Silky and seasonal wild garlic, miso and spinach sauce for pasta, noodles, steamed vegetables and more. So easy, and naturally vegan.
By Kellie@foodtoglow > Have you walked by a stream or in woods of late? Has your nose been assailed by a pungent but familiar scent? With any luck what you are picking up on the spring breeze is the rather wonderful aroma of wild garlic.
Finding wild garlic
Despite our delayed spring and only recently departed snow, wild plants are valiantly pushing through the chilly soil. Being a rather delicate flower myself, it is only now that I have been heading out to the woods behind my house to see what’s up and ready to pick. Always on the top of my list is wild garlic. When I smell wild garlic, my first thought is “dinner!”. 🙂
At this time of year, I like to head out and harvest a few handfuls of tender young leaves every few days, daydreaming as I walk about what I will make with my armful of free food. I usually pick soft, not-yet-stinging nettles, too.
Bemused dog walkers have no doubt spotted me, bottom in the air, bending down with my scissors, filling a small cloth bag with these familiar but unremarkable looking leaves. In warmer areas, or more open spaces such as our nearby river, wild garlic – aka ramsons, buckram, wood garlic, bear leek – is flourishing, the beautiful, star-like white flowers standing in upright spikes.
Wild garlic is really one of those foods that I have become quite evangelical about over the years: uber useful, super nutritious, mega tasty and, if you have some local woods or a river nearby, it is free. I am, of course, in the free camp. *smugface*
But even if you have to buy it, wild garlic is cheap stuff. Where it grows it tends to grow in abundance, spreading thickly in deciduous woodlands. No one actually has to spend time and money growing the stuff. It’s wild. It’s a prolific spreader. It’s free to pick. I’ve recently spotted wild garlic at a local farmer’s markets for £1 a bag, which is pretty good. Don’t, however, go looking for it in the supermarket: wild garlic has the keeping qualities of a snowflake (in the non-political sense!) and can’t be reliably kept. Buy it/pick it and use it within day or two. I find it stores best “dirty” and in a paper bag, or wrapped in slightly damp paper towels.
Safe wild garlic foraging
One thing to say about wild garlic is to know what you are looking for. There are four toxic plants growing in the same conditions as wild garlic. If a strong garlic smell has led you to a patch of likely leaves, rub one between your fingers to make sure it is wild garlic: other leaves will smell grassy. But once you have the wild garlic scent on your fingers you might not be able to distinguish plants in another area. But hopefully the patch you find will provide enough for a couple of dishes. Don’t be greedy and over-pick; and don’t dig up the plants themselves.
What to look for: wild garlic leaves are single and sword-like, with a single vein. The edges are smooth. When young they look like grass and can be hard to distinguish from other plants. But once they broaden out they become convex. The colour is a deep green. Lily of the valley, which is often nearby and is the one most likely to cause confusion, has by comparison dullish paired leaves on a single, slightly reddish-bottomed stem. The lower stem of wild garlic is pure white. When the plants are in flower, the difference is very obvious as lily of the valley smells perfumed, and the flowers are delicate frilled bells. If you have any doubt, don’t pick. Here is a pictorial post about the differences between wild garlic and lily of the valley.
How to use wild garlic
The easiest thing is to make pesto. Topped with a layer of oil it will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. The best way to keep wild garlic pesto – or just blended wild garlic and oil – is to freeze it in an ice cube tray (or two). Pop the green cubes into a labelled bag to use over a few months. Add them frozen into most recipes. I LOVE later in the year coming across a hitherto lost bag of wild garlic pesto.
An immediate thing to do with at least a handful is to toss some onto a freshly baked pizza or add a chopped handful to a pasta dish. Add it also to mashed potatoes, bean dishes, risotto, bread (look out for my recipe soon), savoury tarts and quiches, in homemade gnocchi, with seafood (such as steamed mussels) and perhaps even a savoury custard.
Just a note on taste: while the smell is very pungent, the taste is much more nuanced. Proper garlic is much stronger: it would take a couple of handfuls of the wild version to come near the hit of raw garlic.
Have you been foraging for wild foods lately? What are you picking and making?
Wild Garlic Miso Sauce with Soba Noodles
This recipe uses fresh spinach as a base to bulk out the sauce, but the wild garlic is definitely the star. The two miso pastes give a lovely umami dimension. Use all of either if you don’t have both, remembering that brown miso is stronger and saltier than white miso. The sauce will keep for one day. Try it on any type of pasta, or grain. Even steamed spring vegetables. xx
**adapted from a spinach sauce recipe in Bon Appetit.
125g (4.5 oz) new season’s spinach leaves, well-washed and chopped
65g (2.3 oz) wild garlic leaves, well-washed and chopped
2 tsp Sweet white miso
2 tsp Brown rice miso (see note above)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped (yes, you read correctly)
1 tsp Toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp neutral oil like organic rapeseed (UK) or grapeseed
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Yuzu juice – optional (or use 1 & 1/2 tbsp lemon juice)
White pepper, to taste
Soba noodles or other noodles, amount up to you – I use about 50 uncooked grams per serving
Toasted sesame seeds, to garnish
1. Place the sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until you get a smooth green paste. Taste and adjust as you wish – maybe a little salt if you are using all white miso.
2. Boil your (soba) noodles as directed and drain.
3. Pour the sauce over the noodles and toss well with tongs.
4. Serve with sesame seed garnish and maybe a little extra lemon or yuzu.
More protein? Top with sauteed or steamed tempeh, tofu or prawns/shrimp
More veg? Serve with sliced avocado, steamed broccoli or peas.
More wild garlic recipes on Food To Glow
Wild Garlic Soup (see image above)
and this Instagram suggestion
Recipes from some lovely UK food bloggers
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