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Garlic- Another Spring Crop And Global Favorite


We’ve been talking about spring produce lately and of all spring crops, garlic possibly has the longest history and is the most universally known and loved. Native to Central Asia, now found globally, related to the onion, it’s been used in cooking and medicinally for over 7,ooo years.  The Egyptians, Romans and Greeks valued it highly and its distinctive flavor has played a feature role in every major cuisine since, and some not-so –famous ones too.  The Algonquian Indians named the meadows around Lake Michigan “Garlic Place” or “Chicago” and the name stuck when the town was built in the early 1800s.

Garlic’s medicinal applications were soon over-shadowed by its culinary ones but they do still persist. Originally it was thought to cure poxes and dropsy. Through WW II it was used as an emergency antiseptic. Today it’s sold powdered in pill form to reduce cholesterol, and believed to be a cancer preventative.

The taste is most assertive when chopped raw. Heating mellows it, and to tame the taste even further in cooked dishes, refrigeration does the trick. However, otherwise avoid refrigeration, it encourages rot. Garlic is best kept in a cool, dry, dark place and checked often because not only does it easily mold but it will shrivel to nothing as its juices evaporate. Always buy bulbs heavy for their size, firm and with no sign of mold or sprouting.

To loosen the cloves, place the head on a hard surface and press down on the root end. To peel the cloves:

  • Fold them in a dish towel and rub vigorously
  • Drop in a pot of boiling water for 45 sec. Squeeze the clove and the skin pops off.
  • Place the blade of a large knife over the clove and smack it forcefully with the heel of your hand, the peel pops off
  • Microwave the head on high for 1 min. turning halfway through. Let cool and slip the skins off. Sautee leftover cloves in oil to cover for 5 min. and store in the refrigerator for 1 week. Later use the oil for salads.

To chop garlic, lay the clove flat and julienne it lengthwise, then lay it on its side and thinly slice it again, then slice it crosswise into fine dice. An easier way to break up a garlic clove for cooking is to mash it. Put it in a garlic press, peel and all, the meat goes through, the peel is left behind and the press is easily cleaned with a toothbrush. Garlic juice has a sticky quality. In fact Italian jewelers use it to repair cracks in opaque stones like jade and quartz. To keep the knife moving smoothly as the garlic is chopped, sprinkle with salt, about 1/8th tsp. per 3 cloves will do.

As mentioned, cooking tames garlic’s assertiveness, so for a more mellow or subtle flavor, sauté it briefly in oil before adding to a dish. This is especially helpful in seasoning cold foods and/or dishes like salads and spreads. Raw garlic can be baked when added to other dishes, but by itself, it’s usually sautéed or roasted, although the Chinese do fry it. The sauté is done in oil not butter, preferably over low heat, because butter browns quickly and garlic needs time to turn golden. Well browned or burnt garlic is bitter. Only enough oil is needed to allow it to turn easily for even cooking and never add it to hot oil. To roast garlic:

  • Place one or several heads in a baking dish, adding enough oil to come halfway up the side, cover with foil and bake at 325 deg. for 1 hour.
  • Place the head upside down in a baking dish, add 1/8 inch of milk, cover and microwave for 7 min. Turn right side up, drizzle with ½ tsp. oil and bake in a 375 deg. oven for 20 min.
  • OR buy a clay garlic roaster and use as directed. Alternately get a small clay flowerpot (NOT glazed) and matching saucer–about 3-31/2 inches high. Trim a wine bottle cork to fill about 2/3 of the drainage hole – leaving the small space open to vent. Remove outer leaves and slice the top off a head of garlic, exposing the tips of the cloves and place it on the saucer. Pour over 1 Tbs. olive oil. Cover with the pot as a lid, and microwave on high 1 min. Depending on power of your machine may need a bit more time. Squeeze the garlic cloves into a bowl and mash or use as is. Store in a glass jar, refrigerated with oil. Later use the oil for salads.

Once the garlic is roasted, you can squeeze the cloves out and spread them on bread, keep them in oil in a jar in the refrigerator for a few weeks or mash them into a paste. The paste can be used as a spread, flavoring for sauces, rice dishes, dressings, dips etc. or spooned under the skin of poultry before cooking, or on meat as it grills.

Garlic does leave an odor. To remove it from a cutting board, scrub with baking soda mixed with enough water to make a paste. To remove the odor from hands, rub them with a piece of stainless steel, a spoon, knife or pot will do, under running water or scrub with lemon juice and salt. To cleanse the breath, chew parsley, drink lemon juice with honey or eat lemon or lime sherbet.

As for commercially available forms of garlic, I find jarred cloves are more decoration than flavor. They look well whole or sliced in a dish but need reinforcement for impact.  For me, Garlic Salt is too light on garlic and too heavy on salt. Chopped dried garlic has a bit more taste but can turn a dish ‘grainy’ if not rehydrated enough, unless you want a crunchy texture. Dried sliced is slightly better and holds up well in cooking but may need some reinforcement to achieve desired flavor. My go-to is Garlic Powder. It incorporates into a dish as smoothly as pureed, the flavor can be controlled. And it’s easy to use; a little sprinkle on roasting chicken or in many cream sauces adds ‘that finishing touch.’ A bottle on the pantry shelf is always welcome. In fact it can be an alternative choice in most recipes if you don’t want to work with fresh, including several of the international recipes below. I choose them to show garlic is truly a global food.

Indian Chutney:  1 ½ cup yield
2 cups cored and chopped apples
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup raisins
2 minced garlic cloves
1/3 cup vinegar
¼ cup EACH brown sugar and water
1 Tbs. curry powder
½ tsp. EACH salt and ground ginger
1/8 tsp. Each cinnamon and cloves
2 Tbs. candied citron*
Cook everything together in an uncovered pot over low heat for 50 min. stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Cool and put in jelly jars. I cover the top with paraffin.  Stored in a cool, dark place this will keep for 1 year.
*Available in supermarkets and some Dollar Stores before Christmas.

Mexican Artichoke Salad: 8 servings ½ cup each
(2) 16 oz. cans artichoke hearts drained and halved or 8 medium artichokes
¾ cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. minced garlic
¼ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. dried basil
1 Tbs. sugar
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup olive oil
Fresh greens
If using fresh artichokes, remove the outer leaves, slice about ¼  off the tops, peel the tough outer layer from the stems, cut in half and remove the fuzzy choke.  Add to boiling water to cover, with a little lemon juice and salt, cook for 45 min. Drain and cool.  Combine all the other ingredients in a jar, shake well and pour over the artichokes. Allow to marinate, chilled at least 1 hour before serving. Toss gently and serve over sliced greens. This goes best over heartier greens, spinach or blanched kale, with stems removed.

Italian Garlic Alfredo Sauce: Serves 4
1 cup fat-free evaporated milk
½  cup half and half
1 ¼ cups grated Parmesan
8 mashed , roasted garlic cloves
¼ tsp. pepper
2 chopped scallions
12 oz. cooked pasta
Bring milk and ½ and ½ to a light simmer. Stir in 1 cup cheese and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and mix in garlic, pepper and scallions. Toss with cooked pasta and garnish with remaining cheese. Serve hot.

French Garlic Soup: Serves 6-8
3 quarts water-optionally use canned vegetable broth for all or part
2 cups EACH sliced carrots, diced potatoes, diced onion
1 Tbs. salt
2 cups cut green beans-frozen is fine
2 cups canned white beans like Navy
1/3 cup strand pasta like spaghetti broken in pieces
1slice stale white bread – crumbled
1/8 tsp. pepper
Pinch saffron

4 cloves mashed garlic
6 Tbs. tomato puree
¼ cup chopped fresh basil or 1 ½ Tbs. dried
½ cup grated Parmesan
¼ to ½ cup olive oil
Boil first 3 ingredients for 40 min. Add the next 6 and cook for 20 min. Meanwhile make the Pistou. Place first 4 ingredients in the bottom of the soup tureen or serving bowl and mix to a paste with a wooden spoon. Whisk in the oil by the drop until the consistency of a sauce. When soup is cooked, whisk in 1 cup then stir in the rest. Serve soup with rounds of toasted bread brushed with olive oil.

American Garlic Flavored Fish Steaks: For (2) I inch steaks
2 Halibut, Swordfish, Marlin or Tuna steaks about 1-1 ½ inch thick
2 cloves garlic minced
6 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. EACH salt and pepper
1 Tbs. lemon or lime juice
Chopped parsley
Mix all the marinade ingredients and steep the fish 1 ½ to 2 hours. Grill or broil fish about 4 inches from heat source 4-7 min. per side, depending on thickness of the steaks. Use the marinade to baste occasionally. Heat the balance of the marinade, serve as sauce over the fish and garnish with parsley.

Cuban Garlic Citrus Sauce: Yield 1 cup
5 cloves  minced garlic
1/3 cup olive oil
3 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 Tbs. orange juice
½ tsp. EACH dried oregano and ground cumin
2 Tbs. water
Ground pepper and preferably Kosher salt to taste.
Heat oil in a deep pan over medium heat. Cook garlic and cilantro until just beginning to brown, about  2-3 min. Add the juices, herbs and water, boil for about 2 min. until juices mellow. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cool to room temperature before using. Store, refrigerated in an airtight jar. Shake well before using, Keeps for 7-10 days. Use on roasted or grilled poultry or pork.

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