A Spring Thing
Go Wild for Young Garlic and Onions
In the cool days of early spring, a good indication of warmer days ahead is when green garlic (aka spring garlic) and spring onions arrive in your local produce shop and farmers markets. Spring onions and spring garlic are not the same item, but both are available now and are used similarly.
They’re the precursors to the dried onion and dried garlic bulbs that wind up on the produce stands in the store; however, this early stage is not found in your average grocery store but rather at specialty stores and farmers markets.
In the spring, many growers harvest and pack these bulbs in their green states, leaving the bulbs, cloves and long greens attached. The smaller, more tender bulbs and cloves are milder than the mature, cured bulbs and cloves that they will eventually become.
Chefs and self-proclaimed gourmet cooks sometimes go wild when the bulbs reach this green stage. Chefs use the green stems of spring garlic, which resemble the tops of baby leeks, as well as the immature bulb on the root end; it’s best to use no more than 4 inches of the greens from where they are attached to the bulb.
Pretty much anything that you would do with garlic can be done with green garlic. Because it is mild and not as pungent as mature cured garlic, green garlic may be acceptable to those who do not normally favor garlic.
It’s easy to create garlic bread that can’t be beat with help from spring garlic; just finely chop some spring garlic with some basil, and spread it over sourdough bread with olive oil and butter. Spring garlic also sees its way into stir-fries, soups, cheeses (especially goat cheese) and other seasonal veggies like artichokes, asparagus, English peas, snap peas and baked potatoes.
With spring onions, the green tops resemble scallions or green onions; however, the spring onions are hotter than scallions. Spring onions and green onions are not the same thing. A different seed is used for green onion production, with European and Japanese varieties the primary types that are cultivated.
The bulb of the spring onion is milder than cured, dried onions. It is another favorite among chefs. One Alameda chef, John Thiel of Pappo Restaurant, makes a spring garlic soup with spring onions and potatoes. He occasionally adds cream but generally prefers water- or vegetable-based stock to allow the pure flavor to shine through (and to accommodate lactose-intolerant folks). Thiel also makes a compound butter with spring onions, parsley and cilantro, which he tosses with basmati rice to use in other dishes.
My favorite spring onion recipe is simple: Slice the onion in half lengthwise from root to green and drizzle it with a little extra-virgin olive oil, a dash of lime juice and kosher salt. Place the onion on the grill, cut side down, and cook it until caramelized. (Find the full recipe at www.producepair.com.)
Garlic and onions are planted in the fall and harvested in the spring. As they come to market, they begin to mature. In early spring, they will be small and underdeveloped, but as the weeks go by, they will become bigger and bigger, until they are too mature to pack in their green states. At that point, they are harvested without the greens, packed and sold dry in the onion section.
When selecting spring garlic and spring onions, look for a smooth, firm but still tender bulb or clove. The greens should be green all the way up. However, keep in mind as the short spring onion and spring garlic season progresses, the greens become more mature and yellow. This is Mother Nature in action, so enjoy the spring treats while they’re here.
—By Dan Avakian