Sometimes you can find a little kailan that looks like a brussel sprout.
Brussel sprouts look like cute miniature cabbages (which belong to the Brassicaceae family) and have a slight bitter taste. Little or baby kailan (xiao jie lan) are really overgrown Brussel sprouts I think. I've seen baby kailan up in the cool highlands of Kundasang and they grow along a vertical stem just like Brussel sprouts. Overgrown Brussel sprouts are called "little kailan" in Chinese because they belong to the same Brassicaceae family as the large leafy kailan. Overgrown Brussel sprouts are crunchy, tasty and especially good when blanched and then stir-fried. Blanching cooks and softens the kailan and stir-frying improves the flavor.
When our kids were younger, my friends Sucy and Yo and our families used to go on weekend trips by the coast or mountains and on one of those trips, Sucy taught her maid to improvise the cooking of little kailan using the only two seasonings available--dark soy sauce and garlic-- in the kitchen of our rented chalet. Yes, we had the luxury of bringing along her maid to cook and wash on such trips. The excuse was that someone had to cook while we looked after our kids. The plate of baby kailan Sucy/her maid cooked was so good, I only cook baby kailan that way since. The only thing I do differently is toss the sauce with the kailan in the wok whereas Sucy poured the fried garlic soy sauce over the blanched kailan on a plate. I find that the extra step of tossing the kailan in the wok helps to get the sauce into the veg and also gives the veg a blanched-fried taste rather than just a blanched taste. Do not skip the step of frying the garlic and sauce in oil. Blanching veggies in water to which oil has been added, the usual way of blanching veggies Chinese-style, gives a lighter, less fragrant taste while oil that has been heated ('cooked oil' in Chinese, a very Cantonese ingredient that improves the taste of delicate dishes from steamed fish to tossed noodles) gives a fragrant and cooked flavor versus the raw flavor of uncooked oil.
Btw, you can cook most leafy veggies this way but make sure you don't overcook them.
Stir-fried Blanched Little Kailan
1/2 kg little kailan (estimated)
1 heaped T chopped garlic
1 T oyster sauce (optional but recommended)
1 T dark soy sauce
2 T veg oil (preferably peanut oil)
1. Remove any wilted or yellow outer leaves from the kailan, cut off excess stem ends and half them lengthwise so that they'll cook faster. Wash very well under running water and then swish the veg in a sinkful of water to remove the dirt caught between the leaves. Do that twice. Drain in a colander.
2. Boil enough water to blanch the kailan until they are just wilted and still very green. Remove with a large slotted spoon into a colander, tapping the colander to remove as much water as possible.
3. Heat up a wok, add 2 T veg oil and the garlic and fry (low temp) until garlic is slightly golden. Add the oyster sauce and dark soy sauce, stir well for 10 to 20 seconds, add the well-drained kailan (any excess water will dilute the taste) and toss to mix well. Remove onto a plate.
Alternatively, pour the fried garlic sauce over the blanched kailan.