Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shrimp with Green Garlic

Spring is all about green shoots and new growth. We tilt towards the sun, the ground warms, and the first spring crops come peeking through. Last week I helped transplant tomato starts outside, my hands full of that green-spring tomato-leaf smell. It sort of makes you heady with thoughts of what's to come.

But amidst all of this potential, there's a bit of destruction as well. I refer to the inevitable springtime thinning of the garden. For those who don't grow, here's how it works: when you plant seeds directly into the garden soil, you've got to hedge your bets against the inevitable non-starters, and sprinkle in a few extra. Or sometimes they're just so darned tiny it's hard to keep track. But often the seeds prove you wrong, and sprout up in a thicket. In order to give your plants enough room to grow, you've got to pull up a bunch of these little green babies.

Sometimes you can find a friend whose garden needs some extra seedlings, or sometimes you set a box of uprooted plants on the curb to seek a new home. Sometimes you're so weary from crouching in the dirt that you just toss them on the compost pile. And sometimes, in the case of green garlic, you can eat them.

Green garlic, which is available at farmer's markets now (at least in the Pacific Northwest), looks a bit like scallions:

In fact, it's just your standard garlic plant, but uprooted before the cloves have had a chance to fully form and swell (the ones you'll see in the markets are generally a bit thicker than the home-harvested examples above). They're a bit too nippy to eat like scallions, but are lovely when pounded into a pesto, or incorporated into a saute. Cooked, they mellow and soften, yielding a flavor that has both a garlicky depth and a springtime green freshness.

This particularly recipe, adapted from the lovely Chez Pim, is like green garlic itself: both springtime-light and full of flavor. Shrimp and green garlic are sauteed with a simple sauce of curry powder and fish sauce. In my limited Southeast Asian seasoning pantheon, fish sauce is always bff with lime juice, and seldom ventures out alone. And certainly not with curry powder. But they work shockingly well together, forming a sauce whose flavor seems to be much greater than the sum of its simple parts. Pulling up green shoots before their full prime can be a bit sad. But with green garlic, and dishes like this one, it's a fairly delicious sacrifice.

Shrimp with Green Garlic

adapted from Chez Pim, but simplified and tweaked a bit
serves 2-3

1 Tbsp neutral oil, like canola
1/2 cup (or more, if you have it) green garlic, julienned into 2" matchsticks
1 lb shrimp, shelled (I like to sit mine in a saltwater brine for about 15 minutes before draining and cooking to add flavor and moisture, but that's optional)
1 tsp curry powder
1 Tbsp fish sauce
splash water (1-2 Tbsp)
cooked jasmine rice for serving

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over a medium-high heat. When hot, add the green garlic, and saute, stirring often, until it softens but doesn't color (~3-5 minutes). When the green garlic is soft, add the shrimp, cooking a few minutes until just shy of done (time will vary depending on the size of your shrimp and how well-done you like them, but it shouldn't take long). Sprinkle on the curry powder, stir to combine and toast the powder, then add the fish sauce and water to form a bit of sauce. Let cook a moment to remove the harsh edge, then remove from heat. Serve with the rice.


  1. This looks really, really good and I love your photos! You are so right about tomatoes, since this is exactly the time of year that I can not wait for a proper tomato; I cheated today and got a box of organic Californian cherry tomatoes, and they are pretty good - curbing the desire for a homegrown specimen for a little bit anyway...

    (Did you use a red or green curry powder or the yellow turmeric based kind? It's going on the bookmark list for when our farm markets open here.)

  2. Aw thanks about the photos. Yours are pretty lovely as well. As for the curry powder, I just used a standard turmeric-yellow Indian-style curry powder. It really turns into something else with the fish sauce and green garlic.

  3. We planted garlic in the garden this year, so I'm looking forward to this!

  4. Looks great. Maybe I should start eating shellfish again. I have never heard of green garlic before. Thanks for the recipe.