Garlic stems with seasoned tempeh

Garlic is sprouting round my way right now, which means garlic stems are in season. The stems taste mellower than the garlic cloves we usually use for seasoning food, so make a tasty vegetable ingredient in their own right.

But hold on a minute, what are we talking about here anyway?

Garlic stems, trimmed, as you'd expect to find them at an Asian market
Garlic stems, trimmed, as you’d expect to find them at an Asian market

Garlic stems grow out of the garlic bulb as it’s maturing, and although they develop a bulb that looks as though it’s going to flower, it doesn’t – the young bulb can be planted, though, and will yield a whole bulb of garlic, although this takes a long time. Farmers generally just cut the stems off, therefore, so the plant’s resources get concentrated in the commercially viable garlic bulb under the ground.

Garlic stems growing - see the bulb? You can re-plant that, but it'd take a couple of years to grow into a full-size garlic bulb...
Garlic stems growing – see the bulb? You can re-plant that, but it’d take a couple of years to grow into a full-size garlic bulb…

So, as we’re at the time of year for it round my way, I’d like to share my own funky garlic stem recipe with you. It’s a culinary oddity, heroing two misunderstood ingredients most people don’t know what to do with: garlic stems, and tempeh. If you’re feeling adventurous, give this one a whirl, and let me know if you like it!

Here’s how to make use of those misunderstood, all-too-often wasted garlic stems, and whip up a yummy Chinese-style veggie dish that’ll hopefully have you sold on both garlic stems and tempeh…!

Flavour: Savoury & slightly spiced

Serves: 4 as a side dish


  • 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
  • a few drops of sesame oil
  • 1 block of tempeh – finely diced/minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely minced
  • 2 bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch garlic stems, cut into 3-4cm lengths
  • 1 spring onion, finely chopped – green and white parts separated
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • half tablespoon sugar (I prefer to use coconut sugar or rapadura)
  • sprinkle of white pepper

Optional extra ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste – if you can’t get this, Japanese miso paste will do, but it’s not as flavourful) – this adds another dimension of complexity to the flavour


  1. Heat both sunflower and sesame oil in a wok over high heat
  2. Stir-fry tempeh until well browned
  3. Toss in your ginger, and chillies, and stir-fry with the tofu for a minute
  4. Toss in the garlic stems and white parts of the spring onion – stir-fry for 2 minutes
  5. Add sugar, soy sauce, and vinegar (and doenjang/miso, if using) – stir-fry for 1 more minute
  6. Remove from heat, transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with white pepper and green parts of the spring onion – serve immediately

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