I’ve often thought green garlic was a culinary secret that only gardeners appreciated. Green garlic (also called spring garlic or baby garlic) is simply a young, immature bulb that hasn’t yet divided. It looks like an overgrown scallion or a small leek, and in fact it tastes like a cross of the two, with a heady essence of garlic. Two of my favorite things, together in one plant!
I started seeing green garlic at the farmers’ markets in February. It’s a vegetable in its own right and the season is short, appearing through spring while supplies last, as it’s often a secondary crop.
The slender stems are thinnings from a farmer’s garlic field, planted in the fall and pulled in early spring to ensure a productive harvest for the rest of the crop. In my own garden, however, I planted garlic cloves in the spring and pulled the young plants last week, at the same time my mature (fall-planted) garlic was coming out.
This is one of the benefits of spring-planted garlic — not only do you get a completely different crop that you can use a different way, but because you don’t have to wait all season long for the garlic to grow, spring garlic is a good way to fill up that odd patch of soil in the garden. As soon as the ground warms up, you can stick a clove here and there, wherever you find the space: around your tomato plants, next to the carrot bed, and in spots where seeded sprouts were no-shows. Garlic is a natural pest repellent, so it’s worthwhile to plant a handful of cloves throughout your garden in the spring.
Since the bulbs are not meant to develop fully, the cloves can be planted as close as an inch or two apart (which makes it ideal for containers). You follow the same method for planting regular garlic as you do for green garlic — only you get to harvest in half the time. Green garlic can be pulled at any stage once the leaves are lush and full; the longer you wait to harvest, the more pronounced the bulb will be.
There’s no curing required of green garlic; it’s meant to be eaten fresh, like a leek. Cut into the white bulbous end and you’ll find it smooth and juicy; but honestly, the green leaves are my favorite part. The tenderest leaves are eaten raw: chopped up for a garden salad or minced to top a baked potato (the way you use chives). The rest are cooked the same way as an onion to flavor a dish. On the stove, green garlic turns tender and buttery, with the same sweetness of slow-roasted garlic.
How else can you eat green garlic? Make a pesto with the leaves, slice it onto pizza, roll it into butter, add it to soups and stir-fries. Chop it up and scatter over rice or noodles, onto nachos, and into eggs. I think it would also make a great pickle!