What To Do With Garlic Scapes And Purple Asparagus

One of the most exciting things about shopping at the farmers market is finding something new and interesting to cook that I have never tasted before.

And the farmers who sell at the Athens Farmers Market are so very much into diversity, experimentation and growing new and interesting plants, that there is seldom a week that goes by that I don’t find something I haven’t yet tried, beckoning to me from one of the baskets, crates, or tables.

This week, two lovelies called to me, and begged for me to give them a whirl: garlic scapes and purple asparagus.

What are garlic scapes?

Well, they are the flowering stalk of hardneck garlic, and they grow up out of the plant in gorgeous loops and whorls of vibrant green. Many people cut them off and compost them, but they are good to eat, and so there is a farmer here in Athens who sells bags of them for a very low price.

I had no idea what to expect from them, but they looked so beautiful, with graceful curves ending in a pointed flower bud with a long trailing tip. They are reminiscent of the recurve of a swan’s neck, so I just could not leave them alone.

The other beautiful find was purple asparagus.

First of all, it is asparagus, which I thought we had seen the last of for the year (I was never so happy to be wrong!), and secondly, it is an amazing red-violet color shaded with burgundy and green. Looking at it, I wanted a dress in those colors, made with silk velvet. Lacking that, I had to have the asparagus.

Of course, there is a downside–the purple color does not stay once it is cooked. The anthocyanin, which is the pigment that gives blue potatoes, red cabbage and purple asparagus their vibrant colors, does not survive heat well. So, why buy purple asparagus in the first place?

Well, because it is pretty, of course! And, besides, if you cook the asparagus with an acidic component, some of the pigment can be coaxed to stay–just as one adds vinegar or lemon juice to red cabbage as it cooks to make a brilliant colored sweet and sour cabbage, one can add lime juice to purple asparagus and get some of the lovely violet to stay intact.

It was the lime juice (I had no lemons) and the fact that I had Thai basil that made me decide what to do with my garlic scapes, purple asparagus and fresh shiitake mushrooms: yet another variant on Spicy Thai Basil Chicken.

(The fact that I had chicken thawed out that needed using also played a part in this decision.)

I used the garlic scapes and asparagus as I would use green beans, and cooked the sliced mushrooms along with the chicken. Instead of using shallots in the recipe, I used local scallions, and the garlic I used was also local, fresh hardneck garlic. I used soem of the last few Thai dragon chiles from last fall that have been in the freezer, and have been heating up my cooking all winter long; in fact, the local ingredients in this dish outweighed the non-local ones. The ounce of lime juice, few tablespoons of peanut oil, several tablespoons of fish sauce and oyster sauce, were all that I used that did not come from Athens county.

How did it taste?

I think that this combination of vegetables in the basic Thai Spicy Basil Chicken recipe was my favorite. The garlic scapes were amazing–they had the texture of Chinese long beans, and a bit of a green-beanish flavor, owing to the “greenness” of them. But they also tasted wonderfully and mildly of garlic, but no overpoweringly so. The asparagus, of course, was delicious–the same wonderful springtime delicacy that we know and love, but with the added beauty of being emerald green tinged with deep amethyst colors. The mushrooms soaked up the flavor and heat of the sauce and were silky on the palate–eminently slurpable.

And of course, the basil tied it all together.

All in all, it was a wonderful supper.

So–if you find some garlic scapes and purple asparagus in your neighborhood–do take them home and cook them. Treat the garlic scapes as green beans in a recipe and see what happens, and try cooking your asparagus with a bit of lemon, lime or vinegar, and see how purple you can keep it. The flavors are worth it and of course, there is the distinct pleasure of working with something new, pretty and strange.

Cooking can be such an adventure!


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  1. Our Green City farmer’s markets are just about to get started. Your post reminded me; scapes! And lavender!

    I love how alien scapes look with their curves and purplish, bumpy heads. Great stirfried(as you so astutely present).

    Comment by Christopher Gordon — June 2, 2006 #

  2. This post has me hoping there are garlic scapes at the farmers market when I go tomorrow.

    Comment by lucette — June 2, 2006 #

  3. Mmm. Lavender. Custard. Cookies. Chicken Provencial. Ahh.

    I do miss the big lavender plants I had in our old garden in Pataskala. For some reason, the lavender I brought here to Athens died last summer, much to my sorrow and dismay. It is one of my favorite scents and flavors.

    Lucette–if you have a farmer who sells garlic, but who has no scapes–ask for them! They may bring them along for you next time. A lot of farmers don’t know that people will buy them. It is a process of them having to convince the consumer that garlic scapes are good eating, so some farmers don’t even try.

    Comment by Barbara — June 2, 2006 #

  4. Barbara–I have not been able to get to a farmer’s market in ages. They never work with my schedule (how rude). I’ve heard that there is one close by on Sunday mornings which I’ll just have to try. The problem is that my Sunday mornings usually start in the afternoon. I love the idea of the garlic scapes. I read another post recently about ramps, which was also previously unknown to me. I’m ready to sniff out some new things and I think this post may have given me the motivation to do so. Thanks.

    Thanks for the info you posted on my site. Yes, coyotes are ubiquitous in southern California. We live in the Hollywood hills and have these predators crawling ALL OVER our neighborhood. I think tour bus drivers should recieve bonus pay for running them over (kidding!)

    There is a chain link fence erected at the bottom of our terraced gardens to keep coyotes, deer, skunks, etc from getting in where our dogs roam. Our property line decends further down the hill, but we don’t care what takes up residence down there. I’m sure the bobcat could scale the fence so hopefully what you say is true. One of our dogs did meet up with a skunk. I pray that NEVER happens again. It is the never-ending stench!

    Comment by Kevin — June 2, 2006 #

  5. Do you (or anyone else) have an idea if the tops of onion grass are edible? I have TONS of onion grass in my backyard that I valiantly battle every spring. I have some yummy recipes for flowering chives and I’m thinking these could be similar.

    But I don’t want to poison myself…(!).

    Never had scapes – but I do like purple asparagus…

    Comment by Diane — June 3, 2006 #

  6. What is onion grass?
    And does anyone know what kind of onions look like green onions in the spring, but then deveop a head that looks sort of like tiny garlic cloves as summer progresses? They were growing wild in my yard when I moved in and they reseed themselves each year (from those garlic-like flower heads).

    Comment by lucette — June 3, 2006 #

  7. Lucette: Sounds like onion grass to me…

    Comment by Diane — June 3, 2006 #

  8. Yum, I was wondering what to do with that purple asparagus! This looks like just the thing!
    Keep on cooking!

    Comment by Garrett — June 4, 2006 #

  9. Hi Barbara,
    So they are called garlic scapes. I only know them by their Chinese name (xuan tai in Hanyu Pinyin). I usually cut them into 2 inches and stir fry them with firm tofu or sliced pork. They are a very good source of fibre too. Thanks!

    Comment by Shirley — June 4, 2006 #

  10. Correction – it should be “suan tai”

    Comment by Shirley — June 5, 2006 #

  11. Diane, Lucette–as far as I know, that “onion grass” is what we always called “wild onions.” You can eat them, but they are very sharp-flavored. I know my Grandpa always tried to eradicate it in the fields because cows loved them, but it made the milk taste like onion dip!

    But, I have eaten them and not suffered from it. But I have to say, I prefer chives, or ramps!

    Kevin–farmer’s markets are great fun if you can get to them!

    Bobcats really tend to go for small prey–I wouldn’t worry overmuch about your critters. They are too big for bobcats. They prefer things like rats, squirrels, mice, shrews, birds, and the like, though I think that they would go after a puppy or kitten, too.

    They also tend to be nocturnal hunters, so if you keep the critters indoors after dark, you should be fine. Bobcats are shy creatures, and your friend should feel lucky to have sighted one!

    Garrett–have no fears–I will always be cooking up something fun in the kitchen!

    Shirley! Hey, lady, how’re you? Yes, in English that is what they are called. You are right–they are excellent sources of fibre! And I think that with firm tofu and pork they would be excellent. I have some more, so I think that will be the next way we make them…..I’ll probably put fresh shiitake in that dish, too, because I have some more of those, too.

    Comment by Barbara — June 5, 2006 #

  12. I just discovered that the top of my garlic plants are called scapes! This is my first year for growing garlic. Here is my question… I notice on many recipes to use the scapes like green beans. chop them up, stir fry, etc. Which parts do you use? There is the stem that comes out of the garlic plant, then there is that bulb, and then the top stem off of the bulb. I woukld love to cook some up tonight, but not sure which parts to use. Any suggestions?? thanks!

    Comment by Jay — June 6, 2006 #

  13. Jay–you use the part about five inches below the flower bud and up. Cut it off the plant, thus preventing it from flowering. I snip off the very fibrous whip-like end off of the bud, and then cut them up like green beans.

    Let me know how it turns out!

    (I just stir fried some like Shirley suggested she does tonight–I’ll write about it tomorrow!)

    Comment by Barbara — June 6, 2006 #

  14. Barbara- i think i understand. when you mention “flower bud”, are you referring to the bulb like part of the scapes? i went outside and picked all my scapes…i only have about thirty plants.so after picking them, i cut off the bottom part so that five inches is left leading up to that bulb (flower bud)..correct? and then i also use the flower bud (bulb)? and you say to throw away the whip like ending after the flower bud? thanks for helping out a rookie garlic grower. much appreciated.

    Comment by Jay — June 6, 2006 #

  15. Yep, Jay, you got it right!

    Younger scapes are tenderer, and sweeter. The older ones that we had this week are harsher and more garlicky. Still good though! (But the breath must be deathly….)

    But yes, that bulbish looking bit, that is a flower bud. And yes, use that, too, just take the whip-like end off–it is very tough and fiberous. Not as tasty.

    Comment by Barbara — June 6, 2006 #

  16. Thanks Barbara! I will let you know tomorrow how dinner turns out.

    Comment by Jay — June 6, 2006 #

  17. Barbara— Yummy! i used the scapes in a stir fry…and oh my goodness! So mild! Thank-you very much for turning me on to scapes! Now i can’t wait to plant next years batch to get more!

    Comment by Jay — June 8, 2006 #

  18. Alright, Jay! That is awesome–I am glad you liked them.

    Maybe in a couple of years, I will be growing my own, too!

    Comment by Barbara — June 8, 2006 #

  19. You might want to keep your eyes open for pea vines, too, though it may be too late in the year. Very pretty and good in stir-frys.

    Comment by tjewell — June 8, 2006 #

  20. tjewell–welcome! I love, absolutely love pea vines. I first had them in Chinatown in San Francisco years ago, and when I see them in Asian grocery stores, I snap them up and cook up a mess of them.

    Oh, they are delicious.

    Pea sprouts or tips are great, too. I used them, along with chicken, to flavor a congee for Zak that was the only thing he could or would eat after his wisdom teeth were taken out. (Note to all: do not wait until you are thirty and the bones around your wisdom teeth have hardened to have them out. Have them out while you are young. It hurts more and causes more issues when you are older. Zak had an awful time.)

    Comment by Barbara — June 8, 2006 #

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