Garlic Scapes

Ever wonder about those interesting curled shoots coming off the garlic plants? These are the lovely flower heads of the garlic bulbs. They are delicious and are actually a vegetable on their own as well as a mild garlic seasoning. Unlike the fiery flavor of garlic bulbs, they have a sweet flavor that is a mix of garlic, leek and onion, and a texture not unlike asparagus. 

Freshly harvested garlic scapes

Scapes grow out of the center of hardneck garlic, usually starting in early June. It’s best to harvest them when they are young, usually right before they make a huge curl, as they tend to get tough the longer they stay on the plant. 

You will be doing the garlic a favor by pinching out the scapes since leaving them on the plant reduces the size of the garlic bulb below and makes the bulbs less storable.

Garlic scapes ready to pick

Check out farmers’ markets

Scapes are available at farmers’ markets now and will probably be around a couple more weeks. They store quite well in the refrigerator so when you find them, pick up a few and give them a try. They are delicious grilled or chopped fresh for a salad, frittata or stir fry. Or, blend them into hummus or pesto, or puree them and mix into softened sweet butter for a delectable dressing for sweet corn. They are also scrumptious when pickled. 

Garlic scape, lemon verbena pesto

Garlic Scape Pesto

½ c. garlic scapes

2 c. fresh basil leaves, oregano, parsley, lemon balm or any combination you desire

¼ c. nuts (pine, walnut, pecans)

1 ½ t. salt

¼ t. pepper

½ cup olive oil

3 oz. Parmesan

Combine all ingredients except oil and cheese in blender or processor. Add half the oil. Process while adding the rest of the oil. Stir in cheese and toss with hot cooked pasta or rice. If you have plenty of scapes, consider making the pesto and freezing it in ice cube trays or flat in a freezer bag. Leave out the cheese until ready to use. You can simply break off a piece for a quick lunch. 

Garlic scape pesto ready for the freezer

Bean soup

Bean soup made with adzuki beans

I always keep canned beans in my pantry. And, now that I have an instant pot, I’m gaining confidence in cooking them from scratch as well. Before the instant pot, my favorite thing to do was put on a pot of beans and promptly burn them since they have to cook so long. Lost a lot of good pots that way.

Another dirty little secret is that I have dribs and drabs of leftover vegetables, meats and grains in bags in the freezer. I cannot stand to waste food, so if there’s a little bit left, I’ll freeze it for use in soup later. Labeled of course.

Anything goes

The great thing about soup is that you can add simply anything to it and have unique flavors. Leftover bits of chicken or turkey with white beans and noodles make a great soup. Add some swiss chard or spinach, a can of chopped tomatoes and it turns into something different. As vegetables start coming in from the markets and our gardens, change up your soup accordingly. If hot soup isn’t appealing in the summer, remember that adding chiles will make you sweat, cooling you off. And, try bean soups cold!

Start with broth

The basic recipe for a soup is to start with good vegetable, chicken or beef broth. You can make an even richer soup with bone broth. Use store- bought if you don’t have time to make your own – you’ll still get a wonderful pot of soup (no guilt!). Saute some onion and garlic in a bit of broth or olive oil to get your flavor started. 

Sauteeing kale with carrots and peppers

Add protein and grain

Then add a protein like black beans, garbanzos, canellini or kidney beans. Use leftovers from a roasted chicken (again, store bought roasted chicken is good), leftover Thanksgiving turkey (you know you have some, somewhere in the freezer), tempeh or tofu. If you want to use cheese, add it at the very end. 

Next, add a cooked grain like brown or white rice, farro, quinoa, or a pasta such as egg noodles, farfalle, linguini or orzo. Whole wheat pastas which may not be as palatable for spaghetti are hearty and delicious in soup.

The best part – vegetables

Then comes the best part – the vegetables. Add whatever you have in the fridge or freezer – cabbage, corn, peppers, spinach, broccoli, carrots, kale, Swiss chard, cauliflower or zucchini. The vegetable combinations can vary depending on the flavor you want. 

Season according to the flavor you desire. For Mediterranean, use thyme, oregano, a pinch of sage and basil. For Mexican, cumin and chili powder give it a kick. For Italian, use oregano, basil and smoked paprika. 

Although you really don’t need a recipe to make a great bean soup, here’s a start on a Mexican bean soup: 

Recipe for Bean soup

Black bean soup

2 cups broth

1 large clove garlic, minced

½ spanish onion, chopped 

1-2 cups black beans, rinsed and drained if using canned

½ bag frozen corn

½ cup chopped sweet peppers

¼ chopped chili peppers

½ c. diced carrots

½ t. smoked or regular cumin

½ t. chili powder

Saute garlic and onion in two tablespoons of broth for about a minute. Add peppers, carrots and corn and saute for another minute. Add beans and seasonings and simmer for about 45 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve hot with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and a splash of sriracha if you like more heat. 

Aromatherapy

Sauteeing onions in butter

You can certainly have your lavender (I love it too) and your patchouli. But when I need scent to make me feel better, I turn to the kitchen. There is nothing as uplifting as the aroma of sauteeing onions in butter. It smells delicious and reminds me of happy times in my grandmother’s and mother’s kitchens. It is the great beginning for just about anything savory and tongue pleasing.

Spinach with onions

Minced onion and garlic sauteed in a little olive oil and a touch of butter brings a simple green like spinach to something sublime. This is a wonderful dish all by itself, but can also be added to soups, stews, risotto, eggs………only limited by imagination.

One of my favorite breakfasts:

Spinach and Avocado Toast

(called tartine if you want to be fancy – a tartine is a slice of bread with a sweet or savory topping.

1 medium bunch spinach, coarsely chopped

¼ onion, chopped finely

1 T. olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 slices whole grain bread

Grainy brown mustard

2 oz. your choice of cheese

½ avocado (optional)

spinach toast with avocado and sriracha sauce

Sriracha (optional)

Saute onion and spinach in olive oil until the spinach wilts. Salt and pepper to taste.  Toast bread, spread with mustard and pile on spinach and avocado if using. Top with cheese. Broil until cheese melts.

Bean Dip (and traditional Hummus)

Have you ever been to a potluck or party where bean dip or hummus was not standard fare? Kick these healthful dips up a notch by adding all manner of vegetables and seasonings – a great chance to use your imagination. 

Serve traditional hummus in non-traditional ways

Traditional hummus is made with chickpeas and tahini, but you can make a delectable spread or dip with absolutely any type of bean and just about anything added to it. Vary your recipe with seasonings as well as what you serve it on. Try it spread on toasted baguette slices, topped with chopped tomatoes, garlic and basil as a riff on bruschetta. Or simply try it on a sandwich in place of mayonnaise. Delectable!

If you’re willing to experiment: 

If you’re willing to experiment!

Puree 2 cups cooked garbanzos, cannelini beans, even black-eyed peas. You can use tahini or any other type of butter such as almond, walnut or pecan butter. Peanut butter makes it a bit strong, but still good. Add roasted peppers, cooked pumpkin, spinach, chard and season with garlic, cilantro, parsley or thyme. Season with sriracha, chipotle tabasco or other pepper for a kick. Leave it somewhat chunky or puree until smooth, according to your taste.

The basic recipe for hummus (substitute at will!):

1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained or 2 cups freshly cooked

1/2 c. tahini

1 T. lime juice

1 t. cumin

1 clove garlic

1/4 t. cayenne

Olive oil

Salt to taste

Blend all but the olive oil. Gradually add enough olive oil to make it creamy but not runny. Season with salt to taste. Refrigerate for the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature with toasted pita chips, pretzels or sliced cucumbers, peppers aand carrot sticks. 

Other combinations:

Black beans with sour cream, cumin, garlic and chopped chipotle chiles in adobo. Serve with tortilla chips or toasted corn tortilla wedges

White beans with almond butter, roasted peppers, roasted garlic. Serve with pita chips or toasted baguette slices.

Black-eyed peas with crumbled crisp bacon, sweet onion and sweet peppers. Serve with cornbread squares

To traditional hummus, add chopped roasted red peppers, a couple of tablespoons of cooked pumpkin or butternut squash or sun dried tomatoes.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Vegetable trimmings for stock

Almost every recipe you see needs broth or stock of one sort or another. And, before you decide to just add water, think first – stock adds a nuance of flavor that you might not even know you’ll miss. 

Vegetable stock makes a big difference in flavor

Of course, when making hearty soups, stews and chili with vegetables, beans and other ingredients that give their own rich flavor, it may not be necessary to use stock for extra flavor. But when cooking rice or grains, the addition of flavored liquid can make the difference between bland and dynamite.

Use carrot tops and tips

There are all sorts of broth and stock available commercially these days, from standard chicken to organic vegetable to the richest bone broths (many are even flavored with garlic, peppers, onions and paprika).

Make your own stock

Although they certainly do in a pinch and I always try to have some in my pantry, homemade stocks are far and away better. Not only because you know what’s in them, but because the flavor is superior and you can control the salt. 

Onions are essential to a good broth

Keep a bag of vegetable trimmings in the freezer

It may seem a bit miserly but I’ve gotten in the habit of saving all my vegetable trimmings. I keep a bag in the freezer and toss in, after washing well, the leftovers from onions, shallots, celery, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, etc. It’s important that you wash the peelings before freezing them so you can simply put them in the pot when the time comes. 

Add cheese rind and mushrooms for more flavor

When I have a full bag and a day when I’ll be home for at least half a day, I toss them in a large stock pot and add garlic, bay leaf and other herbs I happen to have. The pièce d ‘resistance is to toss in a Parmesan rind to boost the umami flavor. Mushrooms also provide this flavor. You can adjust the flavors however you like with herbs and the vegetables you choose. 

Fill the pot, covering the vegetables and turn on low. There’s no need to salt the stock – you can get a better feel for salt levels when you actually use it in a dish. Let the pot simmer and fill your kitchen with a delightful aroma for the day. After four or five hours, strain the stock and refrigerate or freeze. I find it easiest to freeze it in one cup measures since I don’t always need more than that. 

Dilled rice with homemade vegetable stock

Dilled Rice

1 c. brown rice

2 c. vegetable stock

1 large clove garlic

1 t. dill seeds or 1 T. dried dill or 3 T. finely chopped fresh dill

1 t. salt

Crush the garlic clove along with the dill and salt until you have a paste. A mortar and pestle is great for this but you can also just use the flat side of a knife. Add the paste to the stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice, reduce the heat to very low and cover. Cook about 45-55 minutes. When the liquid is all absorbed, fluff the rice and serve by itself as a side dish or under stir-fried vegetables. 

Garlic!

Pump, juicy garlic cloves ready to be planted

Garlic goes with anything! In fall, sauteeing a minced clove with sweetened kale, chard or Brussels sprouts makes the ordinary sublime. And that doesn’t even begin to describe what happens to the last of the tomatoes when garlic is introduced into luscious sauces. Home-grown garlic is wonderfully intense, unlike the garlic you find in the grocery store.

Plant garlic now

If you haven’t planted your garlic yet, it’s time to get it in the ground for next year. It’s important to plant early enough in fall to give the bulbs plenty of time to develop a sturdy root system yet not so early that they put out leaves in fall. If they get a good start, they will send out healthy foliage the following spring and you will be harvesting garlic in mid to late summer.

Garlic and terroir

Garlic is known for its affinity to the soil (called terroir), meaning that if you can purchase garlic bulbs from a local source, you will usually have larger cloves right away. Ordering it from another region of the country means it may take two or three years of repeated planting before you begin to get large bulbs.

If you don’t have a local source, garlic bulbs are available at most garden centers and nurseries. Supermarket garlic is often treated with a sprouting inhibitor, which takes a long time to wear off and can slow growth.

Hardneck and softneck garlic

Hardneck garlic

I’ve always had the best production from hard neck types of garlic and, although this type doesn’t keep quite as well as soft neck, the flavor is more intense. Hard neck garlic sends up a tall stalk in the middle of the leaves in early June. The stalks are topped with curly seed heads called scapes, which should be pinched out to allow the plants to put more energy back into the bulbs. The scapes are edible and can be used in any way you normally use garlic cloves. Soft neck garlic has no central stalk and will keep for six to nine months if properly cured.

Spanish Roja garlic, one of the tastiest

How to plant

It’s hard to give them up to the garden, but I save the biggest cloves from this year’s crop for planting next year’s garlic. Prepare the garden bed with a fresh covering of compost and dig a trench about two to three inches deep. Soybean meal is a good slow-release fertilizer that can be sprinkled in the trench (make sure it’s from non-GMO soybeans if you are growing organically). If you have rich soil, this is not necessary. Put the blunt end down, about three to four inches apart in rows about a foot apart. Water in well and cover with three to four inches of straw or leaf mulch to keep the weeds away and the ground moist. If your garlic sprouts in fall, don’t worry. It will go dormant and then start up again in spring.