Garlic

Garlic

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

Since the earliest days of civilisation garlic has been the culinary symbol par excellence of social snobbery and prejudice. Reviled by the aristocracy, garlic was always the poor person’s food flavouring and medicine. The Egyptian pyramid builders and the Greek and Roman soldiers all ate garlic with their daily bread for strength and courage. It has traditionally been the common person’s cold and flu remedy and an antiseptic for healing wounds and skin conditions; contemporary research suggests that it helps prevent blood clots and even some cancers. To this day in the Middle East, many people still string garlic over their front door to ward off evil spirits, and of course we all know it to be an essential weapon against vampires!

Even up until the last few decades, garlic has been firmly linked in the Anglo-Saxon mind with all that is ‘foreign’. This prejudice centres around garlic’s strong smell and the way it lingers on the breath. Generally, though, garlic has enjoyed a surprising reversal of fortune of late. Nowadays people tend to be considered miserably unsophisticated if they claim not to like it.

If you are not keen on garlic, you might think that Middle Eastern food is not for you, as garlic and its companion allium, the onion, are the fundamental savoury starting points for nearly every dish from Barcelona to Baghdad and Cannes to Cairo. The trick, though, is subtlety and a delicate hand. Everybody’s garlic threshold is different; and besides, garlic shouldn’t overpower every other flavour in a dish, but add an earthy depth and complexity.

Garlic is frequently combined with olive oil in a range of dressings, marinades, sauces and soups. At its most basic, this can be a simple emulsion, sharpened with a squeeze of lemon juice; at its most unctuous, the legendary aïoli, a rich garlicky mayonnaise much loved in the South of France. In Lebanon and Syria they make toum – a sublime garlic sauce as light and fluffy as whipped cream. In Greece they pound garlic and oil with bread to make skordalia. In Spain they add tomatoes, peppers and onion to make the zesty summer soup gazpacho. The Moorish version uses almonds instead, and is at once creamy and refreshing. The Turks pound walnuts with garlic and oil to make the delicious sauce known as ‘tarator’. While the Lebanese usually make their own version of tarator using pine nuts.

Selecting and storing garlic

Garlic is available all year round, but is sweeter and more delicate in the spring. New season’s garlic boasts plump, tightly packed heads of white juicy cloves, with soft, moist skins. By winter, the cloves are noticeably looser and harder, with dry, brittle papery skins that can even become woody. Older garlic can often begin to germinate and develop a green shoot in its centre. This has a bitter unpleasant flavour and should be pinched out and discarded.

Choose heads of garlic which are firm and weighty. Always check for bruising and blemishes, and avoid any heads that have shrunken withered cloves or are obviously mouldy on the outside. Store garlic in a cool, dry place rather than the refrigerator where it is more likely to go mouldy. It will start to sprout if kept too long, so use within a week or so of purchase.

Using garlic

To roast individual cloves or a whole head of garlic, they do not need to be peeled entirely. Simply tidy them up and remove extra layers of papery skin. Individual cloves can be tucked in next to a roast, or you can oven-bake the whole head – some people like to wrap it in foil. When we roast a leg of lamb or a whole chicken at home, we always stuff a handful of garlic cloves alongside, or among the accompanying roast vegetables. The garlic cloves emerge from the oven all shrivelled, but when you pierce the skin you discover that the insides have transformed into a delicate, mellow, buttery paste, which is just divine mushed in with the gravy and smeared over a mouthful of meat or potato. One word of warning though: only add the garlic to the roasting pan once the initial blast of heat has been turned down. After the mellow creamy stage they quickly start to caramelise, becoming sticky and brown. Beyond that they turn to blackened cinders.

If a dish calls for whole cloves of garlic, the best way to peel them is to slice off the base of the clove and carefully peel the skin away with a small sharp knife. Otherwise, crush the clove firmly with the flat side of a broad heavy knife, as close the to handle as you can get, for maximum pressure. The skin should then peel away easily.

Many recipes call for finely chopped or minced garlic. The simplest way to achieve this is to crush the peeled garlic and a little coarse salt to a smooth paste using a mortar and pestle. It only takes a moment, as the gritty salt quickly breaks the garlic down to a silky smooth paste. An added benefit is this paste dissolves away into the food, rather than hanging around as fierce little lumps. Chopping with a sharp kitchen knife is fine of course, but your fingers and chopping board always end up smelling of garlic.

The flavour and strength of garlic depends partly on its age, but also on whether it is eaten raw or cooked. It is at its most fiery when eaten raw, but both its flavour and texture soften and mellow on cooking. Dried-up old-season’s garlic it can often be far too astringent to be enjoyable. One way of improving the flavour somewhat is to blanch it in boiling water for 30 seconds before use.

Recipes in this Chapter

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