Wild garlic is brown bears' delicacy hence it is also called 'bear garlic' or 'bear leek' since like garlic and leeks it is a member of allium family.
What is wild garlic?
Wild garlic, bear’s garlic or ramsons (known as ramps in the United States) turns up in spring in woody, wet, marshy lands and down in the overgrown part of my garden.
I’ll admit the latter is not entirely indigenous, as I’d planted it a couple of years back. So should I perhaps call it 'tame garlic'?
The wide flat leaves, bright green or yellowing slightly if there’s not much sun reaching them, can easily be confused with lily-of-the-valley and other grass-like growth but I promise the genuine article will always be scarcer.
And so strongly smelling of garlic you can't mistake it when you rub a leaf in your hand.
It is native to Britain and I’m not quite sure how common it is outside the British Isles. But considering its alternative name 'bear leek' I figure it must thrive in places where bears roam, as sadly there are no bears in the UK.
Though if you go down to the woods today…
As my example shows, it can be planted or sown from seed, preferably in a shady part of a garden. It's a perennial so once it has taken, you can enjoy its short, fragrant crop every spring.
I treat wild garlic as herb, adding to salads and meats or flavouring soups. This recipe features a matching pair of alliums: common leeks and bear’s leeks, and they complement each other in a harmonious way.
How to cook leeks?
Some recipes claim that leeks are fake asparagus and that they can be lightly cooked and presented in spears. Not a good idea: leeks prepared like that will be stringy, no matter how much butter you drown them in.
Small thin specimen might be tender if cooked like that but they will lack flavour.
I much prefer fat and tall leeks but I think they must be chopped at least roughly. I don't believe in the other extreme, of slicing leeks into paper-thin rounds so when cooked, they become pulp.
Slicing thinly is okay but only if you want to have your leeks raw, in a slaw.
They don't need a long time on the hob. As in the recipe below, I like to chop them thickly and start off over high heat, barely stirring, so they char and caramelise a little. A drop of honey added to the leeks is a good idea at this stage, to help the caramelisation.
Once they soften a little, cream and/or soft cheese can be stirred in.
Creamy leeks should not be soupy so it's only a couple of tablespoons of cream that they will need. Blue, cream or any other soft cheese will help the dish thicken.
And finally the seasonal ingredient, the star of the show: wild garlic, coarsely chopped, added at the very last minute.
What to use instead of wild garlic?
Needless to say, you can cook leeks like this without wild garlic, out of its painfully short season or if no marshes or wet woodland are nearby.
Instead, add some fresh chopped dill or a bit of ordinary garlic and some chopped parsley.
More leek recipes
Did you know how good leeks are raw? Thinly sliced, with cucumber and radish for company and the lightest mayonnaise dressing, leek slaw is vibrant and healthy.
The simplest chicken dish I make - and one of the most popular in my house - is creamy chicken with leeks and mushrooms.
Leeks go well with fish: try halibut with braised leeks, as easy a dish as it it tasty and impressive.