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Young garlic sprouts

Grow garlic sprouts

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Run out of garlic? PENNY WOODWARD suggests growing garlic sprouts.

If you are a passionate garlic person, then winter and early spring in Australia can be a sad and dismal time… because it’s so hard to find Australian-grown garlic! At planting time next year you can fix this problem by growing your own garlic, and growing some of the long-storing cultivars, but it’s too late (or too early) to do that now. There is, however, another solution to your dilemma. Simply grow garlic sprouts!

If you have cloves that have started to sprout, don’t throw them out, plant them. Push them into the ground or into a pot a centimetre or so apart, and within a couple of weeks you’ll have spring onion-sized sprouts ready to eat. In the UK and US, garlic sprouts are more commonly known as garlic scallions but typically they are garlic that is harvested when still very young, before the bulb has started to swell and when the leaves are still tender.

They can be grown most of the year, and it’s a great way to use up small cloves, bulbils and cloves that are sprouting too late in the year to allow time for full-sized bulbs to develop (like now). Gardeners can grow them in pots on a windowsill or in odd corners of the garden. To harvest, pull the whole plant from the soil, then wash them and trim the roots.

The Chinese have another twist on growing garlic sprouts. They plant cloves into trenches and as the leaves grow, fill in the trenches – eventually hilling up around the stems. This excludes light, making the stems a pale greeny yellow, the flavour more subtle and the stems more tender when eaten.

Garlic greens are grown in exactly the same way, but instead of pulling the whole plant from the soil, the leaves are cut about 2cm above the clove. This leaves the clove to continue growing and a few weeks later another cut can be made. Generally two or three cuts are made before the clove is exhausted. Garlic greens look very similar to the leaves of garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) but its flavour is more subtle.

Garlic sprouts and garlic greens are often grown in tropical regions where it is not possible to grow a mature garlic bulb. So these forms of garlic are commonly seen in recipes from tropical parts of Asia.

The flavour of both is hot and delicately garlicky with the white immature bulb being the sweetest. They don’t have the complex flavours of the mature, cured garlic bulb, but can be used as a substitute in many recipes. Try slicing finely and sprinkling into salad or over any savoury dish before serving. Alternatively, treat them as young tender leeks and add to stir fries, soups and baked dishes. I love garlic sprouts, left whole or in bigger pieces, in curries and thick hearty soups. Slow cooking brings out the intensity of the flavour. You can also try steaming them whole and serve as a vegetable with a little pink salt and a dob of butter.