Garlic

Your Cheat Sheet for All the Spring Alliums

April 17, 2018

April showers bring spring alliums. Huzzah! We snag our tote bags, skip to the farmers market, squeal at all the fruits and flowers and vegetables and then: Um, green garlic, is that you? Sorry, um, I mean, green garlic, is that you? It’s been a minute.

There’s a lot of pressure to make the most of spring alliums, which are only here for a hot second, which feels special and exciting. But that's the problem. If you only hang out with an ingredient once a year, how are you going to get comfortable with it?

Say you go on a great first date. You talk for hours, hug, maybe even smooch, then: So long! See you next April! And that’s when you have your second date. And you repeat this every year. See how it goes. Spoiler alert: not well, don’t do this.

Shop the Story

Spring alliums are like that. You'd want to marry them if you could. But you can't. So, to make the most of your spring fling: a primer, a background check, a dating profile. This way, when you meet up this year, you’re already two steps ahead: You’re from New York, right? Hey, me too! You have a cat, right? Um, same! Aw, you guys. You’re going to be so great together.

Ramps

  • Also known as: wild leeks; Allium tricoccum.
  • Fun facts: Their season is barely a month long. Also, Twitter?
  • Flavor: strong, garlicky, oniony.
  • Look: long, oval, green leaves; thin, tender bulbs.
  • How to use: keep things crunchy with a vinegar pickle; get funky a la kraut or kimchi; sauté to toss with pasta or pile on polenta; char under the broiler or on the grill, then sprinkle on pizza; process into cheesy, nutty pesto.

Garlic Chives

  • Also known as: Chinese chives; Chinese leeks; Allium tuberosum.
  • Fun fact: Their white blossoms are edible, too (hello, Insta-friendly salad garnishes!).
  • Flavor: assertive and garlicky.
  • Look: flat, thicker than standard scallions, and tall (circa 15 inches!); dark green.
  • How to use: “One of the most important ingredients in simple supper stir-fries and dumpling stuffings,” writes Fuchsia Dunlop in Every Grain of Rice. She stir-fries them with pork or smoked tofu, and turns them into an omelet. Our favs: scrambled eggs with almost-burnt toast; buttered noodles; Green Goddess dressing.

Garlic Scapes

  • Also known as: garlic stems; Allium sativum.
  • Fun fact: These grow from garlic bulbs, like hair, or a Chia pet.
  • Flavor: grassy, garlicky, and pungent, but not as pungent as garlic itself.
  • Look: all over the place, winding this way and that, like scallion meets spaghetti.
  • How to use: Fuchsia (see above) loves these, too: “Once you’ve discovered garlic stems, you’ll never look back.” She stir-fries them with bacon or mushrooms—both begging to be served with soft-scrambled eggs. Also good: allium-forward fried rice, herby garlic bread; pesto.

Green Garlic

  • Also known as: young garlic; spring garlic.
  • Fun fact: This is just immature garlic. (Who knew immature could be so tasty?)
  • Flavor: milder than its future self, but similarly punchy when raw, mellower when cooked.
  • Look: depends on how old the garlic is. As a tween, it’s a spring onion doppelganger with a purply-pink base. As it gets ready to go off to college, its bulb becomes more, well, bulbous.
  • How to use: Prep like a leek, discarding the tough tops (or save for down-the-road soups or broths), then chop both the green and white parts. When I worked in a bakery, we would poach chopped green garlic in honey water, then use as a filling for crostatas. Despite the name, we treat these less like garlic and more like...

Leeks

  • Also known as: “king of the soup onion” (according to The Joy of Cooking); Allium porrum.
  • Fun fact: Okay, more like a warning: These hoard grit! Either split lengthwise or chop, then wash, then wash again.
  • Flavor: mild, oniony, almost sweet.
  • Look: like a Hulk-ified scallion.
  • How to use: turn into chunky, brothy soups, especially chicken-matzo ball; sauté, like onions, and put toward a frittata or creamy pasta; braise until jammy and top with something crispy, like breadcrumbs or bacon bits or both.

Spring Onions

  • Also known as: young onions
  • Fun fact: not the same as a green onion (see below!).
  • Flavor: mild and mellow; a foot-in-the-door allium for people who “don’t like” onions.
  • Look: a lot like scallions, but with a curvier bottom; the bulb may be white or red.
  • How to use: vinegar-pickle; grill whole; or, divide and conquer, treating the green tops like scallions, the bulbs like teeny-tiny onions.

Scallions

  • Also known as: green onion.
  • Fun fact: Just to keep it really confusing, in Canada and the United Kingdom, these are sometimes also known as spring onions.
  • Flavor: oniony, spunky, slightly spicy.
  • Look: slim, with firm white bottoms and hollow, green, tubular tops.
  • How to use: finely chop as a garnish for anything that needs a raw pop or crunchy-crunch (think grain salads, fried rice); char and turn into a gremolata for grilled proteins, from chicken to tofu, fish to steak; braise into blissful, saucy oblivion; pancakes!

What spring allium do you most look forward to every year? Tell us how you use it in the comments!

3 Comments

Poniesss403 April 17, 2018
What about fiddlehead ferns?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. April 17, 2018
Love fiddleheads! Here, we were just focusing on spring alliums (so, oniony, garlicky things). But our editor, Lindsay-Jean, wrote a great article on fiddleheads here: https://food52.com/blog/6583-fiddlehead-fern-a-controversial-coil
 
Poniesss403 April 17, 2018
Woops I did realize they're not alliums. Thanks for the link on fiddleheads!