This is a take on traditional Caribbean technique of cooking “bhagi” or greens especially in Trinidad and Tobago. You’ll notice that I also placed this within the vegetarian section of the website, so before the flood of emails… I wanted to point out that you can leave out the bacon and start with olive or coconut oil for additional flavor. So by simply leaving out the bacon you could have a delicious vegetarian dish.
Traditionally our mom would prepare this dish when she had leftover stewed pork (Stewed Pork With Pak Choi) from the night before and it’s one of those dishes everyone of my siblings quite enjoyed with hot sada roti. Oh the joy when mom got us all to eat the same thing.
6 – 8 cups chopped pak choi (about 2lbs)
1/4 lb smoked bacon (I used smoked pork belly)
3 cloves garlic
2 birds eye pepper (bird pepper)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4-6 cherry tomatoes (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
* IMPORTANT: If you don’t eat pork or prefer to have this vegetarian, leave out the bacon and start with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. If you don’t have bird’s eye pepper, you can use scotch bonnet or habanero (very small piece).
Cut the bacon into small pieces and place in a dry pan on medium heat. The idea is to cook until crispy and to render off the fat. Reserve about 1 teaspoon of the fat. Once crispy, drain on paper towels and set aside.
Remove each leaf/stem of pak choi and wash under running water individually as you’ll find dirt between each leaf (natural as it grows), Rinse well and drain – now get ready to chop. I usually cut each leaf lengthwise first (about 1/4 inch, then make into a bundle and cut in the other direction the same thickness. Besides trimming off the very bottom of the white stems (discard), do use the rest of the pak choi (white and green).
Also chop/dice the onion, garlic, tomato and scallions (green onion) and set aside.
In the same pan you rendered the bacon (don’t wash) heat about 1 teaspoon of the bacon fat on a low flame, then add the onion, garlic and scallion pieces. Let it cook on low for about 3 minutes to basically soften up and create a flavor base.
Toss in the birds eye peppers (don’t cut open) then start adding the chopped pak choi to the pot and finish off with the salt and black pepper. It may seem like a lot at first, but it will wilt down (have your heat at med/high at this point). Give it a good mix.
The rest of this dish takes some personalization. I like my greens (still green) and not over cooked. So I let it go for about 5 minutes, then I topped it with the pieces of bacon and stirred well. The pak choi will release a bit of liquid so at this point you’ll need to raise the heat to high and burn off the excess liquid (took another 3-5 minutes).
The last 2 minutes of cooking you can toss in the tomatoes so they too are brilliant in colour, retains it’s shape and give the dish a brightness. Remember to taste for salt and if you wanted, you can certainly cook this a bit longer if you’re not like me and like a little texture to the pak choi. You’ll note that at no time did I cover the pot as it will only help to create liquid you really don’t need.
This is excellent on steamed (or boiled) rice, with roti and when all fails, I make sandwiches with this… lovely! If you break the peppers while cooking it will release the raw heat (though mild since they are bird’s eye) so if you like playing with “the Heat”.. break them open! BTW if you don’t dine with the swine, you can use some prepared saltfish (salted cod) instead of the bacon for additional flavor.