CHINESE BROCCOLI (芥兰)
This Chinese broccoli, jiè lán (芥兰, Mandarin) or gai lan (Cantonese) looks nothing like your garden-variety florets. Even though it shares the same family as regular broccoli (which is known as xī lán huā, 西兰花 or literally western broccoli), Chinese broccoli has long green stems and dark, thick leaves. Some compare it to broccoli rabe, and sometimes jie lan will be harvested with edible flower buds in small bunches. However, Chinese broccoli is sweeter and much less bitter than broccoli rabe.
These days, it’s quite easy to find Chinese broccoli in certain supermarkets that stock Asian produce. (If you’re lucky, you can find baby Chinese broccoli, also called Chinese broccoli tips, in certain Asian grocery stores.) When shopping for this leafy green, try not to select stalks that are too thick, have too many open flowers, or have yellow leaves. This means the veggie is old, tough, or simply not fresh.
One preparation tip that many of you have asked about in the comments is how to deal with those thick stems. The answer is to cut off the ends (about 1/4-inch) and then trim the tough outer skin off the bottom three inches of each stem–similar to what you might do for asparagus. If making a stir-fry, you can then then cut them at an angle or in slices. If you are blanching and serving them whole with oil and oyster sauce, just trim the base of the stem where they are tough until you reach the tender portions and you’re ready to go! You can see a nice picture of the trimming job in our simple yet favorite Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce.
And an extra fun fact–ever see those expensive bunches of “broccolini” in your local supermarket? That’s just your regular old cafeteria broccoli crossed with this Chinese broccoli. Mix ‘em together, and you’ve got a fancy little name, plus supermarkets charging $3.99 for a tiny bunch. Go figure. The price of Chinese broccoli, like all vegetables, is seasonal but prices are quite reasonable and usually cheaper in Asian grocery stores.
I like all three varieties of broccoli, but Chinese broccoli is a key ingredient in dishes like the simple Chicken with Chinese Broccoli . You can see how we prepared the Chinese broccoli in our recipe post for Beef with Chinese Broccoli.