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Garlic Chives, Herb Essentials

In Seattle, it is the re-sprouting of garlic chives from the ground that tells me every year that spring is here. By April, I am enjoying my first harvest of garlic chives. Growing up with a rich Thai-Chinese heritage, garlic chives were always present in my family kitchen. We call it Gui Chai -กุยช่าย. Also known as Chinese chives, allium tuberosum is native to China and Japan, and widespread throughout Southeast Asia. It is one of the many herbs that I enjoy growing in Seattle. It greets early spring every year around April, and in the fall, around September, the leaves die off. In warm climates like Thailand my family enjoys its long, flat green leaves all year round simply by cutting off a clump of chive stalks with a knife run close to the ground; two weeks later it will have grown up again. I can tell you from experience that garlic chives are easy to grow and delightful to have in your garden. A little bit of fresh garlic chives in your cooking will go a long way to providing an essential flavor of Southeast Asia.

Garlic Chives - Kui Chai-กุยช่าย

Garlic Chive – Kui Chai -กุยช่าย

One of my projects last summer was growing garlic chives from local Ed Hume Seeds for this post

Garlic chives are easy to grow from seeds. They like to grow in a cluster,
so I sowed 10 to 15 seeds next to each other.

I love the fact that growing a few clusters of garlic chives inspired me to cook more with them. While waiting for one plant to re-sprout after cutting, I would cut a second one that had completely re-sprouted. The fresher the garlic chives, the sweeter and less pungent they are. They taste more like garlic than regular chives, and not at all like green onions. Don’t reject the pungent aroma of fresh garlic chives—after cooking they have a sweet and complex flavor with a delightful fragrance.

Garlic chives are essential in Southeast Asian cuisine. In Thailand, they are widely used in stir-fries, dumpling fillings, rice pancakes, added to soups, as one stalk in a fresh noodle roll, and, most importantly, they are inseparable from the renowned Phad Thai noodles. But they are important in other cuisines as well. Recently, at Hue Ky Mi Gai restaurant in Seattle, a simple chicken broth with a few strands of garlic chives caught me by surprise. I was amazed at how much the garlic chives in a simple good broth enhanced the food experience of the Vietnamese cuisine.

Classic Garlic Chives Dishes in Thai Cuisine

For this post I will focus on garlic chives and how we use them in dishes, and not talk about possible substitutions. It is the essential flavor from this long, green, flat-leaved herb that completes the taste and gives some classic dishes the flavor profiles that make them stand out in world cuisine.

Phad Thai

Phad Thai at May's Restaurant

Bean sprouts, lime, banana blossom, garlic chives, ground roasted peanuts and chili powder are classic condiments for Phad Thai

Garlic chives play a more important role in Phad Thai than non-Thais could imagine. It is a common fact in Thailand that we use garlic chives for Phad Thai and have done so since Phad Thai’s inception less than a hundred years ago. In a Phad Thai dish there is a balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. The incredible flavors of sweet from palm sugar, sour from tamarind, salty from fish sauce and spicy from chili are combined with one more element—bitter from garlic chives. Together they build a complex and memorable flavor profile.

Stir-fried Mung Bean Sprouts and Tofu with Garlic Chives

bean sprout, tofu and garlic chive

Bean sprouts, tofu and garlic chives

Stir-fried Mung Bean Sprouts and Tofu with Garlic Chives – Phad Tao Gua Tao Nge Phuket- ผัดถั่วงอกกับเต้าหู้ภูเก็ต

Mung bean sprouts, tofu and garlic chives are classics for stir-frying. It is amazing to also see these same three ingredients in Phad Thai.

Khanom Gui Chai – ขนมกุยช่าย

garlic chives dumpling

Garlic Chives Dumplings – Khanom Gui Chai – ขนมกุยช่าย

Khanom Gui Chai – ขนมกุยช่าย – is a street food and a snack that is very popular throughout Thailand. My photo above is from the floating market in Thailand where many Thai-Chinese families sells their specialties to locals. Garlic chives are stir-fried with soy sauce for a filling and the dumpling is steamed and fried. Before serving, a little bit of dark and light soy sauce is added as seasoning.

 
© 2012  Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen
I Love Thai cooking
Pranee teaches Thai Cooking classes in the Seattle area.
Her website is: I Love Thai cooking.com 
 
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