Gai Lan can vary in size and shape, depending on the variety, but typically bears long, fleshy stalks with wide and flat leaves, averaging twenty centers in length. The thick stems are pale green, smooth, and crunchy, and the broad, variegated, blue-green to dark green, waxy leaves are semi-glossy with prominent veining. As the plant matures, it develops small, edible flower buds that will eventually open and bloom white flowers, and the entire plant is harvested when young for its crisp and tender consistency. Gai Lan has a similar, but slightly stronger flavor to broccoli and is bitter-sweet with a green, vegetal flavor.
Gai Lan is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, calcium, and folate. It also contains some antioxidants such as beta-carotene and lutein, and vitamins K and B9.
Gai Lan can be consumed raw, but it has a slightly bitter taste and is more commonly cooked with aromatics or light sauces to help balance out the flavor. Associated with Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Burmese cooking, Gai Lan can be stir-fried, boiled, blanched, braised, or steamed. The leaves and stems can be stir-fried with other vegetables, mixed into noodle soups, or lightly sautéed and served with savory main dishes. The greens can also be used as a wrap for cooked meats, herbs, and sauces, mixed into pot pies, or blended into green juices and smoothies. Gai Lan pairs well with sauces such as oyster or soy, garlic, ginger, meats such as pork belly and beef, fish such as mahi-mahi and salmon, mushrooms, pasta, rice, walnuts, red pepper, and basil. Fresh leaves and stems will keep 4-7 days when stored unwashed, in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Gai Lan can also be blanched and stored in the freezer for up to one year.