Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic (蒜蓉炒豆苗)

4.8 from 5 votes
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Tender crisp stir-fried pea shoots with plenty of aromatics to create a mouth-watering dish that you can’t stop eating. The post includes all the notes and tips to walk you through the process step-by-step to create a restaurant-style result. {Vegan, Gluten-Free adaptable}

Homemade stir-fried pea shoots with garlic

Whenever I go to a Chinese restaurant, a plate of freshly stir-fried leafy green vegetables is a must-have. Among all the veggie dishes, stir-fried pea shoots with garlic sauce is one of the most popular.

While living in Austin, it was quite difficult to get fresh Asian greens. The situation improved a lot when we moved to New York. Last week we finally settled down and started to explore Chinatown. I was delighted to find that there are various markets and street vendors that sell Asian greens and veggies that I ate growing up. The variety is so good that I kind of planned out a month’s worth of meals that I’m going to make.

Of course, the first dish I planned to do was stir-fried pea shoots, since I’ve been craving it for a while.

Homemade stir-fried pea shoots with garlic close up

Why the restaurant version tastes so good

It might look like a super simple dish, but in fact, there is quite some effort that goes into it. And there are some restaurant tricks that make the dish taste extremely good. For example:

  • Restaurants will use either chicken fat or MSG (or both) to boost the flavor, so the result will be addictively tasty. If you’re wondering, “Wow, why don’t my homemade veggies ever taste like that?!”. That’s probably why.
  • The restaurant version uses a lot of oil and salt.
  • They also use a wok over very high heat to sear the veggies to create a heavenly smokiness.

Cooking notes

When it comes to developing a recipe for home cooks, I try to make the process approachable but still yield a great result.

1. Use extra aromatics

I avoid using MSG as much as possible for everyday cooking. And I don’t want to go to all the trouble to source or make chicken fat. That’s why I increased the amount of aromatics in this dish to boost the taste. I also added a splash of Shaoxing wine for extra richness.

2. Oil amount

Unfortunately, there is no great way to yield a restaurant-style result with less oil. When you use more oil, the veggies get seared faster (instead of getting steamed) and doing so creates a velvety smooth texture. If 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil is too much for you, you can reduce it to 1 tablespoon and still produce a pretty good result. For a healthier approach, you can further reduce to 1/2 tablespoon oil. But the dish will taste less rich this way.

3. Salt

Use 1/4 teaspoon of salt like the recipe suggests to create a restaurant-like taste. If you’re worried about sodium intake, I recommend reducing the salt to 1/8 teaspoon. Since we are using a lot of aromatics, the veggies will still come out flavorful.

On a totally different note: if you don’t need to create a vegan or vegetarian dish, you can reduce the salt and add 1/4 teaspoon of chicken bouillon powder to boost the flavor as well.

4. How to buy pea shoots that are tender

My mom always reminds me, try to find pea shoots with bigger, fatter stems. Because the younger, smaller pea shoots have a tougher texture. When the pea shoots grow bigger, the stems become hollow and turn crisp.

What do snow pea shoots look like

5. Before rinsing the pea shoots

This is the part that requires some extra effort and time when it comes to cooking with Asian greens. You should always work on the veggies one at a time and snip off the tough parts to yield the best result.

Transfer the pea shoots onto your working surface. Work on them one stem at a time. Use your finger to feel the ends. The pea shoot stem should be crisp and break apart easily. Snip off and discard any part that feels tough, meaning if you bend it and it doesn’t break. If the pea shoot is too long, break it in two so it’s easier to bite.

Snow pea shoot close up

I know this sounds like a lot of work. Plus, sometimes you can get very lucky and all the pea shoots will be crispy and tender. For example, last time I cooked half a pound of pea shoots, I discarded only a very small handful of stems (see the picture below). You might be able to get away without doing this step, but taking the time to sort them will generate a better result.

Snipping tough ends from the pea shoots

6. Do not cook too much at a time

Another thing that my mom keeps reminding me – never crowd your pan and cook too many veggies at a time.

If you’re using a large wok, it’s possible to cook 1 pound (450 grams) of pea shoots at a time. But unless you’re using a very powerful gas stove, your veggies risk being steamed instead of seared.

If you’re like most home cooks and have an electric stove or less powerful gas stove, you don’t want to cook too much at a time. For example, when I made this dish I used a fairly powerful portable gas stove and a large carbon steel pan. I only cooked half a pound (225 grams) of pea shoots. You can see in the picture below, the pea shoots took up most of the pan, even after they were cooked and had shrunk. The cooking took about a minute and the veggies were beautifully seared.

Stir-frying pea shoots in a pan

7. What pan to use

I talked about this in detail in a previous post. Long story short, I always prefer to use a heavy duty nonstick pan or carbon steel pan (which I did) instead of a wok. Because you can heat up these types of pans more thoroughly in a home kitchen.

You might ask, won’t a wok hold the veggies better and prevent them from spilling onto the counter? The answer is yes and no. It might look like a lot of veggies are in the pan when you’ve just added them. Try to do a folding motion with your spatula in the beginning. The veggies will shrink and just cover the bottom of your pan after a few seconds. Then you can use a stirring motion for the rest of the cooking.

Afterthoughts

Sometimes I feel like it’s too much work to make such a simple dish at home. Even though the stir-frying process only takes about a minute, the prep and setup take way more time. However, once I bite into a freshly cooked pea shoot, I realize it was worth all the trouble. It’s such a delicious way to enjoy a plate of veggies that is just as good as eating in a restaurant.

Homemade stir-fried snow pea shoots with garlic

More Chinese veggie recipes

If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.

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Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic - Tender crisp stir-fried pea shoots with plenty of aromatics to create a mouth-watering dish that you can’t stop eating. The post includes all the notes and tips to walk you through the process step-by-step to create a restaurant-style result. {Vegan, Gluten-Free adaptable}

Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic (蒜蓉炒豆苗)

4.8 from 5 votes
Tender crisp stir-fried pea shoots with plenty of aromatics to create a mouth-watering dish that you can’t stop eating. The post includes all the notes and tips to walk you through the process step-by-step to create a restaurant-style result. {Vegan, Gluten-Free adaptable}Use dry sherry instead of Shaoxing wine for a gluten-free dish.
Author: Maggie Zhu
Course: Side
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: restaurant-style
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2 minutes
Total Time: 17 minutes
Servings: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil vegetable oil (*Footnote 1)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ginger , minced
  • 1/2 lb (225 grams) snow pea shoots (*Footnote 2)
  • 1/2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (or chicken stock)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (*Footnote 3)

Instructions

  • If time allows, snip the tough ends off the pea shoots to yield the best result - transfer the pea shoots onto your working surface. Work on them one stem at a time. Use your finger to feel the ends. The pea shoot stem should be crisp and break apart easily. Snip off and discard any part that feels tough, meaning if you bend it and it doesn’t break. If the pea shoot is too long, break it in two so it’s easier to bite.
  • Once you’ve done the first step, rinse the pea shoots with running water and gently rub with your fingers to remove any dirt. Drain and set aside. Note, it’s OK if the pea shoots are not completely dry.
  • Heat the oil in a wok (or large carbon steel pan, or nonstick pan) over medium-high heat until hot. Add the garlic and ginger. Stir a few times to release the fragrance.
  • Add the snow pea shoots. Fold with your spatula to coat well with oil. Pour in Shaoxing wine and sprinkle with salt. Stir a few more times to mix well, until the pea shoots are just withered. The whole process should take a minute or so. Immediately transfer everything to a plate.
  • Serve hot as a side.

Notes

  1. The prescribed amount of oil yields a restaurant-style result. You can reduce the oil to 1 tablespoon and still yield a good result.
  2. When you shop for pea shoots, try to find the type with bigger and fatter stems, so the result will be tenderer.
  3. The original 1/4 teaspoon of salt yields a restaurant-style result. Reduce the salt to 1/8 teaspoon for a low-sodium dish. The dish will remain tasty.

Nutrition

Serving: 4g, Calories: 77kcal, Carbohydrates: 6.8g, Protein: 1.8g, Fat: 5.1g, Saturated Fat: 0.9g, Sodium: 164mg, Potassium: 15mg, Fiber: 1.7g, Sugar: 2.2g, Calcium: 20mg, Iron: 0.9mg
Did You Make This Recipe?Don't forget the last step! Tag me @OmnivoresCookbook and #OmnivoresCookbook on Instagram!
Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic - Tender crisp stir-fried pea shoots with plenty of aromatics to create a mouth-watering dish that you can’t stop eating. The post includes all the notes and tips to walk you through the process step-by-step to create a restaurant-style result. {Vegan, Gluten-Free adaptable}

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Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Lynne B says:

    Are pea shoots the same as water spinach? Filipinos call it kangkong and the waiters in Chinatown know it under that name as well as the Chinese name. I’ve wanted to make this dish at home for a while now. When I read that you had moved to NYC, I was so excited for you!

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Lynne, water spinach is not pea shoots, but you can use the same method to cook them. Happy cooking!

  2. Colette says:

    5 stars
    Great Recipe! So appreciative for the “extra fat and salt” comment. And for the comment about the time consuming prep. It took me 2 hours while I watched a movie to finish all of the de stemming and tendril (very stringy eating) cutting. I thought there was something wrong because it took so long! Nice to know that it might be the reason they cost so much at the restaurant – so much prep! With the extra salt and fat, it was so delicious!

  3. Celine P says:

    4 stars
    Thank you for the recipe, now I know how to cook pea shoots.
    I use soybean oil since I am allergic to peanut.

  4. Lianne says:

    5 stars
    Tastes just like the restaurant! Follow recipe exactly, except used canola oil because I didn’t have peanut oil. Thank you for this recipe!

  5. Judy says:

    Thanks for the tips on preparing the pea shoots for cooking, and the tip about using enough oil. I’ve tried to stir-fry pea shoots before and it always ended up having pieces that were too tough to chew. I assumed it was just because I didn’t know how to pick tender shoots. Now I know to pick out the tough stems and to cut the shoots into smaller pieces for more ease in eating. I think more recipe writers should include the kind of vegetable preparation tips you did here. Thanks!

  6. Li says:

    Congratulations! I’m sending good wishes and hopes for a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Hope you feel better soon!
    I have not gotten to our Chinatown for over a year. The only place I can find fresh pea shoots. The grocer sells them already picked over (quite expensive). She was appalled that I wanted to buy the whole stalks and said “Chinese do not do that!!). Hoping all of will return to no normal soon!

  7. Lyn says:

    5 stars
    Delicious! And so quick and easy. I didn’t have the Shaoxing wine so I substituted a mixture of white wine and chicken broth. It was just as good as a similar dish of morning glory greens that I loved while traveling in Vietnam.

  8. RB says:

    5 stars
    This was my first time eating pea shoots but they were simple and delicious prepared this way!

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