Garlic chives are also known as Allium tuberoseum, which means “root garlic” in Latin. A. tuberoseum comes from a region that includes northern China. They are less onion-ey than regular chives or scallions and have more garlic pungency.
After picking up my garlic chives, the car smelled of sulphurous garlic funk. I opened the window to catch a warm whiff of mud, and the world finally felt like spring. With fresh garlic chives in the bag, I felt a familiar but rusty hankering for a certain egg pancake I always make when I have the means.
I use about a tablespoon each of toasted sesame oil and butter in my omelet pan, on medium heat. While it heats, I chop the white end of a handful of garlic chives and add those pieces to the pan. I let them cook for a quick minute, and then pour in some well-beaten eggs. Immediately, I start shaking the pan to prevent any egg from sticking. After it begins to puff up, I give it a flip to cook the other side. I douse it with soy sauce and serve with a sprinkle of chopped chives from the green end of the bunch.
There are many ways to use garlic chives. While there are no rules about how to use garlic chives, there are flavors that go particularly well with them. They include toasted sesame oil, ginger, soy sauce, oyster sauce, white pepper and monosodium glutamate. Garlic chives also pair exceptionally with certain proteins, including tofu, fish, pork, shrimp and egg.
For the next few days, I proceeded to feverishly mix and match all of the above. I served it with jasmine rice or instant ramen and some kind of picante, such as hot sauce, sliced jalapenos or crushed chile. I continued apace until the garlic chives were gone.
The next time I got garlic chives, I focused on steamed fish with ginger and garlic chives — a recipe for which there are many variations. The sauce has soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, rice vinegar, oyster sauce and white pepper.
Once I got my chive recipe figured out, I realized that I like it better applied to an uncut brick of tofu. The soft, blank flesh of the tofu combines magically with the intensely flavored sauce and makes for a fun mouthful. I then modified the recipe for pork belly.
It was a fun night, hunched over a bowl filled with various permutations of the chive ingredients. I was having so much fun eating garlic chives, that when the proteins finally ran out, I kept going with rice, sauce, fried chives and ginger, and fresh chopped green end of the chive bunch. It was as satisfying as the pork, because by this time, all I really wanted was that combination of chive, ginger and Asian spices.
Garlic chives with tofu (or fish or pork belly)
If you can’t get excited for tofu, I’ve included alternative instructions for preparing the dish with pork belly or fish. Unless you are making the pork belly version, you’ll need a steamer to follow this recipe.
½ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
¼ teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 bunch garlic chives, chopped and separated into white parts and green parts
1 brick of extra-firm tofu or your choice of protein (recommended alternatives: A portion of white flaky fish, or pork belly)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cubic inch of peeled ginger, sliced
1 cubic inch peeled ginger, grated
White jasmine rice, for serving
On the plate that will go into the steamer, make a gentle mound from the chopped green end of the bunch of chives. Place your protein atop the chopped garlic chive greens. Liberally sprinkle a teaspoon of salt upon and around the protein, and then lay the slices of ginger on top. Place the plate in the steamer and cover it with a tight-fitting lid. Steam the protein for about 20 minutes. (If using pork belly, cook it in the sauce, rather than steaming it.)
While the protein steams (or stews, in the case of pork), get the sauce going. Add the soy sauce to a pan, along with a half cup of water, sugar, rice wine, rice vinegar, oyster sauce, white pepper and one tablespoon of the toasted sesame oil. Heat to a simmer and keep it there for about 10 minutes, then turn it off. (If cooking pork belly in the sauce, add the pork, cut into cubes about an inch on the side, along with a star anise pod, a teaspoon of coriander and a cup of water. Simmer for two hours.)
Heat a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil in a pan on medium. Fry the shredded ginger and the chopped chive whites, along with any other chive odds and ends that might be lying around, and a teaspoon of salt. Cook slowly for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the chives have dried and turned a bit brown.
To serve, lay a piece of tofu on a bed of rice. Drench with sauce and sprinkle with the fried ginger chive mixture.
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