Technique for Stir-Frying Greens: Or How to Feed a Chinese Girl in America


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greens being stir-fried in wok

Leftovers, Stir-Fried Greens and Rice

“What should I eat?” is my daughter’s standard greeting. Not “Hi,” “Good morning” or “What’s up.” When she comes home from school, home from a friend’s or just out of her bedroom, she starts the conversation with “What should I eat?” The question has evolved with her grammar over the past three years as she learned English, from “Wǒ kěyǐ chī shénme?” to “Me eat what?” to “You have something to eat I like it?” and finally to perfect English. But the obsession with her next meal or snack is constant.

Older Chinese often start a conversation with “Chīle ma?” or “Have you eaten yet?” It’s a standard greeting in that food-obsessed culture, but it’s just a pleasantry and requires no real info in response about your state of hunger. This, however, is not what Fongchong is doing. Her question requires an answer. Pronto.

And I have to admit that a lot of times I don’t have one. There are only so many answers you can have when you live in America and your child wants to eat like she still lives in China. Peanut butter and jelly, cereal, sandwich, hot dog or hamburger are not acceptable answers. I can’t even get away with “cookies” or “ice cream”—and believe me, I would if I could—since sweets are not her thing.

Her favorite answer—and mine too—is “last night’s leftover Chinese food.”

That is why I always try to make enough for dinner to have leftovers. This is sometimes hard when cooking in a wok, since overcrowding it will turn a stir-fry into a braise and ruin the effect. But I do often double, or at least increase, the recipes I’m adapting from The Cookbooks, since they often make quite small dishes. Chinese authors, in particular, assume you’re going to make multiple dishes at every meal. But I’m not Chinese, so I just get as much as I can into the wok without it being too much.

Wok-authority Grace Young says that for a standard-size wok on a standard-BTU burner the max is about 1 pound of protein. I usually push it to that max unless I’m adding a lot of vegetables to the dish. But that’s pretty much always, since my daughter, like most rural Chinese, grew up eating more vegetables than meat and likes it that way. She always picks the veggies out of a stir-fry first, and I have to admonish her to eat some meat with them. So when making a stir-fry with both meat and vegetables, I generally use only about 3/4 pound of meat. The trick to making it all fit in the wok is (usually) stir-frying greens and meat separately, before combining them at the end.

The only other option for having extra food is making extra dishes. As a family of three, we can get by on a normal night with one protein stir-fry plus one other dish, usually a quick vegetable stir-fry, and still have some left over for the next “What should I eat?”

A big plate of garlicky stir-fried greens, one of my daughter’s favorite snacks

So below I offer the easiest, quickest of vegetable stir-frys: baby bokchoy (or other leafy green), garlic, chicken broth, salt… boom!… another dish is done. Actually, when possible, I urge you to use young yuchoy. This fabulous green is called youcai in Sichuan, where it’s extremely popular, and edible rape in English, which may be why it has yet to be discovered, a la bokchoy, by mainstream American markets. But most Asian markets have it, and it is even more flavorful than bokchoy, without being bitter in the least.

The instructions below are not so much a recipe as a technique for stir-frying greens, and you can adapt it to your needs by varying the type and amount of greens and garlic. Just remember that thicker-stalked green vegetables like broccoli will take longer to cook than young ones.

Another Tip for Prepping Ready-Made Rice

A rice maker—even an old one like this—is indispensable.
rice in pre-portioned bags to freeze and reheat
Individual portions of just-cooked rice, ready for the freezer

The other key to feeding an always-hungry Chinese girl is having ready-made rice at the ready. We’d be no where without this trick: Every time we make rice (we prefer jasmine rice), we make the max amount our 20-year-old Japanese rice maker can handle. After we eat dinner, but while the rice is still hot, we spoon individual servings straight out of the rice maker into sandwich baggies, flatten the rice out to fill the bag in an even layer, seal it and pop it in the freezer. The next time we need rice for leftover Chinese food, we take it out of the freezer, unzip the baggie and put it in the microwave for three minutes. Take it out, and you’ve got convincingly fresh and moist, steaming hot rice. The heat trapped in the baggie makes its own steam when re-heated, and it works like a dream every time.

So try these tips if you’re got a Chinese—or Chinese-food-loving—mouth to feed, and at least part of the time you’ll have an answer to “What should I eat?”

~~Do you have your own tricks and tips? Please share in the comments section!

A Technique for Stir-Frying Greens

By: Taylor Holliday | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking


  • 1 to 1 ½ pounds leafy greens such as baby bokchoy or baby yuchoy or 1 pound baby broccoli
  • 4 large garlic cloves, left whole, sliced or minced
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt


  • Cut greens into bite-size pieces, about 2-3 inches long, wash and dry well (a salad spinner works great).
  • If using whole cloves or large slices of garlic: Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil and reduce heat to medium. Add the garlic pieces to the oil when it it hot and cook until golden, turning down heat if they brown too quickly.
  • Add the greens to the garlic oil and stir-fry for about a minute, until they just start to wilt.
  • If using minced garlic:
    Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil, and when oil is starting to smoke add the greens. Stir-fry for a minute, then add the minced garlic and stir-fry briefly.
  • For either method, after the first minute or so of stir-frying, add salt and about ¼ to ⅓ cup chicken broth. Cover wok, turn heat down to medium-low, and let greens simmer/steam until they are cooked through, about a minute, or to your liking.


A great alternative: Substitute ginger for garlic, using the minced method.

Tried this recipe?

About Taylor Holliday

The Mala Market all began when Taylor, a former journalist, created this blog as a place to document her adventures learning to cook Sichuan food for Fongchong, her recently adopted 11-year-old daughter. They discovered through the years that the secret to making food that tastes like it would in China is using the same ingredients that are used in China. The mother-daughter team eventually began visiting Sichuan’s factories and farms together and, in 2016, opened The Mala Market, America’s source for Sichuan heritage brands and Chinese pantry essentials.

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  1. So funny. Troye can attest that night, he made his own dinner of eggs and broccoli and then made me a super hot stir fry of just garlic, broccoli and ginger. We bought #3 of broccoli at the market as a “deal” and I’m living on it. I always eat the vegetables first! So funny. I perhaps have a Chinese teenager trapped inside of me — seriously that is such healthy behavior I would not worry about the protein! It’s Swiss Chard time here now so will report back on greens. Another favorite. I have a pound or so of broccoli to make it through first!

  2. My go-to snack with rice is greens stir-fried with scrambled egg, the egg seasoned with a dash of Mirin. Sliced green cabbage is lovely, spinach and asian greens as well; and when I lived in Hawaii where watercress is sold in huge celery-sized bunches, it would be watercress cut into 1″ lengths. Somehow this combination is always appetizing. I suppose it is just a homely, lite version of ‘egg foo young.’ Sprinkle with nori furikake.

    1. I’ve never tried that. Sounds easy and delicious! Especially with furikake. Thanks for sharing!

  3. The basic homecooked meal for many Singaporean Chinese moms with older children would be a stir fried or braised protein (often pork) or steamed fish, then a stir fried leafy green or an egg dish. Those who grew up in Cantonese households generally consider soup compulsory too. This is as basic as it gets but it’s still a lot of work.

    1. True. I attempt most of this but almost never get around to the broth or simple soup that’s served with most meals. So that is probably the one thing that Fongchong still misses the most. I’m trying to convince her to make it for herself on a regular basis in the Instant Pot. 😉