“A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat”. ~Old New York Proverb
I used to work with a woman who was pretty hardy, ate fresh foods, and was super healthy. She spoke with a lovely German accent, missed her homeland, and was thrilled to be in the United States living the dream. I loved talking food with her and hearing about local foods she grew up enjoying. Us foodies really dig that type of thing! Garlic was at the top of her list of foods she always had growing up. I figured that out the first day she brought a garlic sandwich for lunch though! Fresh sliced garlic on bread. I never saw such a sandwich! But she was a very healthy woman, so I had to take notice.
I too love garlic. But I am a bit of a purist, a snob. Although I keep garlic powder in my kitchen spice cupboard, it is more there to appease my mother than to use when I cook. Sure I use it occasionally when I make a spice rub for meat or vegetables, but I tend to use fresh garlic most of the time.
Garlic has some terrific health benefits according to research. It has long been considered a cure all. Studies have certainly shown that garlic may help reduce cholesterol, slow the aging process, and improve cardiovascular health. Some even say that garlic can help prevent certain types of cancer. And it is most healthful when used raw. I just don’t see a down side to garlic–well–other than garlic breath. But just like my veterinarian likes puppy breath, I don’t mind garlic breath!
Growing up my mother made fabulous broiled steak for dinner. What a treat that was. So flavorful! And she would load the garlic powder on it, amongst other things, while it cooked. If that wasn’t enough, she brought garlic salt to the table. I am the youngest of 5, so as a young girl it took me a while to figure out the old dinner table joke that my older brothers would not be going on a date when we had steak for dinner! Let’s be honest here…garlic odor lingers. Strangely enough, though, being a foodie and having a super sensitive sniffer, I like the smell of garlic…and, like I said, garlic breath. Hey, we all have our quirks, right? But I guess not everyone appreciates the unmistakable scent of garlic when closing in for a good night kiss! Why does garlic smell so much?
Garlic is a member of the onion family-another deliciously scented food. And yes, that makes it a vegetable. We tend to think of garlic in more of a “spice” or “flavoring” way, but it is indeed a vegetable. Garlic has allicin, and it is a chemical activated when the garlic bulb is injured, such as when it is cut or chewed. Allicin is one of 33 compounds in garlic, and belongs to the sulfur family. It is a volatile compound. Volatility of the chemical is what makes the odor have some serious hang time. Kind of like gasoline at the pump. The molecules are very active so the odor quickly makes its way into the air and into our nostrils. In other words, the allicin makes the garlic pretty pungent.
Interestingly enough, heat renders that compound inactive. Cooked garlic is less pungent that fresh cut or chewed garlic for this reason. Garlic is delicious paired with so many things. I start many sauces with garlic, mix it in when I cook vegetables, and rub it on meats. Raw garlic is tasty, but my favorite way, and most decadent, is roasting it. Roasted garlic becomes so nutty and sweet you might be tempted to just pop it into your mouth. Garlic roasters are practically in every kitchen gadget store out there. Get one if you must, but guess what? Tin foil does the same job! Here is how to enjoy roasted garlic:
Peel most of the paper off a head of garlic. Cut the top of the cloves of garlic off and discard or save for later use. Place it stem side down and cut side up on a large piece of tin foil. Douse the head of garlic with a tablespoon or two of some good olive oil. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on it. Maybe a dash of italian seasonings too. Then pull the foil up around the garlic and crimp the seams up tight. Seal it, leaving a little breathing room around the bulb. Toss it into a preheated oven at 350 for about 30-40 minutes.
While that is in the oven, first and foremost breath deeply. Your kitchen will smell amazing. The sweet scent of roasted garlic will waft far and wide whetting the appetite of everyone around. Don’t bother calling for anyone to join you in the kitchen-the garlic will do that for you. Then pour yourself and any companions (over 21 puleez!) a nice glass of wine. Let the good conversation flow while all gather around. Pull out a loaf of crusty french bread. Go ahead and slice it up…or better yet have someone else do it. Get a small plate out. And I hope you didn’t put that olive oil away yet!
When the garlic is done carefully remove the pouch from the oven. Place it on a heat proof surface and open the top of the pouch. Be careful not to burn yourself! When the garlic cools a bit, remove it from the foil and squeeze the lovely golden cloves out onto the plate you pulled out. Mash them with the tines of a fork. Pour the olive oil from the pouch over the mashed garlic. Add a little more olive oil, and some salt and pepper. Take that bread and dip away! Let your eyes roll back as the delicious roasted garlic hits your palate. Release that long drawn out “mmmmmmmm”. Yeah, that’s the way to enjoy garlic! Friends gathered, roasted garlic, yummy aromas, bread and wine. It just doesn’t get any better! Bon appetite!