Sunday, September 28, 2014

Recipe: Thai Chive Cakes

Asian chives (allium tuberosum)
Known as buchu to Koreans, katsay to Chinese and ichay to Filipinos, Asian chives are indispensable to a variety of Eastern dishes—dumplings, soups, sauces and preserved foods to name a few. When eaten raw they are slightly sweet and mild, but when cooked or used in fermentation their flavor and fragrance intensifies. They are different from the standard Western variety. They are grown for their flat, strappy leaves which are less pungent as others from the onion family. You’ll find these chives in bundles at Asian markets.

They are the main ingredient in Thai Chive Cakes (kanom gui chai), a steamed or pan-fried rice cake that is traditionally made as a vegan snack. I like them pan-fried—crisp light crust, slightly chewy inside with a sweet chive explosion in every bite. These chive cakes are different from the Chinese chive dumplings—which are stuffed in a flour wrapper with shrimp or pork. You might never makes this recipe, but it’s good to get familiar with this traditional technique; Thai Chive Cakes are a bit of work, but worth the all the effort.

Washing them is the first step; since Asian chives are harvested low to the ground they tend to be gritty. Use a rubber band to secured the base, spread the top of the bunch out and run them under the tap for a minute while shaking them. Remove any wilted or bruised leaves and gently shake the rest of the water out; hang them to drip-dry for about 30 minutes. Chives will keep refrigerated for about five days wrapped in a moist paper towel. Enough yapping, let’s make some Thai chive cakes.



Thai Chive Cakes (kanom gui chai)
  • 3/4 lb (roughly 2 1/4 cups) Chinese chives, sliced into 1/4" pieces
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 + 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup white rice flour (not sweet rice flour)
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp high-heat oil for sauteing and enough for pan-frying
  • 8" X 8" X 2" baking pan or a 
  • a pot big enough for the baking pan
  • collapsible steamer 
  • 10" skillet for frying
Ginger-garlic Dipping Sauce
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp sliced scallions
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
Here’s an easy way to chop chives: bundle chives with rubber bands 2" in from the top and base of the bunch. Starting from the top, slice the bundle crosswise with a sharp knife making 1/4" cuts until you reach the rubber band. Reposition the rubber band 2" down toward the base and slice. Repeat until you reach the band at the base of the bundle. Discard the last 2", it’s usually to fibrous for cooking.

Mix the dipping sauce and set aside until you’re ready to serve. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a skillet. Sauté minced garlic and chives with 1/2 teaspoon salt until the chives are wilted. Transfer to a cutting board to cool down then squeeze out most to the remaining moisture with your hands; it’s important to remove as much moisture as you can. Make the batter: in a large bowl add, mix rice flour, tapioca starch, remaining salt and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Whisk in cold water and add chive mix until everything is evenly incorporated.

Steaming: Add water to a depth of 1 1/2" and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer, unfold steamer and set into the pot of water. Grease baking pan with oil, pour in chive batter, set into the pot and cover. If you don’t have one of these fold-out steam things... just rest the baking pan onto a low metal bowl. Steam for about 30 to 40 minutes maintaining at least an inch of water in the pot. The batter will turn slightly translucent when fully cooked. Check the center with a toothpick to make sure it’s fully cooked. Remove from the pot and allow chive cake to cool completely, roughly an hour.

Flip cake out of the baking pan onto a cutting board. With a sharp knife cut the chive cake into 16 two-inch squares. Wetting the knife between cuts makes slicing easier. You can serve these steamed chive cakes at room temp with a dipping sauce or pan-fry them for a crisp texture.

Pan-frying: Pour oil into the skillet to a depth of 1/4" and bring pan to medium heat. When the oil is hot (375°) place chive cake squares into the pan. Fry three at a time for four minutes on each side, or until they are golden and crisp; do not crowd the pan. Drain chive cakes on a paper towel and serve with dipping sauce.

Making Them in Advance: Thai chive cakes can be quite a task. It’s worth the effort to make larger batches for future meals. Steamed chive cakes freeze well wrapped individually in wax paper. Thaw them before pan-frying. Pan-fried chive cakes are best reheated in the oven (375°F).


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