April showers bring spring alliums. Huzzah! We snag our tote bags, skip to the farmers market, squeal at all the fruits and flowers and vegetables and then: Um, green garlic, is that you? Sorry, um, I mean, green garlic, is that you? It’s been a minute.
There’s a lot of pressure to make the most of spring alliums, which are only here for a hot second, which feels special and exciting. But that’s the problem. If you only hang out with an ingredient once a year, how are you going to get comfortable with it?
Say you go on a great first date. You talk for hours, hug, maybe even smooch, then: So long! See you next April! And that’s when you have your second date. And you repeat this every year. See how it goes. Spoiler alert: not well, don’t do this.
Spring alliums are like that. You’d want to marry them if you could. But you can’t. So, to make the most of your spring fling: a primer, a background check, a dating profile. This way, when you meet up this year, you’re already two steps ahead: You’re from New York, right? Hey, me too! You have a cat, right? Um, same! Aw, you guys. You’re going to be so great together. Consider this the dating app for members of the onion family.
Ramps are the hottest allium on the market. Also known as: wild leeks; Allium tricoccum. their season is barely a month long but they bring a lot of energy and flavor during that short period of time. Raw or cooked, ramps’ flavor is strong, garlicky, and super oniony. What about their profile picture? In terms of looks, ramps are long, oval, green leaves with thin, tender bulbs. The pressure is now on! What are you going to do together? Keep things crunchy with a vinegar pickle; get funky a la kraut or kimchi; sauté to toss with pasta or pile on polenta; char under the broiler or on the grill, then sprinkle on pizza; or process into cheesy, nutty pesto.
Garlic chives are a little more mysterious. They’re less popular, less of an allium about town so to speak. But give them a chance and you’ll fall in love. These vibrant greens are also known as Chinese chives, Chinese leeks, Allium tuberosum. Fun fact: Their white blossoms are edible, too (hello, Insta-friendly salad garnishes!). We love a handsome date that we can show off on the ‘gram. As for their flavor, expect something assertive and garlicky. Told you you’d be a fan.
As for looks, how does tall, dark, and brooding sound? They’re flatter and thicker than standard scallions, and taller too, (circa 15 inches!), with a dark green hue. So what does your first date look like? “One of the most important ingredients in simple supper stir-fries and dumpling stuffings,” writes Fuchsia Dunlop in Every Grain of Rice. She stir-fries them with pork or smoked tofu, and turns them into an omelet. Our favs: scrambled eggs with almost-burnt toast; buttered noodles; Green Goddess dressing.
Garlic scapes are the life of the party. Everyone gets excited when they make their appearance during spring. They also like to go by some other names, just to keep things spicy: look for garlic stems or Allium sativum. Fun fact: These grow from garlic bulbs, like hair, or a Chia pet. A delicious allium with a good gene pool? Win-win! Their flavor is grassy, garlicky, and pungent, but not as pungent as garlic itself. Much like the party-goer who likes to be the center of attention, garlic scapes are all over the place, winding this way and that, like scallion meets spaghetti. They look a little tangled with endless greens, but that what makes them so fun. How to use: Fuchsia (see above) loves these, too: “Once you’ve discovered garlic stems, you’ll never look back.” She stir-fries them with bacon or mushrooms — both begging to be served with soft-scrambled eggs. Also good: allium-forward fried rice, herby garlic bread; pesto.
Green garlic is the younger, edgier sibling to regular garlic. Literally! Also known as young garlic or spring garlic, this spring allium is just immature garlic. (Who knew immature could be so tasty?). Flavor: milder than its future self, but similarly punchy when raw, mellower when cooked. Look: depends on how old the garlic is. As a tween, it’s a spring onion doppelganger with a purply-pink base. As it gets ready to go off to college, its bulb becomes more, well, bulbous. To cook with green garlic, prep like a leek, which is to say discard the tough tops (or save for down-the-road soups or broths), then chop both the green and white parts. When I worked in a bakery, we would poach chopped green garlic in honey water, then use it as a filling for crostatas. Despite the name, we treat these less like garlic and more like . . .
Also known as: “king of the soup onion” (according to The Joy of Cooking) or Allium porrum, leeks are like a sandy lifeguard. They’re hearty, slender, and super attractive. They look like a Hulk-ified scallion. Fun fact: OK, more like a warning: These hoard grit! Either split lengthwise or chop, then wash, then wash again. Remember, they’ve spent a lot of time in the sun getting ready for their first date and didn’t have time to take a deep shower. As for their flavor, leeks are quite mild, slightly oniony, and a little sweet. How to use: turn leeks into chunky, brothy soups, especially chicken-matzo ball; sauté, like onions, and put toward a frittata or creamy pasta; braise until jammy and top with something crispy, like breadcrumbs or bacon bits or both.
Spring onions are kind of like cousins who are super close and look alike, but aren’t actually identical. Also known as: young onions, these are not the same as a green onion (see below!). The flavor of spring onions is mild and mellow; think of them as a foot-in-the-door allium for people who “don’t like” onions. They look a lot like scallions, but with a curvier bottom; the bulb may be white or red. How to use: vinegar-pickle; grill whole; or, divide and conquer, treating the green tops like scallions, the bulbs like teeny-tiny onions.
Just to keep it really confusing, in Canada and the United Kingdom, these are sometimes also known as spring onions, but they’re also known as green onions. Their taste oniony, spunky, and slightly spicy. You probably recognize scallions (they’re a year-round catch), but just as a reminder they are slim with firm white bottoms and hollow, green, tubular tops. How to use: finely chop as a garnish for anything that needs a raw pop or crunchy-crunch (think grain salads, fried rice); char and turn into a gremolata for grilled proteins, from chicken to tofu, fish to steak; braise into blissful, saucy oblivion; pancakes!