Stir-fried nai bai with garlic is deliciously flavoured with a few simple, everyday seasonings. A quick and versatile stir-fry recipe that can be easily adapted for cooking your favourite Chinese greens.
Have your daily dose of healthy greens stir-fried in a flash! Here is a favourite Chinese green I love cooking up on a regular basis. This stir-fried nai bai with garlic is deliciously flavoured with a dash of everyday seasonings.
It’s a side dish which I love to serve with a more meaty dish like steamed minced pork with water chestnut or braised chicken in oyster sauce. Together with steamed rice, it completes a balanced and wholesome home-cooked Chinese meal.
For most stir-fries, having a vegetable dish ready on the table takes all of 5 minutes or less. I don’t know how it is with you, but for me, cooking stir-fries was often an exercise of ambidexterity with legs and limbs in constant motion.
Growing up in a Chinese family, we had to learn very quickly at a young age to help out in the kitchen. I was 10 years old when my mother thrust me in front of a hot wok and fiery gas burner.
I finally graduated from peeling, slicing, chopping, pounding, and boiling to frying! Only because I finally grew tall enough to work the little gas control on the stove.
We lit the fires with matchsticks and I always held my breath, praying that I didn’t have the gas turned up so high that the flames would singe the hairs on my skin. No fancy electric gas stoves with knobs in those days.
Everything always had to be ready on hand. Wok chan, food ingredients, seasonings, sauces and oils. So that I could quickly tip everything into the wok, and hope nothing burns in the process.
Benefits of stir-frying
I’m sure everyone’s had a stir-fry drama unfold in their kitchen at some point. I know I’ve had plenty!
But thanks to watching my parents cook in the kitchen, and later in life, following countless ‘Wok with Yan’ episodes on TV, I’ve since become a huge fan of stir fries.
I enjoy stir-frying as a cooking method because it’s healthier. It allows the natural flavours and textures of the ingredients to come through so well. Hence, you usually end up using less oil, seasonings, even sauces.
And of course, it’s quick! Super quick.
Ingredients for stir-fried nai bai
The great thing about Chinese stir-fries is the typically short list of ingredients. And we take advantage of commonly used Asian seasonings to create subtle yet distinct flavour profiles.
Here’s what you’ll need
- Nai bai. I like the long-stem variety, though the short-stemmed ones are also popular. You can substitute with your favourite Chinese greens like regular and baby bak choy, choy sum or the kailan family of vegetables.
- Chicken seasoning powder (optional, but recommended)
- Chinese wine
- Sesame Oil
Step-by-step: Stir-frying nai bai with garlic
- Step 1: Heat up a wok with 2 tbsp oil over low heat until moderately hot. Tip in ½ of the chopped garlic.
- Step 2: Fry until garlic turns light golden brown. Be careful not to burn the garlic, or else it will taste bitter! Remove with a slotted spoon. Set aside.
- Step 3: Now, turn up the heat to high. Once the garlic-infused oil is hot, tip in the remaining chopped garlic. Fry for a few seconds, or until fragrant.
- Steps 4 & 5: Tip in all the vegetables. Continue to stir-fry for 15 to 20 seconds. Sprinkle 1 – 2 tbsp water over as you fry.
- Steps 6, 7 & 8: Add the chicken seasoning powder, salt and Chinese wine. Stir-fry to mix well. Once the stems start to soften and turn translucent, turn off the heat. Tip in sesame oil, and give it a few quick tosses. Dish out immediately onto a serving plate. Garnish with fried garlic bits.
How to execute a good stir-fry
The key to any good stir-fry is to have all your ingredients and seasonings ready. Also, it helps to be very clear when these are to be added. So, I usually read a recipe a few times over to familiarise myself with the sequence.
It’s not rocket science, and the process is almost always the same whether its a vegetable, seafood or meat stir-fry.
Prepare and organise all the required ingredients
- If the recipe involves marinating meat or seafood, do this first because it usually needs to sit for a certain amount of time.
- In the meanwhile, you can go on with the tasks of mincing, chopping, slicing, or blending a spice paste.
- Measure out dry and wet ingredients like seasonings and sauces.
Have all the ingredients ready within arm’s reach
The last thing you want to happen in the middle of a quickly evolving stir-fry is to realise you’ll need to raid the larder for that seasoning or sauce! You’ll be happier for it!
Always add oil to a hot wok
Always heat up the wok or skillet till smoking hot, unless otherwise specified. Oil should always be added to a hot wok, and not heated up with the wok.
Fry in very hot oil
Adding food to very hot oil helps to quickly sear it. This way, meat, seafood and vegetables retain their natural juices flavours without overcooking.
Otherwise, meat and seafood can become tough or chewy. Likewise, vegetables can cook quickly, yet stay juicy and still have a bit of crunch to them.
However, in this recipe, we deliberately start on low heat with the garlic bits to crisp them up as garlic can burn easily once they start to brown. Then we turn up the heat to high for the main frying.
Arrange or group ingredients in the sequence they’re added
This may sound like common sense, but it is worth saying how helpful it is to have ingredients arranged or grouped together in the sequence they’re added.
In most stir-fries, the first to be added when the oil is hot are garlic, ginger, chopped onions, shallots, or a spice paste. These are usually added in quick succession and fried briefly till aromatic.
Then, these are followed by the main ingredient such as meat, sea food or vegetables. Lastly, we add the dry and wet seasonings like salt, pepper, sugar, sauces, wine, other oils.
Dish out, garnish as desired with toasted sesame seeds, chopped spring onions, coriander, sweet Goji berries or whatever you fancy, and you’re done!
Can I cook with other vegetables?
This recipe features stir-fried nai bai with garlic, but the recipe itself is very versatile. You can easily adapt it to cook with different varieties of Chinese greens.
Nai bai is thought of as a variation of the bok choy, and is also referred to as milk cabbage. It is a mildly sweet and crunchy vegetable, with dark green crinkled leaves and short, milky white stems.
The crunchy outer layer breaks down quickly, so only fry till you see the white, opaque stems just start to turn translucent.
Equipment useful for stir-frying
Here are more delicious Chinese stir-fries:
- Stir-fried Eggs and Tomatoes – Easy, Step-by-step Recipe
- Gong Bao Chicken (Chicken Fried with Dried Chillies)
- Stir-fried Brinjal with Garlic and Dried Shrimp
- Chinese Egg Fried Rice + Tips for the Perfect Texture