Elephant garlic, like all hardneck garlic types, produces a flowering spike or flowerhead known as a “scape”, although elephant garlic scapes won’t start looping around in a circle like other scapes do. If left alone, they eventually become 6-foot tall purple flowering balls like other flowering alliums in the garden; however, most growers snap the scape off as they appear, to encourage enlargement of the bulb. Scapes have a mild garlic/allium flavor.
Elephant garlic is not true garlic, but a member of the leek family. The heads, which grow underground like true garlic, are very large, and, when fully formed, are made up of “cloves” just like true garlic. The tender part of the scape is the lower part, close to the plant. Higher up the scape, the covering skin is tough. The older the scape, the more tender the lower part, which seems contrary. Usually, young is tender. But the scapes with the tightest buds seem to be the toughest.
There are many ways to use garlic scapes: slice thinly (about 1⁄4-inch pieces), sauté and incorporate into fried rice, omelets, stir-fries or soup. Enjoy them pickled, or use in batches of pesto. Batter in tempura and serve with a sweet chili dipping sauce. Cut into green bean sized portions and sauté in butter and salt. Grill them on the barbecue and then drizzle with olive oil for an asparagus-style appetizer.
A Brief History
Garlic has been around for millennia; there are references to it in the bible and the Koran, and it’s mentioned as part of the diet on Sumerian cuneiform tablets* dating to 2300 BC. It was used as both a funereal offering and embalming agent in ancient Egypt.
*Source: Eric Block’s Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science.
- Native to central Asia, garlic eventually made its way to the Mediterranean, where it remains a central ingredient of the region’s heart-healthy, disease-fighting diet. It is believed to have made its way to North America via European settlers during colonial times and revered for its medicinal rather than culinary benefits until the early 20th century.
- For millennia, garlic has been used for its medicinal and healing properties in cultures worldwide, but in certain cultures, it’s verboten. The Jains (who practice very specific eating traditions) refrain from garlic because like other root vegetables, pulling the plant out of the ground effectively kills it. I wonder if scapes would be acceptable, since cutting them allows garlic bulbs to grow?
- Devotees of Lord Krishna, also known as Vaishnavas, abstain from garlic because it is considered a distraction to devotion practices. Similarly, in Ayurvedic medicine, garlic is considered rajasic, which means it may stimulate passion, a detour from meditation.
Sautéed Elephant Garlic Scapes
Use the lower, tender part of the elephant garlic scape. Slice thinly on the diagonal. When slicing, start at the bottom of the scape. Then you can feel through the knife when you get to the tough part of the stem.
2-3 elephant garlic scapes
1 small yellow summer squash
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2-inch of fresh ginger root, chopped
Olive oil or avocado oil
3 tablespoons water and 1/2 teaspoon corn starch (mixed)
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon honey granules (okay to substitute raw or light brown sugar)
1/2 teaspoon anchovy syrup (okay to substitute fish sauce)
1/2 tablespoon coconut aminos (okay to substitute oyster sauce)
Click on ingredients to see what brands I use
Mix the corn starch with water, set aside.
Slice the scapes and the summer squash lengthwise into thin strips about the size of a green bean.
Sauté the scapes, garlic and ginger in oil until just starting to soften, about 1o minutes. Add the summer squash to the pan and salt to taste. Cook a few minutes more until the squash is tender, about 4 minutes.
Optional (omit this step if you don’t want glazed veggies): add in the seasoning (rice wine, sesame oil, sugar, anchovy sauce and coconut aminos) and the corn starch water. Do a quick stir for 30 seconds, dish up and serve hot over quinoa or a piece of meat or fish.
Note: if I had a shallot on hand, I would diced it up into the scapes.