I know that living in temperate California weather means that spring isn't as dramatic or heralded as it is in other parts of the country, but there are a few things that even we can only find during this time of year.
Green garlic is one of them, and I'd always passed by the beautiful bunches at farmers markets but never bought any — I felt that they were a fancy, chef-y ingredient that I ate in restaurants instead of cooking at home. That is, until a few weeks ago, when green garlic showed up as an ingredient in a recipe I was making for The Kitchn and I had to pick some up!
What is green garlic?
Green garlic is really just a young garlic plant. Garlic is planted in the fall before the first frost, then starts to grow vigorously early in the spring when the green tops start poking through the soil. At this point, the garlic usually has not formed bulbs yet, although some green garlic will be sold with bulbs attached (but the bulbs will not be dried).
Farmers then go through the fields and cull some of this green garlic to promote bulb growth from the remaining garlic plants. This culled green garlic is what is shipped out and sold at farmers markets and stores.
Green garlic looks very much like thicker scallions or spring onions — they are long and slender with tender green tops, and the white parts can be tinged with pink or purple. If you're not sure if you're looking at green garlic or spring onions, just give it a sniff. The plant should smell like garlic, not onions. Green garlic will last a few days in the refrigerator, much in the same way as spring onions or scallions.
Are garlic scapes and green garlic the same thing?
And, for those of you who are wondering, green garlic and garlic scapes are not the same thing. Green garlic is harvested young before bulbs develop or dry out, whereas garlic scapes are the flowering stalks of the mature hardnecked garlic — an indicator that the garlic bulbs are ready to be harvested.
Cooking with Green Garlic
Green garlic has a milder, fresher, and sweeter taste than regular hardnecked garlic. The whole plant can be eaten, and it has a spicier, more intense bite than scallions, but can be used in much the same way. I used it as both a rub for roasting lamb as well as a pesto in this recipe, and it was delicious and had such a vivid color that reminded me of spring!
Green garlic is also great in stir-fries or salads, and since it's here for such a short season, it's worth seeking out. Don't wait as long as I did to discover this tasty sign of spring that's easy to incorporate into everyday cooking!