The appearance of young, green garlic at the markets marks a seasonal shift in southern California, indicating that spring is finally here. Tender and aromatic, green garlic is sold like leeks (it looks like them, too), with the leafy fronds still attached. Left in the ground, the bulb will eventually expand and separate into cloves. Thankfully, someone once saw fit to harvest the garlic early, and it has since become a much sought after springtime ingredient for season-minded chefs.
Green garlic lacks the papery, protective casing of the matured bulb, so the perfume of garlic wafts unhindered around the stalls, almost sweet in its pungency. Despite the generous aroma, green garlic is significantly milder than its later season counterpart. It's a pleasing substitute for onions in salsa and mixes well with soft, fresh cheeses like chevre and queso fresco. When cooked, it sweetens up, playing nice with other flavors without pushing them out of the way. Shellfish, scallops especially, match up well with its bright and savory flavor.
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Stalks of green garlic are available from now until the beginning of summer. Right now the garlic "bulbs" are relatively undefined and very tender. As the season progresses so does the produce: come April and May, you can expect fatter bulbs with more pungency. The entire plant, down to the roots (which are actually a little hotter in flavor than the bulb and greens - fry them crisp as a topping for, well, everything) is entirely suitable for eating, though we find the outer skin is a little on the tough side. Choose unwilted plants without blemishes. They don't have the shelf life of adult garlic - three to five days at the most.