If you’ve grown up consuming food from the Chinese or Cantonese cuisine regularly, you’ve probably had Kai Lan countless of times. Apart from the Cai Xin, the Kai Lan is also one of the most common vegetable Singaporeans eat on a regular basis. It is also just as easily available wherever you can find fresh greens.
The Kai Lan is a dark green vegetable with relatively thick stems, large leaves and at times, you may find ones with small flower heads tucked in between the lush leaves. If you spot them, most describe them to be similar to broccoli heads, and they are not wrong. That is also why the Kai Lan is known as the Chinese Broccoli.
Also Known As
As with the Cai Xin, the Kai Lan is also popular beyond our little red dot. It is another staple in Asian cuisines and can be found in outside of the Chinese and Cantonese cuisine. It is also regularly spelled as Gai Lan in Cantones-speaking areas but they have a similar pronunciation.
The Kai Lan is also commonly known as the Chinese Broccoli and Chinese Kale in other more English-speaking areas. Do also note that despite that name, the Kai Lan is nothing like regular Kale that is growing in popularity. For one, the Kai Lan‘s stems are not as tough as the regular kale, and their leaves are definitely more delicate (you can tell just by looking!)
It is also known as Cai Rô in Vietnamese cuisines and Kat Na in Khmer (Cambodian) ones.
The Kai Lan is touted as one of the most flavourful green vegetable in Asian cuisine. It has a complex (but not overwhelming) flavour with a slightly bitter bite. It also doesn’t have the same distinct and overpowering taste that usually turns people off the regular broccoli. When cooked properly and grown organically without chemicals, they have a certain sweetness to them.
Many prefer to cook it the Cantonese style, which is simply to blanch or steam them and served with oyster sauce and a drizzle of sesame oil. It can also be used in stir fries if you watch it carefully and ensure that you don’t overcook them. They have a high water content and may turn limp quickly.
Consuming the Kai Lan brings along a lot of benefits. High in dietary fiber, it aids digestion and encourages bowel movements. Here are some other nutritional benefits of the Kai Lan:
i) Vitamins – Like the Cai Xin, the Kai Lan is rich in Vitamins A, C, and K, making it beneficial to your immune system. Vitamin A is good for eye health, Vitamin C is known for building up your immune system, and Vitamin K is needed for bone metabolism. This vegetable is also rich in Folic Acid which is needed for almost every function of your body.
ii) Minerals – Consuming the Kai Lan also brings the much-needed minerals of Calcium, Iron and Protein into you body. Calcium helps in ensuring bone health and preventing osteoporosis (a common ailment especially among older asian women). The Kai Lan also replenishes your body’s Iron which is needed to transport oxygen throughout the body. And of course, everyone needs proteins for their bodies to function normally.
Choosing Your Kai Lan
If you get you Kai Lan straight from our marketplace, you don’t have to bother with this section because we always harvest them the day before (or day of) delivery. That means your Kai Lan will always be fresh! However, if you get them from the supermarket or wet market, read on!
Start by looking at end of the stalk, we all know NOT to buy them if they are crusty and dry. Make sure that there are no white rings in the middle of the stalk – that usually means that the Kai Lan is old and will likely be more bitter. The stalks should have an consistent creamy (almost translucent) colour.
If the bunch of Kai Lan you are holding has little florets, make sure that they are still compact and not completely ‘flowered’ (open flowers). This also usually indicate that they are a little old and will be more bitter than younger Kai Lan vegetables.
Did You Know… that people have hybridized the Kai Lan and the Broccoli, making Broccolini? Well, now you do! The Broccolini is also growing in popularity over the regular broccoli because of its size and taste.
Image from steamykitchen.com