In recent weeks, as the produce offerings at your local farmers market or grocery store (or even your first CSA boxes, which are appearing in many parts of the country now) transition into spring, you may have seen some rather wildly curved stalks with whippy things on the ends crop up in huge piles. These are probably garlic scapes (sometimes labeled green garlic or garlic whistles). And if you see these alien-looking things but haven’t had the courage to try them before—well, it’s an acquaintance worth making, and you may just become hooked for life.

Scapes are the immature flower stalks of the garlic plant (although “green garlic” refers to any part of the whole plant, not just the flowers). And besides garlic, there are leek ones as well (pictured below). Even though it may look quite bulky and imposing in market displays, green garlic is absolutely delicious, more subtle than the pungent in-your-face-punch of regular bulb garlic but still distinctly garlicky in an unmistakable hullo-dahlin’-I’m-right-here sort of way.

Leek scapes, which can be distinguished from garlic scapes by their stout, straight stalks.

These scapes are in season for only a few scant weeks and then they’re gone for another whole year, so binge on these allium beauties while they’re around. You can use them in any recipe calling for garlic but in somewhat larger quantity, as their flavor is milder and will mellow considerably in cooking. In fact, you can think of green garlic a bit like asparagus—not that it tastes like asparagus, exactly, but the delicacy and texture of the vegetable lend itself to similar preparation. Be brave with it!

They are especially fantastic added at the last minute in stir-fries, where they will cook up tender-crisp, and one farmer I know says that a couple of generous handfuls of finely chopped scapes added to ground beef or roasts make the best-tasting hamburgers and roasts you’ll ever eat. Or just eat them raw—they add a wonderful, garlicky zing in salads or munch on them like green onions.

Storing, Cooking, and Freezing

After you get your scapes home, refrain from washing them, which will make them slimy and spoil more quickly. Instead, wrap them in a brown paper bag and store them in the refrigerator.

You can add sliced or chopped green garlic to stir-fries during the last several minutes of preparation. To sauté, slice 6 to 8 stalks into thin rounds and sauté in a couple of tablespoons of butter or olive oil for at least 10 minutes. You can also microwave green garlic like you would green onions: Chop into 1- or 2-inch pieces, place in a microwave-safe container containing ½ inch of water, cover, and microwave on high power for 3 to 5 minutes. After draining, they are ready to use in all sorts of cooked dishes.

Their spring season is all too short, but remember that you can freeze these beauties: Chop the scapes into 1-inch pieces, place them in zipper-lock freezer or vacuum food sealer-type bags or freezer containers, and squeeze out the excess air. They will keep for about 6 to 8 months at 0°F, if you can resist using them for that long.

Green garlic is fabulous in a stir-fry as a starring vegetable in itself.

Serving Suggestions

  • Steam rice until it is about 80 percent cooked; take three green garlic shoots and place right on top of the rice; the garlic will wilt, releasing its aromatic juices down into the rice.
  • Finely chop a tablespoon or two of green garlic and add it to your tuna fish salad. Delicious as a sandwich filling, or by itself!
  • Combine green garlic (cut into 1-inch lengths), basil, pine nuts, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and lemon juice in a food processor or mortar to make a delicious pesto.
  • Throw sautéed green garlic into pasta salads and salad dressings.
  • Chop up garlic shoots and mix with ground beef for the best grilled hamburgers you’ve ever tasted.
  • Add green garlic at the last minute to stir-fries of all kinds.
  • Sauté green garlic and add to frittatas, omelets, or scrambled eggs.
  • Top potato soup with finely chopped scapes for a stronger kick than chives.
  • Sprinkle chopped green garlic over pizza or Italian grinders.
  • Make a delicious aïoli with green garlic, and use it as a dipping sauce, condiment, or flavoring agent with many different vegetables, meats, fish, pasta, soups, rice, sandwiches, and shellfish.

Bet you’re hungry now for green garlic…try these recipes for Garlic Scape Soup and Spinach, Nuts, and Cheese.

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