Rangi Mitaera-Johnson: Taking a leaf from Chinese book

Thursday May 07, 2020 Written by Published in Art
Don’t be afraid to swap out one ingredient for another – experiment!  20050108 Don’t be afraid to swap out one ingredient for another – experiment! 20050108

The climate on Rarotonga is amazing for planting most of the time. 


We are very fortunate to have in our reach, lots of fresh colourful vegetables to enjoy all year round. 

One of the things many of us find difficult to do when approaching a recipe, is finding the right ingredients to make an amazing dish. 

I know for many it actually gets to the point where we might even abandon the dish because sourcing that particular ingredient is too expensive, not available or out of season. 

The challenge therefore is to consider what is available locally and what can you use to supplement that missing ingredient. 

Adapting a recipe is not always easy but if you don’t try, you will never know. 

And yes, there are some things you can’t just swap. But purchasing items that have multiple use is a good start. 

Understanding the value of your ingredients and how they can be used is very beneficial. Things like sugars, vinegars and mustards are very adaptable in cooking, so don’t be afraid to use the white sugar when the recipe says raw or brown.

I am so encouraged at the number of families who have been putting together their home gardens – it is amazing and will be of great benefit to you all in the near future. But please, don’t stop there. 

Keep adding to your gardens and witness the toil of your efforts dance their way to the table. I’m 100 per cent sure they will not only look fabulous but they will taste so much better knowing they were made with love.

Bok choy is a very versatile vegetable from the Brassica family.  You could say it is a first cousin to the cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli family members. 

Bok choy contains a wealth of vitamins C, A, and K, and is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and iron. Bok choy deserves itsreputation as a powerhouse among vegetables. 

One cup of bok choy contains about 26 of the important elements in blood clotting and bone metabolism. Vitamin K1 is also a known Alzheimer’s disease preventive by helping to limit neuron damage in your brain.

Although Bok Choy can be available year round, it is at its best during the winter season and is one of the easiest vegetables to grow. In the markets, buy fresh harvest featuring firm stalks and dark green crispy, flavourful leaves.

Avoid slumped plant with wilted leaves that have lost their lustre. Once at home, store whole bok choy in the vegetable compartment inside the refrigerator, set at high relative humidity. If stored appropriately, it can stay fresh for three or four days.


Simple bok choy salad

2 medium heads of bok choy
(or a couple of bundles of spinach)

1 small bunch of spring onions
(or some red or brown onions)

2 large carrots, shredded
(or half a cup of grated green pawpaw)

Grated coconut
(or some lightly toasted peanuts, slightly smashed)

Bean sprouts
(or some wild miri/basil from the garden)

1 packet Chinese instant noodles
(or 1 small vermicelli bundle)



5 Tbsp olive or coconut oil
(or any vegetable oil)

3 Tbsp orange juice
(or freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice)

2 cloves crushed garlic
(not absolutely necessary but worth the effort)

1 tsp mustard (any mustard)

1 Tbsp honey
(try golden syrup or brown sugar)

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp water



1. Trim off bok choy at its base and remove discoloured outer leaves. Wash it in cold water. Gently pat dry or place it upside down until all the water is drained out.

2. To prepare, separate outer stalks from the base using a paring knife and divide the whole plant into halves lengthwise. Then, chop off from the stem end about a centimetre apart and work towards its leafy top. In this recipe you can use both the stalks and the leaves.

3. Finely chop spring onions and carrots and add to your bowl with bok choy and bean sprouts.  Boil hot water to just cook your instant noodles (should only take 2 mins). If you don’t have the instant noodles, you can substitute with the vermicelli rice noodles.  Wash the hot noodles under cold water then drain. Add noodles to salad mixture.

4. In a small bowl add the second lot of ingredients and whisk well together. Taste and adjust flavour to your liking.

5. Toss all ingredients just before serving with dressing and serve. This salad can be served for lunch or dinner, with or without meat or with a kinaki. Great for a salad to take to work with dressing in a separate little jar. Goes really well with leftover meats.

Some kitchen tips

⮚     You can use lemon juice and baking soda to freshen and scrub chopping boards. Always store boards standing up.

⮚     When finished using your cloth for squeezing coconut cream, wash well and store in a plastic bag in the freezer.  When you need it again, just bring it out and run under warm water.

⮚     To keep flour fresh, store sealed in your fridge or freezer.

⮚     When washing your fridge or freezer, add a bit of vanilla essence to your soapy water when cleaning.

⮚     When making ika mata, combine ingredients in a wooden, ceramic or glass bowl.

⮚     Always check the expiry or used by dates of goods before purchasing.


⮚     Be creative, use local ingredients to nourish and protect your family.


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