Garlic may not always bring good luck, or ward off vampires, but it is guaranteed to give any dish a delicious flavor, wonderful aroma and create a healthy culinary experience.
While dried varieties are available all year, fresh varieties from California are in season from July – December.
Garlic is a potent and healthy member of the Allium (onion) family. Garlic's numerous health benefits include; that it may protect against stomach and colon cancer, it slows the build-up of artery-clogging plaque, prevents the formation of blood clots, helps lower blood pressure, reduces the chances of infection and relieves nasal congestion and sinusitis. The numerous beneficial cardiovascular effects are due to not only sulfur compounds found in garlic, but its vitamin C, vitamin B6, selenium and manganese components. Garlic’s anti-inflammatory compounds & vitamin C , make it useful for helping to protect against some cases of asthma attacks and may also help reduce the pain and inflammation of osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, allicin, one of the sulfur-compounds (responsible for garlic's characteristic odor), is a powerful antibacterial/antiviral agent that joins forces with vitamin C to help kill harmful microbes. Allicin has been shown to be effective against common infections like colds, flu, and stomach viruses.
There are approximately 300 varieties of garlic grown around the world, but most garlic grown in the US--about 90% of it in California--is of two types, "early" and "late." The early variety, harvested in mid-summer, is white or off-white in color; the late variety, harvested a few weeks later, has a similarly colored outer skin, but the sheaths covering the individual cloves are pinkish. This variety is slightly denser than the early one and also has a longer storage life. A third harder-to-find type, Chileno, is a reddish, sharp-tasting garlic imported from Mexico. Elephant garlic, with its large cloves, resembles garlic, but is actually a form of leek it has a milder flavor than regular garlic. It doesn't provide the same degree of health benefits as regular garlic.
When buying garlic choose a healthy, solid bulb. Garlic bulbs should be plump and compact with taut, unbroken skin. Avoid damp or soft spots. A heavy, firm bulb indicates that the garlic is fresh & flavorful. If the bulb feels light, or gives under your fingers, the contents may have dried to dust. Check out the clove formation. A bulb of garlic may contain a "standard" eight cloves, or as many as 40: Choose a bulb with large cloves, the small cloves are tedious to peel.
When storing garlic, prevent sprouting, by keeping it in a cool, dark spot. Place in a loosely covered container, out of the sun and away any other heat source. Garlic will keep from a few weeks to a few months, depending on variety, its age, and storage conditions. Garlic should keep well in the refrigerator for a week or two. Do not put uncooked garlic in the freezer, this destroys its texture & flavor.
To peel garlic cloves, place them on a cutting board and lay the flat side of a broad knife on top. Tap the knife with your closed fist. A fairly gentle impact is all that's required to split the peels without smashing the cloves. The finer the garlic is chopped, the more flavorful it will be.
If you plan on cooking garlic, let it stand for 10 minutes after chopping or crushing it. The majority of garlic's health benefits are the result of the conversion of the sulfur compound alliin to allicin that occurs when the cloves are chopped, crushed, or chewed. If garlic is cooked immediately after chopping, allicin never forms and the health benefits are lost!
If a recipe calls for onions and garlic to be cooked together, sauté the onion first for a few minutes, then add the garlic. Garlic takes less time to cook and the juices from the onions will help to protect the garlic from scorching.
Quick Ideas for fresh garlic:
Marinate pressed garlic in olive oil and use the flavored oil in dressings /marinades.
Purée fresh garlic, canned garbanzo beans, tahini, olive oil and lemon juice to make quick hummus dip.
Sauté steamed spinach, garlic, and fresh lemon juice.
Add garlic to sauces and soups.
Purée roasted garlic, cooked potatoes & olive oil together to make delicious garlic mashed potatoes. Salt and pepper to taste.
Roast garlic – it produces a sweet, nutty flavor with a buttery consistency. It makes a terrific spread for bread or as part of a sauce or soup. Place the unpeeled bulbs (brush with olive oil if desired) on a sheet of aluminum foil & seal the package. Place on a baking sheet and bake 1 hour in a 375°F oven until the package is soft to the touch. When its cool, unwrap, snip the top off the bulb and squeeze out the soft garlic pulp. Roasted garlic will keep several days in the refrigerator. It is delicious!
Great Garlic Resources that Food411 has dug up -
- Garlic Man - Brent & Karen Cambell offer 2 varieties of fresh hardneck garlic - 'german brown' and 'chesnok'. They also offer a limited amount of 'jumbo white softneck'. no chemicals are used. They will will be shipping in early August & are taking reserve orders prior to August. From their farm to your door!
- Garlic Garden - Famous for their homemade natural whipped garlic spreads (great use for rubs or in a sauce).
- The Garlic Store - Everything garlic – orders for their 2006 fresh crop (over 30 varieties!) start in August. Large variety of garlic products – terrific garlic recipe section.
- Local Harvest – 10 pages of garlic – fresh from a variety of American farms to many garlic products: garlic jams, garlic tomatoe sauces, spreads, garlic sea salts, garlic oils & much more.
- Garlic Gold - 100% organic, unique and hand made these Garlic Condiments can turn any meal in to a gourmet experience! Perfect for cooking or as a condiment. Organic toasted garlic and organic extra-virgin olive oil.