The weather’s cool and we’re having late rainfall, but spring must have arrived in Israel. There’s green garlic in the shuk.
Usually by this time the shuk is overflowing with garlic
- woven into braids
- or just stacked in piles for discriminating shoppers.
But it was only today that I saw the first tender, purple-streaked bulbs. I’ll wait another week for the really big ones, then I’ll buy the 10 kg. that sees me through most of the year. I’ll hang my garlic up in the porch and convince everyone that we really love the way our apartment smells like salami.
One of my favorite things to do with green garlic is infuse it into a pungent, peppery olive oil, together with fresh oregano or za’atar. I can’t tell you how delicious salads are, made with this oil.
In the above photo you see some dried sprigs of the round-leaved za’atar. It just finished for the season. The narrow-leaved variety, which is what I infused in oil, looks like this:
You must have a very clean, very dry glass jar at hand. Put a lot of green oregano or zaatar in it, and up to a whole head of fresh garlic, its tough outer membranes removed. Vary the herb as you wish, as long as it’s fresh and green. Then pour good olive oil over the herbs and garlic, to cover.
Push a chopstick or a knife through the oil to displace any air bubbles, then screw the lid on the jar and put it away in the fridge. The oil tastes good after a few days, and will stay good for about a month, gettting stronger the longer it sits. It’s important to keep it refrigerated to avoid spoilage. Also, use only a clean, dry spoon to remove oil for use.
In fact, today I made two oils, the one above for salads, and a hot one for cooking. The second oil had a 3-inch piece of fresh ginger root which I’d sliced, a handful of fresh, coarsely chopped garlic, and a couple of tiny shatach chili peppers.
A little of that ought to keep the heat high, I think.
Tender new garlic is a treat that I use with abandon. All too soon, it dries and the delicate, slightly sweet flavor becomes more pungent. Peel away the first tough layers of skin, flexible now but becoming papery as the bulbs dry out. Then you can:
* Anoint a few bulbs with olive oil, paprika and cumin, or thyme, then wrap them up in tin foil and roast them. Or tuck them into the pan in which you’re roasting a chicken. Roasted fresh garlic is food for princes. How do you eat it? Push the root end of each clove with the flat of a table knife, and the meat will slip out of the stem end. Spread the garlic paté on whatever’s on your plate that takes your fancy. Some people adore roasted garlic on challah, some like to cover their roast chicken with a thin layer.
* Crush a few cloves with za’atar spice (the dried kind, with sesame seeds in it) – add salt, dip your bread into it.
Confession: a favorite springtime snack of mine goes like this: I crush the garlic, scrape it into a small dish, and stir olive oil into it. Then I’ll add salt and pepper and eat the whole thing with a pitta. I defy any vampire to get me after that.
* Slice it thickly – lots of it, from half to a whole bulb – and layer it into lasagna or a casserole.
* Make garlic butter with it. Allow the butter to become a little soft, add crushed garlic and some lemon juice and salt to taste. Mix it well, cover, and allow the butter to mellow for an hour before using. No measurements given because it all depends on how much butter you’re making and how garlicky, lemony, or salty you like it.
* Garlic soup is light, warming, and a good base for other soups. Make a light stock from an onion, a washed but unpeeled potato, 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery, a ripe tomato, parsley (or nettles), and salt. The vegetables should be sliced thinly. Simmer this for an hour or a little longer. Strain the broth. To this clear liquid, add all the cloves from a cleaned head of fresh garlic, a sprig of thyme (1/4 tsp), a small bay leaf, 2 Tblsp. olive oil. Simmer for 1/2 hour. Remove the garlic cloves and bay leaf and serve steaming hot, with buttered toast triangles.
A fancy touch is to roll out some frozen puff pastry and cut it out to cover oven-proof soup bowls. Ladle a serving of garlic soup into each bowl, cover the bowls with circles of puff pastry, and put them in the oven to bake. It’s fun to break the crust and push it into the soup – tasty, too.
If you find yourself with a stalk or two of fresh garlic, peel away the first, dirty layers of it and put it in soup. It’s not for eating, just for flavor, like bay leaves.
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