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Greens in Garlic - Eu Chai

This is such a ridiculously easy recipe I’m not even sure you can call it a recipe. It is undemanding and produces a quick, delicious result for a side vegetable dish.

Many years ago, an American friend who was living in Malaysia was delighted to discover the huge array of green leafy Asian vegetables available. The only problem was, she lamented, she didn’t know how she was supposed to cook them. I told her if ever she was unsure, a garlic oil and soya sauce combination almost never fails.

Garlic oil is simply chopped garlic (or if you’re looking for a short-cut like me, whizzed in a mini food processor) cooked in oil till crispy, golden and fragrant. It can be kept at room temperature for a week or about two weeks in the fridge for longer. My mum always had a jar of this in the fridge, to use over blanched vegetables, steamed tofu, poached chicken or in noodle soups. This modest ‘dressing’ is unassuming but don’t underestimate how much it can enhance even the dullest of dishes. I like to make a big batch of this, using the garlic infused oil in my stir fries.

There are so many types of Asian vegetable, one is spoilt for choice. The more commonly known ones are bok choy, choy sum or gai lan (note some differences in pronounciation and spelling depending on the Chinese dialect). One of my favourite ways to eat these leafy greens is with this crispy fragrant garlic in oil, mixed with soya sauce, sesame seed oil and a dash of white pepper. The oyster sauce is optional, although it does add a richer umami taste. But sometimes if Im looking for a ‘lighter’ version I’ll omit the oyster sauce. But hang on, I don’t use this recipe only with Asian greens. This is just as good over steamed broccoli or blanched iceberg or romaine lettuces (yes you can cook lettuce!) asparagus or even French beans. I scoured the shelves of my Asian supermarket and bought a few varieties of Asian greens to show you, so we’ll eating these this week.

Bok Choy, Shanghai Bok Choy

Gai Lan, Choy Sum

Leafy Asian greens are often grown in sandy soil so be sure to soak and wash them thoroughly like you would with any salad to loosen and remove all traces of sand and dirt. Most stems of Chinese vegetables can be eaten and may even be the best parts. If they are very thick, just peel them like you would do asparagus.

Once you have your jar of garlic oil made, the rest is easy and quick. When I was living alone, I made this several times a week because it was a simple and quick, delicious way to eat vegetables after a day's work a the office. The vegetables should still have crunch so a quick 30 seconds to a minute’s blanch is all they need. The drop of oil in the water will help to intensify the green of your vegetable.

In restaurants as much as in homes, its no wonder that this is an ubiquitous side dish - easy, quick, inexpensive, healthy. I have never had to ask my children to finish their vegetables on their plate, except for carrots. But then I've never served up carrots this way. One of their favourite versions is with beansprouts. You can garnish it with spring onions or coriander or fresh cut red chillies.

So today's recipe is not really a recipe, still...enjoy!

ps. Eu Chai in Hokkien literally translates to oiled vegetables, or vegetables in oil

Vegetable in Garlic Oil - Eu Chai


Serves 4 to 6

Prep Time 10/Cook Time 1 mins/Total Time 11 mins

For the garlic oil

  • 1/4 cup oil

  • 1 small head garlic, peeled and chopped

Other Ingredients

  • 400 - 500 gms vegetables (bok choy, choy sum, kai lan etc)

  • 1 to 2 tbsp soya sauce

  • 1/2 tbsp sesame seed oil

  • 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce (optional)

  • 1 tbps garlic oil

  • 1/4 tsp white pepper


For the garlic oil

  1. To prepare the garlic oil, first peel and chop the garlic (or blend roughly).

  2. Place 1/4 cup oil and chopped garlic in a small pot/pan over medium high heat. Swirling your pan or stirring occasionally, allow to cook until the garlic is lightly golden and crispy.

  3. Remove from heat before it burns, and transfer into a heat-proof jar. Can be kept at room temperature for a week or longer in the fridge.

For the Eu Chai

  1. Soak and wash vegetables, making sure to loosen and rinse all sand and dirt. Trim or peel stems if they are thick.

  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a drop of oil, then the vegetables. Blanch quickly, about 30 seconds to a minute, depending on vegetable.

  3. Remove vegetables with a pair of tongs or chopsticks. Drain in a colander, or arrange onto a plate, place another plate over, and gently squeeze out the excess water without damaging the vegetables.

  4. Drizzle over the soya sauce, sesame seed oil, oyster sauce, garlic oil and a dash of pepper.


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