WHAT IS IT AND
HOW TO COOK IT
As the first signs of spring start to emerge, so too the sprouts of wild garlic.
A notoriously seasonal ingredient with a borderline cult following.
Garlic has almost universal appeal and is used extensively throughout so many cuisines. Indeed, it is such a familiar flavour that it is sometimes forgotten the complexities that it brings. Heat, florality, sharp bitterness and even sweetness, all wrapped into a familiar package we identify as “garlicky”. And generally speaking, most people absolutely love the stuff. Which presumably is part of the reason why Wild Garlic is so beloved amongst those in the know.
Wild garlic, as the name would suggest, very much follows suit in terms of flavour profile, though in slightly differing ratios. Wild Garlic brings the beautiful perfuming and savoury notes you get traditionally from garlic yet with far less aggressive heat and that oh-so-familiar lingering aftertaste. Like so many of the beautiful green things that are eaten in early spring, the flavours are mellower, yet sweeter and more floral.
Sometimes called ‘bear’s garlic’, this plant begins to grow towards the end of March or early April until the end of May. By June it’s all but gone. So act quickly!
where to find wild garlic?
One of the many wonderful things about wild garlic is that it is extremely forage-friendly. It tends to grow in huge quantities, creating vast seas of heavily aromatic green leaves. To find it, your best bet is to head to the forest. Wild garlic thrives in greenwoods and shaded areas where the soil is fertile and relatively close to water. Once you are in such a location, you want to be on the lookout for broad pointed green leaves, around 10 to 12 cm long and 2 to 5 cm wide, like a stretched basil leaf. However, finding it shouldn’t be too hard. Unless you have a particularly strong cold! The pungent aroma of garlic will be your best indicator that you are on to the right stuff.
Wild garlic is at its best before its white flowers emerge. Ideally it is best to pick it when it still has tight buds and the leaves are still relatively small and tender. The whole plant (bulb, leaf and flower) is edible in fact but it’s the leaves you want as that’s where the real flavour is. Plus, leaving the bulb ensures next year’s harvest.
If you haven’t had any luck in finding wild garlic, or you’d just rather remain in the urban jungle don’t worry, you’re almost certain to find it at your local farm shop or market. Failing that you can find it online at Ocado, Farmdrop, Riverford or Abel & Cole.
cooking with wild garlic
When it comes to using this favoured leaf, we tend to treat it in one of two ways. Firstly, and possibly our favourite way, is to use the raw leaf, treating it in much the same way as fresh herbs. It’s certainly more robust in flavour when raw, though nothing like as strong as a garlic clove, enhancing any dish with wonderfully floral garlicky notes.
It’s wonderful chopped up and folded through fresh spring vegetables, mashed potato or better still, PASTA, used as you might parsley or basil.
We also love incorporating it into sauces like pesto, chimichurry, salsa verde - essentially any green, herb infused sauce you can think of is only going to be enhanced with the addition of some wild garlic leaves. How does a wild garlic and walnut pesto toastie sound? Or roast lamb with wild garlic salsa verde - you can’t go wrong.
One of our absolute favourite concoctions is Our Grilled Lamb Tacos with Wild Garlic Salsa. Wild garlic absolutely loves lamb, and we absolutely love tacos so this one seemed like a no-brainer - served on fresh corn tortillas with crumbled feta and sharp pickled onions these are a really lovely springtime treat.
Wild Garlic is a beautiful seasonal ingredient that pairs wonderfully with lamb. We’ve used it in vivid green salsa to top smokey lamb steak in yet another of our beloved taco recipes. The wild garlic brings all of the beautiful perfume you get from garlic without the aggressive heat, and it works wonderfully in this fresh green salsa.
The other way we love to cook with this mighty leaf is to treat it in much the same way as spinach. A glorious garlic infused spinach the likes you have never seen! Roughly chop the leaves and wilt quickly in a hot pan to release the moisture before adding to quiches, curries, pastries and breads. Much like spinach, a huge bag of wild garlic will likely wilt down to little more than a thimble, but it is worth it - cooking the leaves really brings out the sweetness and perfumed flavour.
Börek, those splendid snails of filo you find throughout Turkey, are one of our favourite pastry treats. We have taken the traditional filling of feta and spinach and put our own twist on it with Our Whipped Feta and Wild Garlic Börek. Crisp pastry and a soft heady filling make for a perfect savoury snack or served with a cucumber salad a lovely light meal.
We hope this has inspired you to seek this delicious leaf.
Wild Garlic is a glorious seasonal ingredient - DON’T MISS IT!
And if this has given you a taste for foraging, the following recipes should hit the spot.