It’s the time of year when everything is bursting into life, apparently almost overnight. What was a scrubby slope in our local park a couple of weeks back, bare but for a straggle of ivy and a layer of leaf mould, is now a carpet of wild garlic, also known as ransoms or bear’s garlic.
The long, elegant pointed leaves resemble those of fellow shade-lover lily of the valley, but up close there’s no confusing it with anything else – the smell is clean, green, and pungently, unmistakably garlicky.
Eaten raw, the leaves – and, later in the season, the stems and starburst white flowers – are almost overwhelming. But wilted down, either in the water that clings to them after you’ve given them a good wash, or with the addition of a knob of butter, the powerful flavour grows milder and sweeter, though it still packs a punch.
Look for wild garlic in moist, shady or semi-shady woodland spots, where it often grows alongside bluebells. Pick carefully to avoid uprooting or trampling the plants, and remember, a little goes a long way.
Excellent as a soup (add a cubed peeled potato or two and simmer in good stock before blending), or stirred into scrambled eggs, the leaves also have an affinity with fish, and with aromatic curry flavours. I first started playing around with wild garlic and spices after reading Skye Gyngell’s wonderful My Favourite Ingredients, in which she matches wild garlic with white beans, cardamom, fresh lime and curry leaves.
This simpler version, based on the spices I had in the cupboard, balances spicy fragrance and heat with the freshness of tomatoes and the earthy sweetness of the wild garlic and the whiting fillets. At less than £4 for the fish it was a satisfyingly thrifty supper too.
Whiting and wild garlic curry
Serves 2 greedy people
300-400g prepared fish – I used whiting fillets – cut into chunks
½ onion, thinly sliced
½ tin chopped plum tomatoes
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
1½ tsp cumin seeds
1½ tsp coriander seeds
1½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp turmeric
½ dried chilli (you may need more)
50g creamed coconut
Generous handful wild garlic leaves, washed thoroughly and excess water shaken off
Basmati rice to serve
Heat some oil in a heavy-based pan. Add the onions, and allow to soften for a few minutes without colouring too much. Grind the whole spices and add to the onion, along with the turmeric and crumbled dried chilli. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add the tomatoes, and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add the creamed coconut and stir until it melts into the sauce. If the sauce looks too thick, add a splash of water.
Add the chunks of fish, and the washed garlic leaves, roughly chopped. Put the lid on the pot and leave to simmer for a few minutes until the fish is cooked through and the garlic has wilted.
Serve with basmati rice. I made a simple pilau by heating a couple of cardamom pods, bay leaves and half a cinnamon stick in oil, then stirring the rice in before adding water and a pinch of salt.