Garlic is known as the stinking rose and is one of the most commonly used spices around the world. Dating back to early Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans, garlic has also been used for its many medicinal and nutritional properties. The active compound in garlic is a sulfur compound called allicin, which is what gives it the distinct smell, flavour and health benefits.
Garlic is a good source of minerals such as, selenium, calcium and phosphorus, plus it is a very good source of vitamin C, B6 and manganese. It has been proven to help improve cardiovascular health by reducing cholesterol and high blood pressure, it is an anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and also works as an anti-microbial, making it a great go-to for fighting off colds and flus.
Research shows that garlic can limit the amount of LDL or bad cholesterol in the blood, helping reduce and prevent high cholesterol. The sulfur compounds also work as an anti-inflammatory in the system, making it helpful in reducing the damage that can occur to the lining of the blood vessels. This damage can then promote the build up of plaque and lead to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Newer research has also shown that the sulfides in garlic can make hydrogen sulfide, and when this is released from the red blood cells it can dilate the blood vessels and maintain and reduce the pressure caused by hypertension or high blood pressure. For maximum cardiovascular benefits, it is recommended to take a supplement form of garlic as a high concentration is required.
One of the most commonly known benefits of garlic is its antimicrobial properties, giving it the ability to fight bacteria, viruses, parasites, and yeast. Since ancient times it has been used to ward off infections and fight the spread of illness. Again, the benefits come from the many sulfide compounds, including allicin. Garlic in its raw food form is most beneficial for immune boosting and fighting needs, but many supplements also prove effective.
To pick the perfect bulb of garlic, there are only a couple things to keep in mind. Although garlic is readily available year around, it is actually in season from mid-summer through until the end of the fall. So of course this will be the ideal time to purchase it. You want to pick a bulb of garlic that is unblemished, has dry skins and firm cloves around the outside. You will also want to avoid anything that is sprouting already. Sometimes they can feel almost hollow, which is a sign of garlic that hasn’t been stored properly. Garlic is also one of those things that stores really well. I actually buy a couple garlic braids every summer and it lasts me the whole year. I just keep it in a cool dry place and it has a great shelf life.
The first thing that you are going to do when preparing garlic for anything is to remove the cloves from the bulb, and then remove all of the skin. There are a couple of tricks to doing this that will really make it easy. First, you will want to cut the base of the garlic bulb off, this is where the roots are coming out of and is essentially holding the bulb together. Following this, you will do the same at the top of the bulb. Once you have made these to cuts, all of the cloves should come off relatively easily. Now to the skin. To remove the skin, I place all of my cloves on my cutting board and apply pressure either using my hand or the side of my chef’s knife. What you are doing is slightly crunching the garlic to loosen the skin. Once I have done this, I throw all my garlic in a container, throw a lid on there and shake it up. This will separate the cloves from the skins. Now your garlic is ready to be added to be chopped and added to any recipe.
Garlic is used in almost all cultures and cuisines around the world, so it can be paired with a very wide array of ingredients. Of course, you have to be really careful of what you are going to match it with as it can be quite overpowering. Generally, it will go quite well with other “loud” foods, this includes stronger spices such as curry, garam masala, cumin and paprika or other forward flavoured vegetables like brassica vegetables (broccoli, kale, cabbages). Of course one of its classic mates is tomatoes, and most of the other nightshade vegetables.
There are various ways that garlic can be cooked and eaten, but a few techniques are most common. Roasting it is probably the most popular way and this can be achieved a couple ways. You can either roast the whole bulb of garlic, or remove the cloves and roast them separately. The latter will be quite a bit quicker, as roasting it whole can take 30–40 minutes. So normally at home, I would cook place the cloves in a small pot with some oil and cook it over medium heat. Of course it can be chopped up and sautéed with most things as well, which will incorporate that great garlic flavour.
Chef Johnston’s very favourite way to eat garlic though is poaching it in milk. This makes for the best roast garlic puree to use in other dishes. All you do is simmer the cloves in milk until they are soft, about 15–20 minutes. This really gives the garlic an exceptional taste and texture, really brings out the sweetness of it.
Article was published in The Good Life magazine.