GREEN GARLIC IS THE skinny fat girl of the spring vegetable world. When you saw her last fall, she was all pudge and paper, freshly fattened on a summer of sunshine. But now, after a silent winter underground, garlic springs into farmers markets with a brand new bod, a young, lithe, round-bottomed version of her plump old self.
Also called spring or young garlic, green garlic refers to the entire Allium sativum plant, picked before its cloves are fully developed. It looks like a curvaceous baby leek, and neither its firm, white (or pinkish) bulb-to-be nor its tall, slim greens look like anything you’d want to stir into your spaghetti sauce. But bend closer and take a whiff: It’s garlic, all right.
“It’s one of those flavors that gives the perfect depth to a lot of our dishes,” says Rachel Yang, Korean-born chef and co-owner of Joule restaurant in Wallingford. “The center of an adult clove—the germ—is the part that contributes most to bad breath,” she says. “Spring garlic also gives great flavor but, because the germ hasn’t developed yet, it’s less offensive. It really makes everything taste magical.”
In Korean cuisine, green garlic and scapes—the glamorous, loopy stems of garlic flowers that farmers harvest early so the bulbs grow bigger—are often pickled in soy sauce and rice vinegar and eaten raw as a crunchy springtime snack. At Joule, Yang creates dishes that combine traditions from Korea and France, using green garlic (minus the roots and the woody tips of the greens) wherever she might include a leek or a scallion—in soups, in stir-fries—or as a quick garnish. To store, she recommends wrapping untrimmed green garlic in a paper towel, then in a plastic bag, and keeping it in your refrigerator’s produce drawer for up to one week.
Look for green garlic at local farmers markets now through June.