Gai Lan / Chinese Broccoli
[Gai Lan, Kai-lan (China); Chinese Kale; Phakkhana (Thai); Cai Ro (Viet); B. oleracea Group Alboglabra]
While it looks a lot like Italian Rapini, Chinese Broccoli is related to European broccoli and cabbages while Rapini is a turnip green related to most other Asian greens. It is different in form from European broccoli having thinner more tender stems, tiny flower heads and a lot of large leaves.
The stems are always used and the white flowers do not become bitter so are also included with the rest of the plant when cooking. This is a very important vegetable in the cooking of China and Southeast Asia, so it is commonly available in markets serving those communities.
More on Asian Greens.
Buying: Find Gai Lan in markets serving an East or Southeast Asian community, and in farmer's markets that include one or more Asian vegetable growers. Look for fresh looking leaves and avoid bunches were the larger leaves are starting to show spots. Flower heads are fine even if a few of the white flowers are starting to open.
Storage: Store in the refrigerator loosely bagged in plastic and use within a couple of days - once you see spotting on the outer leaves flavor and appearance degrade rapidly.
Prep: Separate the leaves and tender tips from the stalks, including the leaf stems which can be tougher than the main stalks. Slice stalks on a shallow diagonal ("horse ears" in Chinese terminology) starting about 1/2 inch at the big end and increasing to about 1-1/4 inches at the thin end. Cut or tear leaves into pieces roughly 1-1/2 to 2 inches on a side. Keep separate.
Another method is to split the large stems in half and cut to lengths or 1-1/2 inches or so.
Cooking: This vegetable is most commonly steamed or stir fried, then simmered. Wherever possible give the stalks about 3 to 4 minutes lead over the leaves. The leaves should end up uniformly wilted and the stalks should be just crisp tender, the larger pieces still a bit crunchy.
Many Asian recipes have you steam whole Gai Lan and make a sauce to pour over it. These recipes depend on Gai Lan that's small, young and tender. Most Gai Lan sold here in Southern California (and most elsewhere in North America probably comes from here) is harvested much larger so is better steamed cut as described above.