Chinese vegetable: On-Choy, 空心菜

My favorite vegetable is the Chinese dish 空心菜 (pinyin: kong xin cai) or in Cantonese, On-Choy. The literal translation is hollow heart vegetable. It totally makes sense once you take a look at the green stems…which are hollow on the inside! I always ask for this dish in any Chinese restaurant- even if its not on the menu because it is often a specialty dish. If you try it you might even impress the waitstaff with your Chinese vegetable knowledge.

You used to only be able to find this vegetable at the Chinese markets (i.e. Ranch 99, or Chinatown). However, this vegetable has been making a more mainstream appearance… you can now find it at Berkeley Bowl, although you probably won’t find it at a Safeway.

Chinese vegetables are so easy to cook- just stir-fry! If you recall our earlier post on Basics of stir-fry: baby bok choy, you will see a similar recipe below.


One bunch On-Choy/空心菜
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped (feel free to use more.. we love garlic around here!)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
salt to taste


1. Take the vegetable and unbundle it. Cut about 1/2 inch-1 inch off the stems and discard.

2. Next separate the leaves from the stem. Just gently snap off the leaves and separate from the stems and put into separate bowls. (I like to do this because the leaves cook so much faster than the stems, so starting with the stems will keep your leaves tender and not overcooked). Wash the leaves and stems thoroughly and dry. (Sometimes I lay them out on a paper towel to dry. This is so that when you toss in the vegetables later you do not get crazy oil splatter from the water)

3. Add oil to a pan, add garlic and turn to high heat.

4. When you hear the garlic start to sizzle, add the stems. (Be careful of oil splatter if the stems have any excess water). Cook for ~2-3 minutes or until the stems start to get soft, but not fully cooked (taste one to try).

5. Add in the leaves to the pan and slowly mix as the greens cook. Don’t worry- they shrink A LOT!  Cook another 2-3 minutes until greens are just tender. Add salt to taste.
Note: Another variation I like is instead of salt to use 豆腐乳(fermented tofu). Thoroughly mix 1-2 cubes with some water in a separate bowl and add in pan in lieu of salt.

6. Take vegetables out of the pan immediately otherwise they will continue to cook and get tough. Even if you take them out onto a plate, they will still cook a little. Enjoy!

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6 Responses to “Chinese vegetable: On-Choy, 空心菜”

  1. What can I say but Amazing! This blog is amazing! Did you take all the photographs for this? It is great to come across someone that appreciates things like this. As a flower designer I actually find this type of matter very interesting. May I link back here from my own blog site? Thanks for posting. Natalie Rice

  2. hardy orchid says:

    I just read that Grow Biointensive is the future trend. Has anyone read anything about this before?

  3. [...] something you recently learned in the kitchen? How to wash on-choy, a Chinese vegetable that takes time to wash (~ 1-2 hours, depending on freshness) but is very [...]

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  5. Debbie says:

    I LOVED THIS VEGIE in CHINA and found it at the CHINESE RESTAURANTS in SF! BUT when i finally found some to cook myself THEY TURNED DARK !! Both times…cooking different ways?!! What AM I DOING WRONG??! I cooked the first one like yours above….2nd time PARBOILED it…?!! Not cooking enough or not???

    • Ellen says:

      Make sure your pan is hot… after you sautee the garlic, wait for the pan to heat again before adding the vegetables. It really should not take more than 5 minutes to cook. Don’t add salt until the very end, as it will turn vegetables darker. Make sure to taste so to not overcook. They should be tender. Once you take them off the heat, and put them on a plate, they will continue to cook a little, so take off earlier rather than later.

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