Written by Sarah Ellis, MS, RD
One of the delights of visiting your local farmers market is to observe the march of produce across the months, throughout the year. Each season provides an opportunity to discover extraordinary varieties of ordinary fare. Garlic scapes, with their wildly twisted shapes are a perfect, early summer example of this. As a member of the allium family, they are not only delicious but also have healthful properties, similar to garlic itself.
Throughout history, Allium sativum has enjoyed a reputation rich in folklore for its magical and medicinal properties. A member of the lily family, which includes onions, chives, shallots and leeks, garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants, appearing as a staple in the Sumerian diet according to Sanskrit documents written over 5000 years ago. Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman literature is rich with reference to garlic acting as an aphrodisiac as well as promoting health, courage and bravery.
Current research supports a role for garlic in enhancing immune function and improving health. Allium sativum is being studied extensively for its potentially protective role in the initiation, development and progression of cancer and heart disease. The beneficial compounds thought to be functioning in these processes are referred to as phytochemicals or plant chemicals and may be acting as antioxidants, tumor suppressants, or detoxifying agents. The compounds have been studied in several forms, as isolated supplements or as a whole plant. Not surprisingly, it has been the whole plant, delivered as part of a healthful diet, which has proven to be most effective in the process being studied. A vegetarian diet is rich in phytochemicals including indoles, phenols, isothiocyanates, flavones, coumarins, plant sterols and stanols, ascorbic acid, carotenes, retinols and tocophereols, which continue to be studied for their evident roles in supporting immune function and reducing the risk and effects of chronic disease.
The firm yet pliable slender green stems of garlic scapes, complete with unopened flower buds, have a fresh, mildly garlicky flavor and crisp texture. Scapes can be enjoyed both raw and cooked. Sliced or chopped into a salad, their flavor is subtle and their crunchy texture holds up well with dressings. Added to sliced sweet peppers and mushrooms for a quick stir-fry, they can top any cooked whole grain for a satisfying meal.
When cooked a bit longer, scapes become soft and quite mild, losing some of their initial twisted charm but imparting deliciousness quite unlike garlic, leeks or onions. Soup made from a few potatoes, vegetable broth, three or four hands-full of scapes and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper can be pureed into an elegant offering, served either warm or chilled, and topped with the garlic buds.
I’ve included a photo of gorgeous scapes, freshly picked from my good friend’s garden. Garlic scapes arrive and disappear quite quickly from early summer markets, so don’t miss out this spring!