Oh garlic mustard. Let me count the ways I hate thee. Seriously, I hate this plant, it’s nothing less than a scourge on the woodlands and sugarbushes in my area, so when I eat it, it’s usually seasoned with plenty of spite. Sure, I know plenty of people that like to eat it, “eat the invasives” they say, as if plucking a few leaves here and there actually makes a difference–garlic mustard cares not for your Instagram photos of it made into pesto. The basal leaves are strongly bitter, and I don’t do too much with them besides make some ricotta dip once in a while for the nastalgia of recreating an old restaurant recipe I used to make. But, I have to admit that the shoots, now those are actually good.
Now, I don’t know exactly whats happening with garlic mustard shoots, but they don’t taste nearly as strong as the early basal leaves. The shoots are tender, long and silky, a bit like thin asparagus, and the bitterness is still there, but it’s tamed a bit–a similarity I see with lots of different plants with strong flavors when you eat different, young growing parts.
Cow parsnip blossoms and angelica blossoms for example, can be tossed directly in a pan and cooked and are delicious, where if you took the leaves of the plant and cooked them they would taste strong like some kind of medicine. It’s something to do with the magic of meristematic, young growing plant tissue. Whatever it is, I’ll actually harvest garlic mustard shoots and enjoy them as a vegetable, it is, to me, by far the best part of the plant. They’re even better when you melt some ramp leaf butter over them. Here’s a simple recipe.
Garlic mustard shoots with ramp leaf butter
- 8 oz garlic mustard shoots
- 4 tablespoons ramp leaf butter or more to taste
- Toasted sesame seeds a sprinkle to garnish, optional
- Cut the shoots into manageable lengths like asparagus.
- Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil (roughly 1 tablespoon per quart).
- Blanch the garlic mustard shoots until just tender (try one). It shouldn't take too long, and I generally blanch most things for under a minute to make sure they keep their integrity.
- Don't hammer them, they should still have some life, if your shoots end up mushy you went too far. Meanwhile, melt the ramp leaf butter--a microwave is fine. Make sure to inhale the aroma of garlic breadsticks that comes off of it.
- Remove the blanched shoots and drain well, then put on a serving plate, drizzle all over with the ramp leaf butter and sesame and eat hot.