Before bulbs form, milder green garlic springs into action

Green garlic, in background, resembles leeks or young onions. The spring veggie enhances the flavors of this potato chowder.
Green garlic, in background, resembles leeks or young onions. The spring veggie enhances the flavors of this potato chowder. Los Angeles Times

Stacked in big piles at the farmers market, they look like little leeks or chubby scallions. But one whiff reveals their true identity.

It’s green garlic season.

Also called “spring garlic,” this delicious (but sometimes confusing) sign of seasonal change is sprouting up on restaurant menus, too. The Waterboy added spring garlic to its potato puree as a side dish for pan-roasted chicken. In March, The Kitchen featured a gratin dish made from potato, root vegetables and green garlic as an accompaniment to slow-roasted beef tenderloin. Taste in Plymouth served its Easter lamb dinner with green garlic chimichurri.

Coincidentally, Tuesday, April 19, is National Garlic Day. While harvest of the traditional crop of dried cloves is still months away, green garlic is now in plentiful supply.

What is green garlic? It’s immature garlic that is pulled before it has a chance to form its full bulb. It has a much milder flavor than mature cloves but still offers that distinctly garlicky taste and scent.

With a flavorful central shoot and leaves, green garlic can be eaten raw or cooked. In recipes, it can substitute for garlic cloves, leeks or green onions. It’s easier to use than garlic bulbs; no clove peeling necessary. In spring, the whole plant is edible.

Cooks may be used to handling garlic bulbs but get perplexed by green garlic, noted Sylvia Thompson, author of “The Kitchen Garden Cookbook” (Bantam Books, 1995, 360 pages). They wonder, “Where are the cloves?” But there aren’t any.

“You’ll know how to harvest and prepare green garlic if you think of it as baby leeks or scallions exquisitely flavored with garlic,” Thompson explained. “Anytime a recipe calls for scallions, consider whether green garlic would be more interesting. The bulb and tender leaves are equally useful.”

Thompson suggests making a “heavenly sauce” for grilled seafood, poultry and vegetables by sauteing until soft the white part of the green garlic stalk, then pureeing it until smooth and thinned with a little cream.

Green garlic also makes a flavorful addition to salad dressings, mayonnaise, pesto and pasta sauce.

Because it grows in little space, green garlic has become very popular with backyard gardeners as well as small farmers who supply local markets. Growers plant twice as many garlic cloves per row, then harvest half the crop as baby or green garlic, allowing the remainder to mature.

While any variety may produce green garlic, not all garlic is the same. There are hundreds of varieties, ranging in color from white to violet, says longtime culinary writer Jenny Linford, author of the new cookbook “Garlic” (Ryland Peters & Small, 160 pages, $21.95), which debuted in March. The book features 64 garlic recipes including such savory treats as green garlic muffins.

Depending on variety and where the garlic was grown, its flavor can range from mild and sweet to hot and fiery, Linford wrote. One of the reasons for its universal popularity is that it can grow just about anywhere from cold northern climates to humid tropical locations.

According to Linford, garlic is divided into two subspecies: hardneck and softneck. The difference? Hardnecks grow a straight, central, edible stalk called a scape. (It tastes just like mild green garlic.) If allowed, the scape will produce the plant’s flower.

Planted in December, garlic bulbs are fully mature in summer, she noted. Traditionally, the bulbs are harvested from June through August, then allowed to dry and “cure” for storage.

Green garlic is ready to pull as early as late February and locally remains in good supply well into May.

Enjoy this spring bounty while you can. Once summer weather starts to heat up, garlic plants redirect their energy from leaves to bulb production. By that time, green garlic season will be over, but another garlic season has begun.

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Green garlic toast

Time: 15 minutes

Serves 8

Serve these plain, or top with any number of embellishments – sliced avocado, sliced tomatoes, dollops of ricotta cheese, fillets of anchovies or sardines. They make an excellent nibble with drinks, or serve a large portion with a salad for a light lunch. If you’re not using it immediately, the green garlic butter will freeze well for up to 3 months. And the piquant butter also can be used to cook eggs, or tossed with asparagus, pasta or rice. Recipe from The New York Times.

Slices of crusty bread

½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened

½ cup grated Parmesan

2 ½ tablespoons chopped young green garlic stalks, white and green parts

1 tablespoon minced chives

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, more to taste

Large pinch red chili flakes

1 regular (not green) garlic clove, halved

Heat the broiler. Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and broil them, flipping them halfway through cooking time, until golden on both sides. Keep warm.

In a bowl, stir together the butter, cheese, green garlic, chives, pepper, salt and chili flakes.

Rub the toast with the cut side of the regular garlic clove, then spread with the green garlic butter. Broil toast again for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, until the tops lightly brown and the butter melts. Serve hot or warm.

Garlic shrimp with peas

Serves 6

Seek out shrimp in the shell and use the shells for a quick, easy seafood broth. Freeze what broth you don’t use in the dish; it comes in handy when you need a seafood broth for a risotto or a stew. Recipe from Martha Rose Shulman.

1 ½ pounds medium shrimp with shells, shelled and deveined; retain shells

Salt to taste

1 ½ pounds fresh English peas, shelled (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups depending on size)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 head green garlic or 6 garlic cloves, minced

¼ to ½ teaspoon red chili flakes, to taste

⅓ cup finely chopped cilantro

⅓ cup finely chopped parsley

Cooked rice for serving, optional

Place shrimp shells in a medium saucepan, add 1 quart water and salt to taste. Bring to a boil. Skim off foam, reduce heat, cover partly and simmer 30 minutes. Strain broth into a bowl and discard shells. Return broth to saucepan.

Meanwhile, sprinkle shrimp with salt, toss and let sit for 15 minutes.

Return broth to a boil and add peas. Boil 2 minutes, until just wrinkled and slightly tender. Scoop out with a skimmer or slotted spoon; set aside. Measure out 1/2 cup broth; set aside.

Heat oil over medium heat in a wide heavy skillet. Add garlic and chili flakes. Cook, stirring, until garlic is fragrant and beginning to color, about 1 minute. Turn heat to medium-high; add shrimp. Cook, stirring, until shrimp turns pink, about 2 minutes. Add peas, cilantro and parsley and continue to toss in the pan for another minute. Stir in 1/2 cup broth and heat through while stirring to deglaze pan. Remove from heat, taste and adjust seasoning. Serve.

Potato and green garlic chowder

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Recipe from the Los Angeles Times.

1/2 pound green garlic

1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar

Black pepper

Good olive oil

Grated pecorino Romano

Trim the root ends of the green garlic and the very tips of the green leaves if they are dried out. Cut the green garlic crosswise in thin pieces. Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise and then into about half-inch pieces. Place them in a bowl of water to prevent coloring.

In a large saucepan, combine the butter and onion and cook over medium heat, stirring roughly until the butter melts and the onions turn soft and creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and the green garlic, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the mixture is fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes and turn them in the garlic mixture. Add the broth and salt, increase the heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Loosely cover and cook at a quick simmer until the potatoes are soft enough to be smashed with a fork, about 20 minutes.

Coarsely purée the potatoes and garlic. This is most easily done with an immersion blender but can also be done in a food processor or blender if you're careful to pulse quickly. The mixture should be chunky, not a smooth purée.

Add 1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar and a generous grinding of black pepper. Taste and add more salt, pepper or vinegar if necessary. Return to the pan and simmer another 5 minutes. This makes about 7 cups of soup.

Stir briskly just before serving. Ladle into warm serving bowls, drizzle with a thread of olive oil and sprinkle over 1 to 2 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano.

Per serving: 196 calories; 9 grams protein; 25 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 8 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 21 mg. cholesterol; 853 mg. sodium.

Skillet chicken with green garlic and lemon thyme

Serves 4

Recipe from “Cook This Now” by Melissa Clark (Hachette Books, $29.99, 416 pages).

One 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch fresh thyme (preferably lemon thyme)

1 head green garlic, thickly sliced, OR 4 regular garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

3/4 cup dry white wine

2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Cooked quinoa mixed with black pepper, brown butter and baby arugula OR a crusty loaf of bread, for serving

In a large shallow dish, place chicken, oil, salt, pepper, thyme and garlic, and mix to coat chicken. Cover dish and chill in refrigerator 2 hours or up to overnight. If you're pressed for time, let the dish stand, covered, at room temperature 30 minutes.

In a large skillet over medium heat, place chicken and seasoning mixture. Cook, without moving the chicken, 10 minutes. Use a spatula to press lightly on wings to brown. Flip chicken pieces, cover pan and continue cooking, without moving, another 15 to 20 minutes.

Check breasts by piercing with a fork to see if they are cooked through. If they are, transfer them to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. If not, allow to cook another 5 minutes or so, until done. After removing breasts, use a spoon to remove some of excess fat. Pour in wine. Simmer, scraping up brown bits at bottom of skillet, until sauce reduces and remaining chicken parts are cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Transfer chicken to a plate and whisk butter into pan, whisking until sauce thickens. Serve with sauce on top of chicken and don't forget to eat garlic.

Serve with hot quinoa or crusty bread (spread with mashed garlic).

Green garlic mashed potatoes

Serves 4

Recipe from The Bee’s Kathy Morrison.

8 medium red-skinned or other new potatoes

2 stalks green garlic

2 tablespoons butter


Freshly ground black pepper

Paprika (optional)

1/2 cup milk

Scrub the potatoes, but keep the skins on. Put potatoes in a pot big enough to hold them in one layer; add enough cold water so the potatoes are covered by at least 1 inch.

Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring water to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer potatoes until they are tender all the way through but not falling apart, 10 to 15 minutes. (Do not cover the pot while potatoes are simmering.)

While potatoes are cooking, wash and trim the green garlic stalks, removing an inch or so of the dark green tops, any yellowed parts of the stalk, and a thin slice off the root end. Slice and chop the remaining stalks (white and green parts).

Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sauté chopped green garlic in the butter until limp, seasoning with salt and pepper as desired.

Drain cooked potatoes into a colander. Return them to the pot or a large bowl. Heat the milk in a small saucepan or in the microwave until just warm, not hot.

Break up the slightly cooled potatoes with a fork or potato masher. Add a little of the milk and all the sautéed green garlic (and any melted butter left in the pan). Add some pepper, salt and (if using) paprika. Mash a little more, adding more milk as desired (you may not use all of it) but leave some lumps – these are tender potatoes so they don’t need a lot of mashing. Serve immediately.