At the best and the worst of times, breath mints or no, garlic is one fine culinary compadre.
The best of times cooking is when your shelves are stocked with all the right ingredients to whip up whatever you want. The worst? When you're craving a good dish at home and have barely anything to put it together with. Even at those times, it's garlic to the rescue, for who doesn't usually have a few cloves kicking around?
And, in case you haven't figured this one out, garlic is a gal's — or guy's — best friend in the heat of the summer grilling season.
I grew up in Edmonton, and with all those wonderful friends and neighbours from Eastern Europe in our lives — the Poles, the Ukrainians, all the Slavs — garlic was part of the essential food group at every get-together. The homemade sausages, sauces and sumptuous casseroles were usually anchored with garlic.
Then, when Jesse Fromowitz, of Good Time Farming, last week pointed out in Pique how Nicholas Culpeper's Complete Herbal twigged his fascination with herbs that are good for us, he also twigged something in the black hole that's my memory bank about garlic and how healthy it is.
Sure enough: I got my own copy of Culpeper's Herbal, which starts off the section on "garlick," as it was spelled then, with a sentence that made me laugh out loud: "The offensiveness of the breath of him that hath eaten garlick, will lead by the nose to the knowledge hereof, and instead of a description, direct you to the places where it groweth in gardens, which kinds are the best and most physical."
Culpeper goes on to explain that, since ancient times, garlic has been considered a remedy for all diseases and hurts (what a lovely word!) "except for those which itself breeds" — namely a "heat" which may not be good for the hotheads amongst us.
Secrets of the Chinese Herbalists backs up the age-old claim of garlic's good. Suan, the Chinese name for garlic, gets its own chapter in Richard Lucas's 1970s classic, which emphasizes its germ-killing capabilities. That includes rubbing it on your feet to get rid of athlete's foot. Garlic is also high in calcium and potassium, so it's good for your nerves. And the National Cancer Institute in the States is investigating it as a defense against some cancers.
The great thing about obtaining a generous supply of garlic that's the "best and most physical," as Culpeper advises, is you can easily grow it yourself. Simply save some of your favourite garlic, separate the cloves without peeling them, and plant them bottom side down in well-drained soil in spring or fall.
I do mine in September, about two inches deep and four inches apart. They pop up in the spring. Leave them be until the leaves turn brown, about this time next year. Then harvest your best and most physical garlic. Bonus: you'll get nice garlic scapes (the buds before they open into flowers) you can cook with in spring.
Jesse and I would urge you to use garlic that's been grown locally so it's already acclimatized to soil and climate conditions. In the Sea to Sky, find Jesse's and his Good Time Farming's homegrown garlic at the Squamish and Whistler farmers' markets. For that matter, any homegrown garlic at any local farmers' market or farmgate stand is grand.
Pemberton's 10th Annual Slow Food Cycle Sunday is coming up this weekend — the perfect opportunity. Fresh local garlic can be your mission. It's small, easy to pack, and won't wilt in the heat. Or catch The Sharing Farm's 6th Annual Garlic Festival Aug. 24 at Richmond's Terra Nova Rural Park. Chef Quang Dang from West Restaurant — Araxi's sister restaurant in Vancouver — will be on hand to demo.
GO GAGA FOR GRILLED GARLIC
Easiest of all in summer is to get garlic going on your grill — and there are so many gorgeous ways.
First up: garlic potatoes in one of those aluminum boats so fun to make. Besides making cleanup a whiz, this is a great entry point to get kids into cooking.
Grab your favourite garlic and wash your favourite potatoes for grilling. Mine are any farm-fresh potatoes, like the ones you'll find on the Slow Food Cycle Sunday. Personally, I'm a sucker for those heavenly Sieglindes from Helmers' Organic Farm.
Peel off two sheets of aluminum foil. I hate using the stuff, too, but you can wash and recycle it. Double up the sheets, one on top of the other for insulation — a great way to keep anything grilled from burning.
Slice the potatoes across the round, about a quarter inch thick. In the middle of the foil sheets, re-assemble the slices vertically into the potato shapes they once were. Depending on the size of your potatoes, you should get two rows side-by-side, with your potatoes end-to-end.
Peel the garlic cloves and slice them vertically. You want them thick enough to separate your potato slices because here's where your garlic goes to work: You put a slice of garlic between each potato slice. If you don't have them in there, the slices just jam back together like they're a whole potato, which means longer cooking time.
Once you've got your garlic-separated potatoes assembled, drizzle them with good olive oil and sprinkle with your favourite herbs. I've only used dried ones — basil, tarragon, thyme — but I'm curious how fresh ones would do. Add salt and pepper, then fold up the edges of your foil packets to create a tightly closed bundle and place them on a medium grill, flat side down, for 20 to 30 minutes.
The joy of this "garlic separator" technique is you can grill all kinds of hard veggies you wouldn't normally think to cook on a bar-b in no time, with delicious results. Beets are super grilled with garlic in between, as are those carrots too big for salads. I bet turnips would be great, too, and all those other veggies usually overlooked this time of year.
For a simpler garlic time, grill a whole bulb or six. These are so good you'll find yourself picking away at them like popcorn. Heck, make that a dozen bulbs!
Happy garlic grilling!
GRILLED GARLIC Cut the top off a bulb of garlic. Drizzle one teaspoon of olive oil on top. Salt and pepper to taste. Wrap in foil and toss on the grill on high heat. When they're soft, they're done.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who gets anxious when she's out of garlic.