Sometimes I cannot get enough of garlic; I think it is probably my favorite member of the allium family. I use more onions by weight in my cooking than I do garlic, but that is partially because garlic manages to pack a healthy wallop of flavor in a very small package, compared to onions, so I don’t -need- to use as much of it. That said, I admit that I use a lot more garlic than a lot of people I know. I have been known to use entire heads of it at a time for a single meal, sometimes, in a single dish. Since I grew up in a household where one head of garlic was kept and used over a period of weeks–well, you get the idea.
I like garlic.
The coolest thing about living in a town surrounded by farms, though, is that I have learned how to cook and eat garlic in many more forms than I might otherwise have experienced. There is green garlic, which is nothing but young garlic shoots, which you chop or slice up and eat from the root to the top of the leaf. It is filled not only with garlic’s characteristic bite, but also a sweet verdant taste that is reminiscent of chives. Green elephant garlic is amazing–the size and shape of leeks, with a similar flavor kicked up several notches by the redolent garlic scent. Then there is young garlic–this is immature heads harvested early when the baby cloves are filled with milky juice which is both pungent and sugary. The green parts of young garlic are also edible, but they aren’t as tender as green garlic, so I tend to add them to long-cooked dishes.
My favorite unconventional garlic bit, however, are the scapes–the slender, swan-necked, graceful shoots that emerge in early summer from hardneck varieties of garlic. These shoots which curl so much that they can form perfect spirally circles, carry seed-like reproductive parts called bulbils–essentially, little tiny garlic cloves–and if they are left on the plant, the scapes will drain energy away from the plant, because it is essentially putting all of its strength into going to seed and reproducing itself. In order to get the plant to put its energy into making nice fat garlic heads or bulbs, the grower cuts off these scapes.
And, since these graceful little shoots have a mild garlic flavor and the texture of very young bush green beans, they make a mighty fine vegetable in their own right.
Now that I know about garlic scapes, I wait for them eagerly every summer, and snatch them up gleefully, and cook and eat them until we are all tired of them–just like I do with asparagus. Last night, after work, I cooked them in a stir fry with the first broccoli of the season, fresh purple scallions, some pressed spiced tofu, some pork, fresh garlic, green garlic and ginger, and some chilies, fermented black beans and ground bean sauce for flavor. At the end, I tossed in an entire bunch of cilantro, because–well, just because I had it.
All of the vegetables and meat were local; only the tofu, the rice and condiments came from someplace other than Athens county.
And that was a good feeling.
What was also a good feeling was getting to watch Kat and Cordelia play with a young garlic stalk that had fallen to the floor.
That was entertaining–almost like dinner and a movie. Except this happened while I was cooking the dinner, so it wasn’t quite as relaxing as the typical sort of date scenario. But it was still fun, nonetheless.
The funny thing is that both Kat and Cordelia love garlic.
When I came home from the market yesterday morning, and set down my tote bags, Delia came running, along with the other cats.
This is not unusual, since I always bring the kitties home fresh catnip bouquets, but Delia went right past the huge bundle of the nip and burrowed right into the bag that had the fresh young garlic in it. She dragged out a stalk, and dashed off with it. When I caught up to her, she was chewing the ends off the leaves, purring mightily.
The other cats, being normal, were tearing apart the catnip, rolling around with leaves hanging from their mouths.
But not Delia. She was all about the garlic, and when I made dinner that night, hours later, she started pestering me not when I pulled out the pork, but when I took the young garlic and garlic scapes from the fridge and started cutting them. I ended up giving her the green top of one of the garlics to play with, which ended up with Kat taking over the game.
Which was okay–it was very amusing not only to the cook, the baby and the cat, but also to everyone else who had gathered in the kitchen to keep me company while I cooked.
So, back to garlic scapes–how do I cook them?
I treat them like young, firm green beans–I saute them or stir fry them. I prefer stir frying them, and have done them in a Thai style, but I think I like them cooked Chinese style the best. I also use them in pasta sauces where they stand in for green beans, and add their own subtle garlic fragrance to the dish.
To prepare them, I cut them into 1″ lengths up to the bulbils. The bulbils and the long, thin “whisker” that emerges from them I discard. The whisker is too tough to eat. and sometimes so is the bulbil. Then, I suppose you could blanch them, but I prefer to saute or stir fry them, as I noted above. I love using them as a vegetable, because people cannot tell what they are, that is, unless they have eaten garlic scapes at my house previously. I cook them just until they become tender and the green brightens. If you cook them until they are soft, their texture suffers, and the green dulls and looks sullen. I only cook them until they are tender-crisp, just like I do green beans.
Garlic scapes are great in any context in which one would use green beans. (Except maybe that mushroom soup and greek bean casserole thing. Garlic scapes probably would not be good in that. Although, one could use such a dish as the basis for a gratin of garlic scapes and creamy mushroom sauce. With breadcrumbs and crispy fried onions on top, I bet that would be out of sight.
While they are in season for the next week or so, look for several recipes that use my beloved garlic scapes. (Maybe even a gratin with mushrooms–we do have lots of local mushrooms coming in these days!)
And you will probably see lots of pictures of Kat and Delia playing with garlic bits and pieces as I cook, just because those two are cute beyond words.
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