Springtime is awash with all sorts of mysterious and strange vegetables. Not to dethrone summer, which is obviously the queen of produce, but spring is a fine court jester.
One of the things I find most satisfying in my cooking experiences is the ability to play with food. I like to find humor in what I cook and eat. Food humor isn't usually of the laugh-out-loud variety, but of the smug, coy, you'll-never-guess-what-my-secret-ingredient-is sort of humor. This is the one redeeming thing about molecular gastronomy in my mind. I have issues with the whole Food That Isn't Food movement--you know, pickle-flavored air and truffle foam on top of a sweet pea emulsion. I like to be able to chew my food, thanks. But I will hand it to those rogue chefs--they know how to play, and for that I salute them.
That's why springtime is so great for cooking. First, you have the utterly baffling rhubarb with its electric pink stalks and tongue-curdling sourness. Is it a fruit or a vegetable? What do I do with it? Then comes asparagus, poking wierdly from the soil and offering up the first fresh chlorophyll of the season. Then you have ramps and morels, both inhabitants of the woods and highly prized by foragers and gourmets alike. I try to take advantage of all these, but I have a soft spot for the garlic scape.
As a garlic bulb grows beneath the soil, it will eventually send up a little green shoot. This is the scape. The growth of the bulb will be hampered if the scape is left on the plant, so most farmers cut it off. Lucky is he who finds the scape at his farmer's market. If you eat a garlic scape raw, you'll notice that it has all the flavor of the garlic clove but without the sting. When scapes are in season, I use them raw and cooked. A raw scape is a nugget of flavor and has a lovely, tender crunch. A cooked scape is savory and slightly sweet with a tender bite. You really can't lose either way.
To accompany a stuffed leg of lamb that my darlin' cooked last night, I made a rough approximation of tabbouleh with garlic scapes. Instead of parsley, I used mustard greens for roughage. Blanching the mustard briefly before chopping it up removes any bitterness or fuzziness. And for those of you who aren't familiar with the grain, bulgur is a really fabulous addition to salads, soups, and yeast breads. It has a very slight crunch to it and a lovely nutty flavor. My favorite brand is Bob's Red Mill. It's slightly more rustic than the stuff you usually get in bulk bins.
Tabbouleh with Mustard Greens and Garlic Scapes
1 cup bulgur
into a large bowl. Boil 2 cups water and pour over the bulgur. Allow this to sit for about 30 minutes until the water has been absorbed and the bulgur is softened and slightly fluffy-looking. If there is any water that has not been absorbed, simply strain the bulgur.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add:
1 large bunch mustard greens, roughly torn and tough stalks removed
Blanch briefly, about 1 minute. Drain and try to remove as much water as possible. I used a salad spinner, but a dish towel and a good arm will work, too. Chop the mustard finely and add to the bulgur. Stir in:
1/2 a large, English cucumber, roughly chopped
3-5 garlic scapes, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 handful mint leaves, chopped
1 handful dill fronds, chopped
3 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Refrigerate until well-chilled.