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You won’t miss the meat

Everything you grow in the garden can become a metaphor for life. Take garlic. It’s a plant. It’s a cooking ingredient. And it’s a thing that changes and grows and, yes, gets old and decays. But unlike, say, a carrot that goes inexorably from edible to compost, garlic traces the circle of life. You plant the sprouted cloves in autumn and then in spring you start to see those long curly scapes arching and backbending all over your garden. You cut off the scapes so the cloves will grow fat (you can eat the scapes). Then the cloves quietly grow and develop underground through the summer, and in fall, when the green leaves have turned brown, you unearth what used to be a single clove and discover (unless you’re a mediocre gardener, as I am) a big beautiful bulb of many cloves.You carefully cure your cloves so they will last through the winter. And then right about now, no matter how carefully you cured them, your garlics will begin to sprout and small green growths will swell in their center and pop out of the top. From a culinary point of view, this is annoying. From the point of view of optimistic renewal, it’s really cool.So now all my garlic cloves are sprouting, and probably yours are, too. And this means we have to make some choices. Do we take the fattest of the sprouted cloves and go stick them in the garden, hoping they will grow into nice fat multi-cloved heads? (Answer: yes.)And when we find these sprouted cloves on the kitchen counter, do we eat them? Even raw? (Answers: yes, yes.). Even the sprout? (Yes, yes, yes.)And will we find the sprout bitter? Perhaps. There seems to be a wide range of opinions on this particular topic. Although sometimes I manage to pop the green sprout out before I chop a clove for salad or sauté, there are also many times when I just chop up the whole thing and to be honest, I’ve never noticed any bitterness. But on the other hand, I don’t find eggplant unpleasantly bitter either, so it might just be a matter of taste.Since this is the health page, the question, of course, is whether sprouted garlic cloves (and sprouted onions) will make you sick. The answer, not very scientifically derived, is no. Some people in some countries go so far as to consider the sprout a delicacy. Some people pickle the sprouted cloves (the sprout makes a nice little handle, one website promises). I wouldn’t go that far. But I would not hesitate to use late winter’s green-fringed garlic for some of my favorite cold-weather comfort foods: sautéed spinach with garlic and onions; and garlic mashed potatoes. You can probably find some local spinach, if you’re lucky enough to know someone with a greenhouse. And you might still have some potatoes left from last year’s crop; if not, try the Millerton and Amenia farmers markets, which remain open through the winter (www.ameniafarmersmarket.com and www.neccmillerton.org/millerton_farmers_market.html). Served together, the spinach and the mashed potatoes make almost a full meal. I like to trim the sandy ends off the spinach and then soak the leaves in a big bowl or pot for an hour or so, changing the water once or twice. Then I boil a kettle full of water and pour it over the leaves, to shrink them to a manageable size. I sauté the finely chopped onions and garlic (yes, with the sprouts) in olive oil, squeeze the water out of the spinach leaves and then toss them in the hot sauté pan for just an instant (too long and they’ll shrivel unattractively). Season with coarse salt and ground pepper, maybe a squeeze of lemon to keep the leaves green, maybe a half teaspoon of sesame oil (you can barely taste it; it just makes it a scratch more interesting and complex). For the potatoes, boil them (peeled or not, you choose) and then, while they’re still hot, mash them up with some butter, cream, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Keep in mind that colored potatoes such as the blue ones that you can find at most markets these days have more nutrients in them. If you want to add a little tang, add some boiled mashed parsnip.

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