Garlic chive, also known as ku chai, Oriental garlic, Chinese chive, nira, Chinese leek and gow choy, among other local names, is a herb that is usually considered a close relative of the spring onion. Native to Asia, it is a popular condiment used to flavor various traditional and modern Asian dishes. It can be used as a garnish, spice or herb. Chinese chives have a delicate, slightly garlicy flavor. Although most popular as an ingredient, it is sometimes also added to traditional Chinese and Japanese medicines.
Ku chai is an easy herb to grow and can be planted and cultivated in any herb garden. The chives grow together in tight clumps. Seeds of the plant are small and to ensure a healthy harvest, the plantation seeds need to be fresh. A tough plant, nira can effectively survive dry spells. Although direct sunlight is preferred when growing the plant, it can flourish well in slightly shady spots as well.
As is suggested by the name of the herb, garlic chive has a taste that is similar to chives. It is, however, a little sharper and can also be compared to that of garlic. When used carefully, the taste is not as strong as garlic and therefore, nira can be used directly as a flavoring agent in salads and can even be consumed raw. When cooking garlic chives, it is important to add them quite late in the cooking stage as overcooking can lead to a complete loss of flavor.
Both the stalks and leaves of the plant are used like flavoring agents in a way similar to chives, garlic or green onions. Mainly used as a stir-fry ingredient, ku chai is an important condiment in Asian cuisine.
In Chinese cooking, the ingredient is often used to make dumplings and mixed with shrimp, pork and egg. Garlic chives are an essential ingredient in the popular Chinese jiaozi dumplings. In Japanese and Korean cooking as well, the chive plays an important role. Flowers of the plant can be used as a spice. A traditional Chinese flatbread, very similar to the green onion pancake, can be made with nira instead of green onion. This pancake is locally known as jiucai bing or jiucai you bing.
In Vietnamese cuisine, leaves of garlic chives are chopped into small pieces and added as the sole vegetable in a broth made with sliced pork kidneys.
In Korean cooking, garlic chive is used on a very large-scale, most notably in traditional preparations like buchukimchi, jaecheopguk and buchujeon.
In Nepal and India, garlic chives are used as a spice, condiment and even as a garnish. In Nepalese cooking, the plant's leaves are stir-fried with potatoes to make a popular dish called dunduko sag. In Manipur, India, garlic chives are called maroi nakuppi and are used in various Manipuri preparations like Ooti.