 minutes or until boils then lower heat to low and cook covered for another 25 minutes.
6. Turn off the heat and mix shredded Bok Choy leaves into the cooked rice. Cover the pot and let stand for 2-3 minutes.
* Note: The amount of oil can be increased if less-fatty sausages are used.
* Note 2: Don’t open the pot lid when the rice is cooking otherwise the vapor will be let out.