Garlic chives and flowering chives are vegetables found in Asian markets that may not be familiar to westerners.Members of the onion and garlic family are indispensable in my cooking. Crushed garlic, diced onions, chopped shallots and sliced green onions are routinely added to salads, soups, stir-fried dishes, marinades for grilled foods, dipping sauces, and curries and stews. They provide the background foundation upon which other flavors are layered to bring about the depth and complexity of flavor typical of many exquisite Southeast Asian dishes.
In the early spring, I also look for green garlic and various types of leeks at local farmer’s markets, which not only make wonderful companions in stewed meat dishes, but star as the main attraction in vegetable dishes. Come the warm and sunny months of late spring, summer and autumn, luscious bundles of green and yellow garlic chives (also called “Chinese chives”) and irresistible bunches of long-stemmed chive flower buds draw my attention at Asian markets.
(Click on an image to see a larger version.)
The garlic chives cherished by many Southeast Asians are not the green leaves of garlic plants, but are a kind of leafy chives with a distinct garlic flavor. Not at all like the skinny, fragile-looking, round-and-hollow stemmed chives sold in tiny bundles in western supermarkets and used sparingly as a seasoning herb in western cuisine, garlic chives are long (8 to 15 inches), flat and rather wide (1/4 inch) in comparison, and are usually sold in large bunches as they are frequently cooked as a vegetable on their own right (indeed, in parts of China, they are known as “jewels among vegetables”).
Of course, they also serve as a flavor-enhancing herb in a wide variety of dishes, from soups and salads to fish, meat and egg dishes. They are sometimes eaten raw, cut into inch-long segments, in salads and noodle dishes; or stuffed into dough mixtures to make chive cakes for snacks and appetizers.
Garlic chives come deep green in color, as well as white or yellow. They are one and the same, the latter grown in the dark, preventing chlorophyll from developing. This growing method, called “blanching”, weakens the stems and causes them to grow a bit more curly than straight. Because it also inevitably weakens the plants, blanching is done only once or twice a season following healthy harvests of green chives, thus, limiting the availability of yellow chives.
The Chinese prize yellow chives for their pretty color, succulent texture and subtle flavor; but because they are more fragile and perishable and their supply more limited, they command a rather high price. The more common green variety, on the other hand, is abundantly available almost year-round in most Asian markets at inexpensive prices. Unlike the curly, fleshy and limp yellow chives, which are not bundled, they can be recognized by their distinctly flat, straight, fairly stiff, deep green leaves tied together in hefty bunches.
Much more precious than either green or yellow garlic chives are flowering chives – oval unopened buds borne on long, stiff, angular green stems. This is reflected in the price, from $2.50 per pound and up, but in most instances, just about the entire stems are edible, not just the buds. The buds have a pungent garlic flavor, while the stems are delectably sweet and crisp. If the stems are unusually long (more than 8 inches), the bottom inch or two can be a bit fibrous and should be trimmed off and discarded. Otherwise, the entire stems can be cut into one-and-a-half-inch segments and stir-fried quickly with oyster sauce, by themselves, or with mushrooms and shrimp to make a quick-and-easy, delicious and nutritious one-dish meal.
This recipe is also available on our website (Stir-fried Chive Flower Buds with Shrimp and Oyster Mushrooms).
Stir-fried Chive Flower Buds with Shrimp and Oyster Mushrooms
(Pad Dawk Goochai Gkoong Hed Hoi Nahnglom)
- 1 bunch chive flower buds on long stems – about 3/4 to 1 lb., or substitute green garlic chives
- 1/2 lb. oyster mushrooms
- 1/3 lb. small shrimp, shelled and butterflied
- 3 Tbs. peanut oil
- 3-4 Tbs. oyster sauce*
- 2-3 tsp. fish sauce*, to taste
If the bunch of chive flower buds you bought has thick stems at the bottom, cut and discard the bottom 2 to 3 inches that seem tough and fibrous. Cut the remaining stems into 1 1/2-inch segments.
Separate the oyster mushrooms into individual caps. Cut the larger ones in halves or thirds, so that they are bite-size pieces.
Heat a wok until its surface is smoking hot. Add the oil and let heat 10 to 15 seconds. When hot, toss in the shrimp and stir-fry until they begin to turn pink on the outside. Follow with the chive bud-and-stem pieces and stir-fry another minute or so, or until they are partially wilted. Add the mushrooms and toss to mix them in with the chives and shrimp. Sprinkle in enough oyster sauce to lightly coat the vegetables. Stir-well. Salt to taste with fish sauce. Stir-fry another minute or so, or until the chives are cooked but still crisp. (If you are substituting green garlic chives for the chive flower buds, the cooking time will be much shorter as they wilt faster.)
Serves 6 to 8 with rice and other dishes in a shared family-style meal.
Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, September 2009.