I want to eat the freshest of foods in spring: beautiful green, vibrant, nutritious meals. Fresh herbs and green leaves seem to be in every meal I cook. Adding fresh herbs is one of the simplest ways to inject a bit of zing into your cooking. Spring sees a glut of fresh herbs in season…
If you’re lucky enough to have space to grow herbs, nothing beats grabbing a handful of fragrant leaves to add to your dinner. Wash and finely chop herbs before adding them to anything from salads, to rice, sprinkle them on soup and even on fruit. Always add fresh herbs just before you serve to keep the flavour punchy.
One of my favourite plants to use as a herb is wild garlic. If you’ve never tried using wild garlic to lift your meals, then now is the time to start. Wild garlic is only in season from mid-March to early May, so you’ve got to be quick. I am lucky to have wild garlic growing close to my home in a shady patch of woodland. It is also easy to cultivate in a garden or pot. If you don’t have any growing nearby you don’t have to miss out, it can usually be found at growers’ markets and farm shops in spring.
Whether you’re looking for wild garlic in your local woodland or at the market, look for young plants with bright green leaves and fewer flowers. The leaves of younger plants are more tender. The more flowers a plant has the older it is.
If you’re out for a local walk, the strong smell of garlic is usually the first thing you’ll notice when on the hunt for wild garlic. To check what you‘re picking, crush a leaf in between your fingers. It should smell strongly of garlic, if it doesn’t, leave it alone, it may be a plant that isn’t edible.
Wild garlic is the plant that keeps giving. Every part of it is edible and delicious. The short growing season inspires clever cooks to find ways to stretch their harvest as long as possible. Here’s my list of top 10 tips to use and preserve wild garlic.
Add a herby flavour
Wash and finely chop the leaves and use raw like fresh herbs. The raw leaves are pungent and punchy. Use them in salads or to garnish pasta or risotto. If you’re a baker, try adding them to focaccia dough. Yummy!
For a delicious pesto, simply swap raw leaves into your favourite veggie or vegan pesto recipe. It makes a delicious dressing for pasta or salad. Try mixing a little into mashed potatoes for a Mediterranean twist on veggie bangers and mash.
Wilt or blanch
Gently wilt or blanch whole leaves to use as a side dish or add into omelettes or scrambled eggs. Cooking tames the flavour to a more subtle warm leeky taste.
As a garnish
Wild garlic flowers are mild and delicate in flavour. Adding flowers to a salad transforms a standard lunch into a beautiful restaurant plate. My son, Bruce, loves the surprise of finding flowers in his food.
Make an oil
To make flavoured oil, blanch the leaves for 30 seconds then cool in ice cold water. Dry the leaves then blend with an equal quantity of good quality oil until smooth. Pass the oil through a fine mesh sieve to clear out any last bits. The oil will keep in a tightly lidded bottle or jar for two to three months.
Pickled in vinegar
Flower buds can be pickled in mild pickling vinegar or eaten as they are.
Save the seed pods
At the end of the season, you’ll find small seed pods on wild garlic plants that can be pickled to eat later in the year. The pickled pods are similar to capers and give a satisfying garlicky pop in your mouth.
Wild garlic butter is another must-try. Blend chopped raw leaves with butter or vegan margarine and a little salt and pepper. It should be stored in the fridge for 7 to 10 days or frozen for up to three months.
Slice the bulbs
You can slice the bulbs and use like leek or onion. They have a mild green onion flavour when cooked. Do remember if you pull bulbs out of the ground, that plant won’t grow back next year.
Some of you won’t be surprised to hear that I make a lot of houmous at home. Wild garlic leaves not only add a beautiful flavour but also turns houmous bright green. Fun!