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Aug 5, 2013 02:19 PM

Chinese Leeks-- is there a growing season for these?

They're a critical ingredient for Fuschia Dunlop's ma po tofu recipe (she doesn't say they're critical, but I say they are).

I'm often disappointed as these are sometimes hard to find. I've found them in several different supermarkets (many of the 99 Ranch stores, SG Superstore, 168 Supermarket), but it's strictly hit-and-miss. My most recent failure was yesterday at the Garvey/Atlantic 99 Ranch.

Is there a season for these vegetables? Any tips to help me find them more consistently?

For reference, this is what they look like. Although they look like a narrower version of western leeks, the dark green part of the leaf is tender and edible. Additionally, it has a pungent garlicky aroma and flavor compared to the mild sweetness of a western leek.

Mr Taster

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  1. I've always through Chinese leeks were the same as garlic chives, jiucai: But those do look like smaller western leeks.

    13 Replies
    1. re: PeterCC

      Yeah, no-- that's not it. What I'm looking for very much appears as a western leek with a much narrower diameter (and a very different aroma). I wish I had the Chinese name handy.

      Sometimes the white end bulges out like a spring onion, and sometimes it remains straight like a western leek.

      Here's a another good photo. They're often sold with a big bush of roots attached (which may or may not have been cleaned off)

      Mr Taster

      1. re: Mr Taster

        INTERESTING. I always thought these were baby leeks.. I perfer those to regular leeks... I usually get them at the Asian Produce stand at the Mar Vista Farmers Market... And yes, they are seasonal... more fallish...


        1. re: Dommy

          That's what I'm finding too. Western leeks can be harvested at pencil-diameter (sometimes known as pencil leeks) and may be they have a stronger aroma and flavor compared to the mature specimen.

          1. re: PeterCC

            "Additionally, it has a pungent garlicky aroma and flavor compared to the mild sweetness of a western leek."

            It's spring garlic aka green garlic guys :-)

            1. re: Porthos

              But the pics of what he's looking for show them to have the thick, "folded" leaves of leeks, not green garlic, which based on my Google searches have thinner, more scallion-like leaves.

              1. re: PeterCC

                I think that's because Mr. T is pulling google images of "leeks" and not searching by spring garlic or green garlic.


                1. re: Porthos

                  I think you're right.

                  I looked at the fact that he's trying to make Fuchia Dunlop's recipe, and she specifically mentions green garlic, suan miao 蒜苗, a.k.a. qing suan 青蒜, with recommendations for using spring onions* in mapo tofu if green garlic is not available:

                  *I think (hope) spring onions are generally, unambiguously, also known as scallions?

                  1. re: PeterCC

                    Strong work. Here is the quote from your link.

                    "In my Sichuan cookery book I recommended using baby leeks for twice-cooked pork and spring onions for mapo tofu because green garlic is so rarely available, but if you can find it, snap it up and use it instead!"

                    1. re: PeterCC

                      >> think you're right. I looked at the fact that he's trying to make Fuchia Dunlop's recipe, and she specifically says she uses green garlic, suan miao 蒜苗, a.k.a. qing suan 青蒜:

                      Yup-- the one on the right. That's it. It can sometimes be really tricky to find.

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        Well, Ipse's apparently seeing it in markets, based on his comment below about placards. Hopefully they're still around in the markets. Unfortunately, I didn't come across any seasonality information on suan miao.

                        I didn't realize the link I included above is more like a "search results" page for tags. This is the full post link, with comments:

                      2. re: PeterCC

                        "*I think (hope) spring onions are generally, unambiguously, also known as scallions?"

                        Scallions and green onions are interchangeable.

                        Spring onions usually have a larger bulb. See picture below.


          2. Mr. T.

            Like PeterCC I also thought you meant Chinese chives.

            It's just spring garlic or green garlic from what I understand. I've also seen it at 99 Ranch listed as Taiwanese Garlic or something like that. Pretty sure I saw some a month or so ago but didn't see it at my 99 Ranch last week. Like you said, hit or miss. I usually substitute with garlic, green onions, traditional western leeks, or Japanese long scallions (Mitsuwa almost always has them) depending on what I need them for.

            1. Depending on when they're harvested, the season for 大蔥 is January to December, give or take a few days.

              3 Replies
              1. re: ipsedixit

                Googled Ipse's chinese character's and I'm getting images of Japanese long scallions. The green portion is hollow in the middle like onions. Mr. T is looking for ones with a flat, leek-like leaf which is green garlic.

                1. re: Porthos

                  Dunno about Google, but that's what the placards say at Chinese markets like Ranch 99, 168, Arcadia, etc.

                  Also, look for 蒜苗 which is what some of the signs have as well.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    What is the Chinese name for traditional (western) leeks? I'm finding 韭蔥. If what Mr. T's looking for is smaller than traditional leeks, it would be funny (to me) if they were 大.

                    Edit: Yes, I think Mr. T is looking for 蒜苗 too (see my post above linking to Fuchia Dunlop's page). Are they still around?

              2. Chinese leeks are known as 韭葱 (jiu cong/tsong) or Allium porrum.

                It's also pretty easy to confuse these with "naga negi" or Tokyo negi as they are sometimes called in Nijiya (giant Japanese leeks but sometimes also called giant scallions).