Garlic breath: unforgivable and unforgettable? Or a joyous, all-day reminder of a scrumptious meal? Let's just say if you love it, come hang out with me after I've tucked into a plateful of cold, crunchy, garlicky-dressed "smacked cucumbers" (Chinese: paihuanggua; 拍黄瓜). It's a flavour to savour and rememburp.
I don't really love garlic's mouth-kungfu action, though, so these Chinese garlic stems are a real treat. Tender and firm like green beans, naturally sweet with a faint whiff of the pungent bulb it sprouted from and nearly a meter long, it's a gorgeous vegetable... and a lazy cook's dream. "Tired of mincing sticky garlic cloves all day? Well today's your lucky day, the garlic stem comes with built-in garlic scent!" "No more garlic fingers, or your money back!"
I'm surprised I don't see this part of such a common plant at supermarkets back home (U.S., U.K.). Compare it with Western vegetables of a similar texture, shape and sweetness... like green beans and asparagus... and the possibilities for a swap-out come alive.
For our authentic Chinese dish, I made a stir-fry of garlic stems and slivered pork. It's really as easy as it sounds; the robust and sweet flavour of the stems does all the work for you, topped off by scant classic lashings of soy sauce and Shaoxing cooking wine.
For our Western version, I subbed out French green beans for garlic stems in one of my favourite salads: the Salade Niçoise, a summery mix of the sweet French beans, cooked tuna, black olives, red onions, cherry tomatoes and boiled egg (plus any other flourishes according to personal preference or proud restaurant specialities). My lightly garlic-scented Niçoise uses the garlic stem in place of French beans, and also brings into the mix some baby new potatoes, cute little quail eggs, lemon zest, parsley and mint. You can't see it but I also threw in some invisible red onions, very thinly sliced then soak in water first to take the spicy edge off, and fine matchsticks of invisible beetroot (invisible... or just forgotten. It was late at night, to be fair).
Give the garlic stem a chance! It's so easy to sub it in any of your favourite recipes for asparagus and green beans, or chop it into pea-sized pieces and toss it into a fragrant wokful of blissful, morning-after fried rice.
*RECIPES IN PROGRESS. Here are basic guidelines while I look for my cooking notes to get exact measurements. Treat the recipes below as good old-fashioned cooking advice; and most importantly, trust your cooking instincts and taste buds!*
Chinese Style: Garlic Stems with Pork
- Garlic stems
- Shaoxing rice wine
- Light soy sauce
Stir-fry the pork with a teaspoon of oil over high heat until just cooked, about 1 minute; it's ok if the center is still raw. Tip into a plate and set aside. Heat a it more oil and add the garlic stems to the wok on high heat. Give it a stir or two, then drizzle in some cooking wine. Another stir or two, then the soy sauce. Another stir, then add salt and a bit of sugar to taste. Don't overcook the stems; just after adding the soy sauce, add the meat back in, stir-fry just until the meat is no longer raw, then you're done! Eat with a hot, steaming bowl of yummy white or brown rice.
Western Style: Garlic Stem Niçoise
- garlic stems, cut into 4 cm (1.5 in) segments
- 1 can of sustainably caught tuna in spring water, drained
- new potatoes, boiled
- quail eggs, hard boiled (or normal hard-boiled chicken eggs)
- cherry tomatoes
- beetroot, sliced into matchsticks and soaked in water (to prevent tie-dying the salad)
- red onion, thinly sliced and soaked in water (to minimize the spiciness)
- black olives, halved
- olive oil
- Dijon mustard
- lemon zest
Combine. You can do it.