The world would be a hollow, tasteless place without garlic. Allium sativum has been cultivated for thousands of years. The subject of Greek myth, and featured in the Bible, the Talmud, Islamic and eastern European folklore, garlic is truly one of nature’s wonders, prominent in traditional medicine and indispensible in the cuisines of the entire world.
When it comes to versatility, garlic does not play second fiddle. Roasted, fried, eaten raw, mixed with butter and slathered on bread for garlic bread, roasted and mixed into mashed potatoes, or hummus…everyone has a favorite dish that, without garlic, would be pointless.
Feel like a quick pasta dish but have no sauce? Mix a little chopped garlic into olive oil and toss with some fresh pasta for linguine to create aglio olio, a dish that transcends its simplicity.
Another garlic quick fix is from Chez Piggy in Kingston. Their famous gambas al ajilo has become a go-to dish that can be served as a meal or appetizer. Sautee peeled shrimp in olive oil for a minute or two, add equal amounts of chopped chili and garlic. Eat with lots of baguette. Sop up the oil like the insatiable fiend you are.
Put a can of chickpeas in your food processor, add a tablespoon of tahini, a splash of lemon juice and a couple chopped cloves of garlic, season with salt and pepper. Blitz with EVOO and you’ve got hummus. This well-known dip is amazing with crudités, or liberally spread on your favorite sandwich.
Some folks find the taste of raw garlic too off-putting, but I have never met anyone who dislikes roasted garlic. Next time you have the oven on, drizzle a little oil on a garlic bulb, wrap it in tin foil and pop it in the oven. By the time your main is cooked, the roasted garlic bulb will be ready, willing and able to be eaten by itself or added to any dish. You don’t even have to remove the skins of each clove, as they become chewy and caramelized. Mashed potatoes can be boring, but squirt the roasted garlic-it will come out like a puree-into your spuds and add a little brown butter and I guarantee there will be no leftovers. A small war, maybe, but no leftovers. Now you know why there are fat vegetarians.
“Now, garlic, rosemary and salt. I can never touch meat until it’s cooked. As a youth I used to weep in butchers shops” pontificates Uncle Monty in the hilarious cult classic, Withnail and I.
Even he considers garlic an indispensible item, no matter how rustic the setting. A mix of garlic and rosemary studded into a roast leg of lamb will have everybody weeping.
Not only is garlic ridiculously versatile and delicious, it is also really good for you. Win win.
Studies have shown garlic to have antibacterial, antifungal and anti viral properties, and may help to prevent heart diseases such as atheriosclerosis and reduce blood pressure Its high vitamin C content makes it a traditional cure for the common cold; drink a brew of hot ginger, garlic and lemon tea when you feel a bout coming on and you will likely save yourself a trip to the pharmacy.
If you decide to grow your own garlic, plant the cloves in the fall, about six weeks before the ground freezes. Even though it can be easily grown in your own garden, and cultivated throughout Ontario, most folks have Chinese-grown garlic in their larders.
Chinese-grown garlic is far and away the most readily available stuff, accounting for over 75% of the world’s supply, over 23 billion pounds. It is so ubiquitous that most folks blindly reach for the basic bulb and have at it, unaware that there are other options, that there are garlic fanatics who wax rhapsodic about the different locally grown varieties, subtle differences in textures, aromas and tastes-otherwise rational people who become foraging foodie fanatics scouring for scapes during the rites of spring. When it comes to garlic, they go loco and local, feting the celebrated bulb at festivals throughout the summer and fall.
For all you locavores out there, hoist Ontario garlic onto your wagon. The garlic growers of Ontario have their own website. Perusing this site, not only can you can feel the love, you can find out about local growers and discover stores that carry Ontario garlic. Stock up on local garlic for the winter, you could even hang a wreath of Ontario’s fine garlic for Christmas this year.
The fifth annual Stratford Garlic Festival is September 10 & 11. Eat all the garlic you want, send the kiddies off on the Haunted Bieber Walk, then catch Titus Andronicus at the Shakespeare Festival that night; the couple sitting beside you will love you! If you can’t make it to Stratford then be sure to catch The Toronto Garlic Festival, September 25 at Evergreen Brickworks.
There is an old Islamic legend that says when Satan left the Garden of Eden, an onion grew in his right footprint and garlic in his left. So we have him to thank. The next time you cook with garlic, tell them the devil made you do it.