The flavor of garlic is essential for the kitchen, beloved by cooks and gardeners alike. But you don't have to grow garlic to reap its taste fresh from your garden. There's an easy-to-cultivate plant - Chinese chive - that resembles other members of the onion family but offers that mild garlic flavor and doesn't produce a bulb.
Chinese chive (Allium tuberosum) has many common names, including garlic chive, Chinese leek and, in Japan, nira. It's been used for centuries in Asian cooking, but can add something different to Western dishes, too.
It's flat-leafed and has a beautiful white flower that comes up about a month after the first tender green shoots. One word of warning: deadhead (that is, remove) those flowers or you'll have more Chinese chives than you know what to do with. They spread prodigiously from seed.
The plants taste best when harvested before flowering. But the flowers, too, are edible and offer a different texture than the flat, deep-green leaves.
Chinese Chives and Angel-Hair Pasta is one of my favorite uses for Chinese chives. The fresh greens offer a mild garlic flavor to the dish that mixes with the garlic cloves.
Chinese chives can be found in specialty produce markets. The New Food Lover's Companion, by Sharon Tyler Herbst, recommends looking for bright green chives.
The Web site asiafood.org advises snapping the lower end of one stem, and avoiding that bunch if the stem is not crisp and fresh enough to snap.
Store Chinese chives tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for up to four days, says The New Food Lover's Companion.
Chinese chives are high in carotene and vitamins B and C, and they should be used in the kitchen soon after harvesting. They can be used like the round-leaf chives most cooks are used to, but the garlicky flavor transcends to many other dishes, too.
They make great additions to stews and soups and are wonderful with eggs. When using them in recipes, add them last because their flavor can fade quickly under heat.
Doug Oster writes for Tribune Media Services. Sun reporter Kate Shatzkin contributed to this article.
Chinese Chives and Angel-Hair Pasta
1 pound angel-hair pasta
6 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups Chinese chives, chopped into 3-inch pieces
2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine
salt and pepper to taste
Break the pasta in half and cook in boiling water until al dente. Drain the noodles and set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok at high heat and add the garlic, letting it cook for just 1 minute. Add the chives and cook for another 30 seconds.
Reduce heat to medium-low and add the sprouts, soy sauce and rice wine. Toss together with the pasta and add salt and pepper to taste.
Per serving: 504 calories, 19 grams protein, 10 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 89 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 668 milligrams sodium