Monday, August 19, 2013

What the heck is that? Garlic scapes

Here’s another way to love garlic.

I first saw garlic scapes a few years ago. I was in Chinatown, and they were crowded among a whole heap of unknown and intriguing items. I was a little intimidated, so I kept to my shopping list and left them untouched. 

Flash forward a year or two, and I noticed them at the Union Square Greenmarket. This time the scapes were surrounded by familiar herbs, making them much more approachable. I decided to buy a bunch.

And so it began.  I was soon hooked.

What are garlic scapes? How do they fit into the scheme of what we typically consider "garlic"?

Garlic scapes are the leafless stems of hardneck garlic. From what I've been told, farmers traditionally cut back the stems in order to get the garlic plants to focus their energy on the garlic bulbs. One enterprising (or hungry) farmer must have grabbed some scapes off the compost pile and decided to cook with them. Viola! A cult was born. 

Or more likely, folks in the US noted that in Garlic Central, aka China, the world's leading producer and exporter of garlic, pretty much every bit of garlic is used. The blog Red Cook, which focuses on Chinese home cooking, tried to help out a reader confused by garlic scape nomenclature, since garlic scapes are sometimes called "garlic sprouts" or "garlic greens," noting,

There are many different parts of garlic available in Chinatown and they should all be labeled accordingly. Even in Chinese there are many different names. In northern China the name suan tai (蒜薹) is used most commonly for garlic scapes. But in the south suan xin (蒜芯) is used. But sometime suan miao (蒜苗) also refers to garlic scapes in spite of the fact that suan miao often refers to garlic greens, or the leaves. So I’m as confused as you are. I’m afraid you’ll have to look at the item itself. Garlic scapes are round solid stalks and usually have flower buds attached. Garlic greens are usually just the leaves with white parts at the bottom.

I hasten to add: Don't get discouraged! Work your way past the confusion! There are many great aspects to garlic scapes that will justify your investment of brain power and derring-do. Here are a few:

1) They are are beautiful singly and a little crazy looking when bunched into a bouquet, a Medusa-head, roller-coaster ride of flower bud and stalk. 

2) They taste like garlic, only a subtle and even herbal version of garlic. This makes them appealing to both garlic fanciers and more reticent fans.

3) They're really versatile! One idea: I've used my scapes, diced finely, in a cucumber salads, mixed green salads and bean salads - anywhere I might use scallions. But wait, there's more!

4) The number one use among shoppers at the Union Square Greenmarket (and not just because of the suggestion below): garlic scape pesto. One shopper said she freezes several containers' worth.

5) Scapes are a nice addition to stir fries.

6) Soups, dips, sandwich enhancers - just let your imagination run wild.

7)  My favorite way: pop a few on a skillet and grill for a few minutes. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Totally addictive. 

But do not tarry! The season is short. Before too long your request for scapes will get you only a sorrowful look and a tip to try again next year.

No comments:

Post a Comment