Two weeks ago I went to a Dongbei (or Northeastern China) restaurant in Flushing for lunch with a group of Chinese food enthusiasts. I glanced through the menu, but like many seasoned Chinese diners I asked the owner if they had any special seasonal dishes from the kitchen. As it turned out they had young tender garlic scapes, which are the stalks of garlic blossom, and she suggested we ordered them stir-fried with pork slices. I was thrilled to know they’re still available during this late in the season.
Chinese cooks utilize many parts of the garlic plant. Young garlic shoots are used in classic dishes such as Twice-Cooked Pork, garlic scapes are used as vegetable in stir-fries, and mature garlic greens are often used to flavor beef or lamb stir-fries. Of all the parts of the garlic I specially love garlic scapes. They are tender and have very mild flavor. Garlic scapes are excellent for stir-fry dishes as they don’t compete with stronger flavored ingredients, but rather complement them with a sweet succulent character.
Although garlic scapes (蒜薹, 蒜芯, 蒜苗) have been consumed in Asia and France for years it is only recently that Americans have become aware of them. They’re now ubiquitous in farmers market during the spring all over the U.S. Unfortunately they have a very short season, and are available only from mid-spring to early summer. Obtaining them requires vigilance during this brief period.
The most common use of garlic scapes in Chinese cooking is in stir-fries. Classic preparations often paired them with pork, Chinese smoked bacon and beef. They are sometimes stir-fried and scrambled with egg as well. I decided to introduce you to a vegetarian garlic scape dish that I served a Buddhist friend of mine at a recent dinner. In this recipe I combined garlic scapes with carrots, baby corn and shiitake mushrooms. I finished the dish with a little bit of rich savory soy based sauce to coat all the ingredients.
When ordering food in a Chinese restaurant in Asia it is common practice to inquire about the availability of seasonal ingredients. In fact many restaurants, especially those away from cities, do not even have menus. The owner or server will recite a list of available fresh ingredients, and then suggest a cooking preparation that the chef would recommend. So next time when you’re in a Chinese restaurant ask away. You might encounter some delicious and exotic dishes not on the menu.
Vegetarian Stir-Fried Garlic Scape (素炒蒜薹)
- 8 ounces garlic scapes (蒜薹)
- 3 ounces baby corn
- 3 ounces carrots
- 1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 clove garlic sliced thinly
- fresh ginger root 3 thin slices
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup Shaoxing cooking wine (紹興料酒)
- 1/4 vegetarian stock or water
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
Reconstitute the dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of hot water. Cut the garlic scapes into 2 inch sections, discarding the flower buds, and set aside. Julienne the carrots into about 1/8 inch thick pieces and set aside. Cut each baby corn in half on the bias and set aside. Cut the shiitake mushroom into 1/8 inch thick strips and set aside.
Mix the vegetarian stock or water with light soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch and ground white pepper in a small bowl. Set the sauce mixture aside.
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok until just about reaching smoking point. Add the garlic and ginger slices and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add the carrot slices and garlic scapes to the wok. Pour the cooking wine into the wok and stir-fry for about 30 second. Cover and let the vegetables steam in the wok for about one minute. Uncover and add the baby corn and mushrooms and continue to stir-fry for another 30 seconds. If the vegetables are dry when stir-frying, then add an additional 1/4 cup of vegetable stock or water. Pour the sauce mixture into the wok and let it thicken. Plate the vegetables and serve immediately.