If there’s one seasoning/herb I could never grow sick of, it’s garlic. I once was afraid that if I ate too much garlic, I’d get tired of it. After 27 years, I’m still going garlic-strong, so I don’t think my love for this stinky bulb will go away anytime soon. Fortunately, Mr. ABC Chef shares the same love for garlic…
Garlic chives, Chinese chives, or jiu cai 韭菜 are one of my favorite spring/summer time vegetables to eat, because to me it is basically like eating garlic in vegetable form… They are great in dumplings, wrapped in dough, or just cooked with eggs. What’s jiu cai hua, then（韭菜花）? It’s actually the bolted form / flowered form of the garlic chive. I have no idea why, but I guess when the jiu cai flowers, the stem also gets crunchy, so the texture is different than jiu cai! So cool, huh?! I thought they were originally two very very closely related plants because the textures were different, but after I got a fresh delivery of homegrown jiu cai from Ling (thanks Ling!!). What my dad said was about the flowering was confirmed when I saw some jiu cai hua poking out amidst the oodles of jiu cai!
Usually when we see vegetables that are growing flowers or buds, we think of that as bad. But in this case, the buds are supposed to be there, and it’s by no means an indication that the vegetable got picked too late. The best jiu cai hua are crispy/crunchy all along the stem, with no fibrous/woody parts. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure how to know in advance if the stem will be fibrous, but usually, buying them during the summer, when jiu cai is in season, will yield better produce!
Jiu cai hua can be used interchangeably with jiu cai, and the nice thing is the jiu cai hua doesn’t leach much water when it’s being cooked, which makes it a great candidate for a stir-fry dish. Add meat to jiu cai hua, and eat with rice or noodles for a simple and easy meal! In this stir-fry recipe, I added a tiny bit of baking soda to the pork to help tenderize it (learned it from Mr. ABC Chef, whose family used that trick all the time). The cornstarch helps to make a mild glossy sheen on the meat. Because of how fragrant the jiu cai hua is, you need little else to make this dish tasty. Enjoy!
Jiu cai hua rou si
Chinese chive flowers with pork
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp Shaoxing wine
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/8 tsp baking soda (optional)
8-9 oz pork loin, pork tenderloin, pork shoulder, thinly sliced, or even ground pork
8-12 oz garlic chive flowers (jiu cai hua), cut into inch sections
1-2 Tbsp oil
1) Marinate the meat in cornstarch, wine, soy sauce, and baking soda, if you are using it.
2) Heat a pan or wok, then add oil. Cook the pork on the highest heat setting (in batches, if necessary) until it is 80-90% done. Take the pork out of the wok.
3) Adjust the heat to medium heat (you don’t want to burn the jiu cai hua), then add the jiu cai hua and par-cooked pork and any accumulated juices. By the time the pork is fully cooked, the quick-cooking jiu cai hua will be, also. Taste and add salt if necessary.
4) Eat with rice or wheat noodles (if noodles, add some meat stock for a nice noodle soup 🙂 )
-Feel free to use a different type of meat if you wish.
-This is also really good with some soybean curd (dou fu gan / 豆腐乾)- in place of (to make it vegetarian) or in addition to the meat. Use about half a pound of thinly sliced soybean curd, and pan-fry them separately from the pork to make a step #2.5. Add them back in when you add the meat to the jiu cai hua.
-You can use regular Chinese chives / garlic chives/ jiu cai instead, but note that it will be then titled jiu cai rou si!