“You smell like garlic.” You never want to hear that, of course, but if you love the Stinking Rose, as I do, the turf is fraught with the possibility, although swilling milk while consuming actually does help.
I must say, I’m lucky: I happen to be passionate about a food that’s also great for me. I need no urging. But I’ve found that people are rarely milquetoast about the onion species allium sativum; they either use it or they don’t.
But really, aside from the aforementioned risk – the fragrance can also get in your sweat glands – No big deal I say….. Garlic’s studied health benefits are herculean: anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal. It’s also said to help prevent atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and cancer, and reportedly regulates blood sugar. Hippocrates, Galen, Pliny the Elder and Dioscorides all broach the use of garlic for many conditions, including parasites, poor digestion, respiratory probs and fatigue. Heck, it also may ward off and fight the common cold (take care if you take warfarin and other meds like calcium channel blockers).
Doesn’t do it for you? How about the fact that garlic’s also an aphrodisiac, traditionally worn by Jewish grooms to guarantee marital bliss, and was prohibited for Hindu clerics due to its ability to incite lust. I don’t make this stuff up folks…. I find it at 3:00 a.m..
In fact, garlic – closely related to shallot, leek, chive and rakkyo – has long been associated with spirituality. Lots of folks in Central Europe consider it a formidable defense against werewolves, demons and vampires. The practice of hanging garlic, lemon and red peppers at shop doors as protection against evil remains common in India.
So garlic has been around for ages, mentioned in the Bible and the Talmud, and appearing in the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare. One of the earliest mentions of garlic is in Homer’s Iliad, circa 700 B.C.:
The draught prescribed, fair Hecamede prepares,
Arsinous’ daughter, graced with golden hairs:
(Whom to his aged arms, a royal slave,
Greece, as the prize of Nestor’s wisdom gave:)
A table first with azure feet she placed;
Whose ample orb a brazen charger graced;
Honey new-press’d, the sacred flour of wheat,
And wholesome garlic, crown’d the savoury treat…
(Book XI. Argument. The Third Battle, and the Acts of Agamemnon).
Now a bit about the plant itself, of which the bulb is most commonly used. Save for the single clove types, the bulb, as you know, is divvied into cloves. Some folks don’t know that the head’s leaves and flowers are also edible. And, the immature flower stalks of some types are commonly used in stir fries. Here’s something I recently learned: The sticky juice within the bulb cloves is used as an adhesive in mending glass and china.
Our stores carry a wide variety of the plant, including so-called elephant garlic, which is actually a wild leek. Full disclosure, friends. We also have dried and frozen garlic, even the fermented stuff.
Garlic is produced worldwide, but China is by far the largest producer. Its use there was first mentioned in 510 A.D. Then you’ve got India, South Korea and Russia, followed by the United States, where garlic’s grown in every state except Alaska. Gilroy, Calif., which considers itself the garlic capital of the world, such is its vast
harvest, has a garlic festival each year.
And now for my fave part, the cooking and eating. Garlic is a primary part of dishes in regions like Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa, Southern Europe and portions of South and Central America, often paired with tomato and onion.
Me? I love to slow roast garlic, especially on brisk evenings. I just peel off the thin paper, lop off the top, wrap the bulb in foil, toss on olive oil, salt and pepper and perhaps an herb or two, then stick it in the oven for about 45 minutes. All that gooey goodness … I love to slather it on great bread, or even fold it into mashed potatoes. Man! I want some right now.
Speaking of bread, garlic’s used in such classics as, yes, garlic toast, plus crostini, bruschetta and canape. Oils are often infused with garlic and used to season all manner of food. Mixing garlic with eggs and olive oil produces aioli, one of my favorite sauces.
Now I’m famished. You too?
Let’s end with a joke:
First witch: Why do you keep throwing bunches of garlic out of the window?
Second witch: To keep the vampires away.
First witch: But there aren’t any vampires ’round here…
Second witch: See, it works!