April is National Garlic Month, a good reason to celebrate the nutritional powerhouse that impacts our cuisine, our health and even our gardens. Read on for garlic kitchen tips from Chef Mary Helen Hawkins of Mississippi University for Women's Culinary Arts Institute. Photo by: besthealthmag.ca
April 25, 2018 10:26:41 AM
Vampire lore aside, garlic is an interesting culinary character -- a nutritional powerhouse, "nature's wonder drug," "the stinking rose," revered through history for its medicinal properties, prized for its intense flavor.
This member of the onion family is high in a sulfur compound called allicin, with potent health impacts ranging from lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol levels to boosting the immune system, according to healthline.com. Evidence indicates garlic was even one of the earliest "performance enhancing" substances, used in ancient cultures to reduce fatigue and boost work capacity of laborers. It was even administered to Olympic athletes in ancient Greece, says allicinfacts.com.
Today, however, we focus more on garlic's role in the kitchen, where its potential is almost limitless. Add it to dishes that are sauteed, roasted, baked or braised, says Danilo Alfaro at thespruceeats.com. Use it in soups, stir-frys, sauces, marinades and spice rubs. Mince it to flavor meatballs and sausages.
When Chef Mary Helen Hawkins of the Culinary Arts Institute at Mississippi University for Women and the Viking Cooking School teaches a class involving garlic, she always asks, "How many of you have minced garlic in a jar at home?" She then tells everyone who raises a hand to go home and throw it away.
"I understand that the garlic in the jar is more convenient, but it's important to know what you're putting in your body," Hawkins says.
A fresh head of garlic is superior in flavor, she notes. Jarred garlic is often heat-pasteurized which can cause the flavor to be compromised. And check the ingredients on the jar, especially if it's imported.
"That always gets everyone's attention," Hawkins says. "Many countries use chemicals like bleach to whiten garlic sold in jars."
A few basics
When it comes to garlic, the entire head is called a garlic bulb, while each segment is called a clove.
There are several types, and connoisseurs will seek out different bulbs for specific nuances. Softneck garlic tends to be the type most often found in supermarkets. (Two varieties are Artichoke and Silverskin.) Most processed garlic foods, like garlic powder and seasoning, come from softneck garlic.
Hardneck garlic, characterized by hard, woody central stalks, tend to have more flavor and sometimes verge on being spicy or hot, according to the "ultimate garlic cheat sheet" at food-hacks.wonderhowto.com.
Porcelain, Racombole and Purple Stripe are all varieties in the hardneck family. They complement roasts of gamier meats, like duck or venison, and vinaigrettes that have other hearty ingredients, like mustard or apple cider vinegar.
Additional types include Creole garlic and black garlic, among others.
When it comes to using fresh garlic, Hawkins shares some tips. One is a fast hack for breaking apart garlic bulbs or heads of garlic: Place a bulb in a bowl; cover it with another bowl and shake vigorously for 20 seconds.
Hawkins continues, "As a chef, I use my chef's knife for everything, but I actually prefer using a garlic press when mincing fresh garlic because of the oils that the press produces so quickly."
For a milder flavor, she recommends roasting garlic.
"Trim the top off the head of garlic. Drizzle the garlic with 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Roast it in a garlic baker or wrap it in foil for 45 minutes or until soft in a 400-degree oven," she instructs.
To help get rid of that garlic smell on your fingers, try rubbing the stainless steel handles of your garlic press, or rub your fingers with fresh lemon juice.
Garlic breath? The site farmflavor.com says to drink lemon juice or eat a few slices of lemon. And, an added bonus for the gardeners out there, if the rose garden is under attack by aphids, try spritzing the leaves and blooms with a mixture of crushed garlic and water.
Versatile seems to be the catchword for garlic -- in cooking, health and even pest control.
But for now, happy National Garlic Month. One of the recipes below may inspire your celebration.
SPICY GARLIC SHRIMP STIR-FRY
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
1 pound fresh shrimp
1/4 cup stir-fry sauce (we use sweet Thai)
2 garlic cloves
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1 teaspoon garlic chili paste
1 cup broccoli
1 cup snow peas
1 cup cauliflower
ROSEMARY, LEMON AND GARLIC STUFFED ROAST CHICKEN
Makes 4-6 servings
1 whole chicken, air chilled
1 garlic bulb, each clove halved
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
1/2 lemon, quartered
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pinch red chili flakes
A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh (but not touching the bone) should read 185 F or 85 C. Let rest 15 minutes before cutting up and serving.
Per serving for six: 412 calories, 35 g protein, 29 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 3 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 138 mg cholesterol, 130 mg sodium
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.