Go Ga-Ga for Garlic
How to make this aromatic herb work in your kitchen
There's a little unassuming bulb whose pungent flavor can transform the most basic bread, grains, vegetables, and meats, into memorable meals. Notorious for "perfuming" breath (and keeping vampires at bay), garlic is actually one of the world's oldest cultivated herbs; its use has been traced back to Ancient Egyptian culture. Over the past 5000 years, garlic's fame has spread around the globe, where it currently livens up recipes for appetizers, stews, and sauces worldwide.
Types of Garlic
Garlic is as ubiquitous as onions or potatoes on supermarket shelves, but if you'd like to try more than the one variety offered by most stores, you may have to do a little investigative work. Farmers' markets or garlic festivals are the perfect spots to find some of the lesser-known types of garlic--Rocambole, Porcelain, and Creole. For a delicious spring treat, chop up some garlic scapes (flower stalks of a maturing garlic plant). You can use it in place of garlic for a milder, slightly sweet flavor.
Unleash the Magic: Using Garlic
Remove garlic's thin, papery skin easily by crushing cloves between the flat side of the knife and a cutting board. Then you have your choice of methods to crush or mince garlic.
- Metal garlic presses are speedy and can protect your hands from taking on garlic's signature odor.
- Combine garlic cloves and a little salt in a mortar and pestle to make a smooth paste.
- Use a chef's knife and mince cloves by hand, but choose your cutting surface with care--garlic's odor lingers on until you clean it.
Sautéing is the most common form of garlic preparation, but chefs who want to broaden their horizons with this powerful little bulb can also try one of the following techniques:
- Poaching. Combine whole cloves of garlic with water, wine, or another cooking liquid; bring to a boil and then simmer for at least 30 minutes. Poached cloves can be used whole as a condiment or pureed in sauces.
- Roasting. For a nuttier flavor and creamy texture, remove the extra skin from a whole head of garlic; slice the very tips off each clove, and wrap the head in foil or place it in a garlic roaster with a little olive oil. Bake at 350°F for 2 hours. Roasted garlic can be spread on bread or added to stews or sauces.
- Rubbing. The most subtle way to sneak that garlic flavor into a dish is simply to rub a clove on the sides of a bowl or pot. Try this on your wooden bowl the next time you make a Cesar salad.
Get Garlicky! Cooking with Garlic
Open a cookbook from almost any country in the world and you find garlic listed among the primary ingredients in many recipes. Because it is such a versatile herb, you can use it in almost any dish. However, if you'd like to showcase garlic's delicious flavor, here are a few ideas:
- Use garlic scapes in place of basil in your favorite pesto recipe.
- Make your own aioli (garlic mayonnaise) to use as a dip or sandwich spread.
- Jazz up roasted or mashed potatoes with garlic for a crowd-pleasing side dish.
- Toss garlic with spaghetti and cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (with a little salt and pepper) for a simple, yet flavorful supper.
- Add a clove of garlic to homemade salad dressing to deepen the flavor. Remember that garlic marinated in olive oil is susceptible to botulism, so be sure to refrigerate any leftover dressing.
- For an adventurous (and memorable) finale to a meal, whip up some garlic ice cream!
Don't let fear of stinky breath dissuade you--garlic's culinary benefits far outweigh any temporary odor it may leave behind. Garnish your plates with a few sprigs of fresh parsley (known to freshen breath), and dig in!