The Amazing Wonders of Garlic, plus Recipes!

“I’ve got information man! New shit has come to light!” as the Dude iterates in the seminal “The Big Lebowski”. Well, new research on the properties of garlic has come to light and as your grandmother kept saying throughout your childhood, it prevents common cold. And it is good for the heart! Unless you have a garlic allergy one never eats enough of it! It’s been used for thousands of years both as a flavoring and for medicinal purposes (Chinese scholars were praising garlic around 3000 B.C.) Much of the original folklore surrounding garlic has been corroborated by scientific research and it is abundantly clear that garlic does indeed have much value both as a curative and preventative treatment for many illnesses and disorders.

Recent research has shown the ability of crushed fresh garlic to help prevent infection by the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa in burn patients. Also of special interest has been the ability of garlic to help in the treatment of bacterial infections that are difficult to treat due to the presence of bacteria that have become resistant to prescription antibiotics. However, most of the research on garlic as an antibiotic has involved fresh garlic extracts or powdered garlic products rather than fresh garlic in whole food form.

What’s not to like about garlic? It is tasty in any combination you care to imagine (including ice-cream), it cures infections and sometimes colds, it does reduce blood pressure, it lowers cholesterol, and I’m told, it repels mosquitoes and the odd vampire. To me it’s a case of Clove at first sight…or smell! Being a son of Provence, garlic has infused itself naturally in my psyche and I could not live without it. To this day I maintain that the perfect herb to combine with garlic is fresh thyme, to me it’s an unbeatable duo, one that packs a scented punch to accommodate any type of dish.

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My great-grandmother used to chew raw cloves regularly. She always carried a lemon peel in her purse and would bite on it after eating one.

The garlic clove contains two sets of nutrients: first we have the water soluble nutrients which include vitamins, enzymes, amino acids and natural sugars and secondly, when garlic is crushed, a compound called alliin comes into contact with an enzyme called alliinase. Alliinase then breaks down alliin into allicin which is responsible for garlic’s pungent odor. When buying garlic, first check where it’s from (China is the world’s biggest grower and floods the US with inferior produce) so buy locally as much as possible, secondly make sure it is still firm and hasn’t sprouted. Store garlic in a cool, dark place and don’t refrigerate or freeze it unless you have to (it’s ok to store peeled cloves in jars topped with olive oil).

Now let’s get to the recipes.

And remember, don’t skimp on the amount of garlic you’re going to use, particularly with my soup recipe: a luscious potato, leek and garlic concoction enriched with Pearl Barley, a perfect dish for a cold evening. Hell, a perfect dish for anytime!

This makes enough soup for 10 to 12 persons (what you can’t eat you can freeze, or give away to people who would appreciate its health benefits)

2 large leeks, chopped up, 4 pounds of fingerlings potatoes, or new potatoes, cut in quarters, 10 heads of garlic (that’s right, no less than 10 or you’re wimping out), peeled, 6 pints of vegetable stock, 250 grams (half a pound) of Pearl Barley and half a pint of sour cream. Salt & black pepper to taste. I sometimes make a different version and add 250 gram of smoked ham or pancetta slices, depending on what’s available and use chicken stock instead of a vegetable one.

In a large pot drop a little olive oil and throw the leeks, cook and stir for a couple of minutes, add all the garlic, the well washed pearl barley, the potatoes and the stock (pearl barley works well in soups since it readily soaks up the flavors in the broth, and it’s low in gluten). Add the salt and the cracked black peppercorns and bring to a slow boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and cook for another hour. When done, add the sour cream (some would prefer double cream) and blend. Serve with crusty bread, or even better, inside scooped up crusty bread if you’re able to find small individual loaves. There are three ways of blending soups: use a blender, a soup stick or do it the manual way with an old fashioned moulinette!

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The ancestry of cultivated garlic, according to Zohary and Hopf is not definitely established: “a difficulty in the identification of its wild progenitor is the sterility of the cultivars.” There’s an excellent “garlic overview” with its species and subspecies here on this site for those who’d like to know the “Full Monty”. If you’re selling a house there are two important smells to lure buyers: freshly baked bread and/or try frying one onion with lots of garlic, real slow.

In Provence we use three kinds of garlic for most of our dishes: white, pink and purple (ha! I bet you’re green with envy!) I particularly like the pink variety which can be bought from July to March, its pungency is a sheer delight in “Aioli” and “Aigo Boulido” (both recipes below). Pink garlic keeps fresh longer, and if you’re going to bite into a raw clove, that’s the one. It can be bought in the USA online here, grown in China.

If you’re serious about garlic then you must learn how to make Aioli, the soul of Provence, a heavily garlicky mayonnaise made using boiled potatoes as well as the best olive oil available. This can accompany just about any dish, hot or cold.

Prepare all ingredients before hand and leave them in the kitchen so they are at room temperature. If you have a mortar and an olive wood grinder then you’re way ahead!
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For a few helpings you will need:

20 to 30 cloves of pink garlic,
6 egg yolks,
2 medium-sized boiled potatoes, peeled
1 pint of extra-virgin olive oil,
1 or 2 pinches of sea salt & black pepper to suit, a lemon wedge.

Crush the garlic in the mortar. Once fully crushed, add the yolks, salt and pepper, then the cubed potatoes. Keep crushing in a circular movement. Now begin to add the olive oil very slowly using a whisk. Half way through, squeeze the lemon wedge into it. The Aioli must be very firm so it’s best to do this manually, but if you’re out of time, you can use a food processor….but, but, don’t forget a food processor’s centrifugal force will cook the egg yolks and heat the oil, and it will not taste as good.

Now, I come to the real flavor of Provence, the magic Garlic Soup (Aigo-Boulido). I did post this recipe before, and because it is incredibly healthy & cheap to produce, great for bracing, recessionary winters, it’s worth reposting again. If you’re lucky enough to come across wild garlic then purchase all you can, if not white garlic will do nicely (or pink). I freeze this soup regularly so it’s ok to make a large batch.

For 8 to 10 persons:

allow 3 or 4 cloves per person, peeled.
3 liters chicken stock (or a good vegetable bouillon brand)
1 bouquet garni (bay leaf, thyme, sage, rosemary)
10 tablespoons of a good olive oil
10 thick slices of French bread
10 ounces vermicelli
6 egg yolks, beaten
sea-salt & black pepper to taste

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Crush the garlic. Put in a saucepan or soup pot with the stock, salt and pepper, bouquet garni. Boil rapidly for 15 minutes. Add the pasta vermicelli and continue boiling until this is cooked. The length of time depends upon the size of the pasta used. Take away from the stove, blend in the yolks slowly.

Aigo-Boulido is served in individual bowls. Place a large slice of country bread at the bottom, add a little olive oil and pour the soup over. This soup is one of the most ancient traditional dishes of Provence. I eat mine with, you guessed, a little Aioli floating on top.

You want a quick garlicky snack for your country bread? Make a “Herbes de Provence” spread. Easy peasy:

you’ll need 8 oz Cream cheese, softened, a pinch of dried Herbs de Provence, 1 tbsp of double cream, 6 garlic cloves finely minced. Mix the lot with a wooden spoon, add salt if desired, and a little black pepper.

How about a Provencal garlic chicken done in a Dutch oven? My partner cooks this almost every Sunday, our girls love it. You’ll need a free range chicken, if possible, and a Dutch oven, although a good cast-iron pot with lid would do the same job, providing it’s big enough for the bird to sit in it. It’s best to “dress it” the day before, by this I mean to prepare the bird properly by brushing it with sea-salt & black pepper, rubbing it with olive oil and fresh thyme (dry ok) and let it stand in the refrigerator overnight. This is a great meal, as the idea is to cook the bird placed on top of vegetables and 40 or 50 (yes, that many) unpeeled garlic cloves. It’s incredibly low in fat because the chicken more or less steams atop the garlic and the cloves (see pic below).

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1 chicken, sea-salt, freshly ground black pepper, 40 to 50 unpeeled garlic cloves, and the vegetables: 4 or 5 carrots cut into thick julienne, 2 or 3 red onions, cut into chunks, a few new potatoes cut in half, a leek cut into sections, 2 or 3 celery stalks, a bunch of green beans or Swiss chard, some sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley and if you can find some, a few juniper berries.

Have a couple of tablespoons of plain white flour handy, and a pint of reasonably good dry white wine. And a cup of good olive oil.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. In your Dutch oven or cast iron pot (with lid), lay the vegetable, the garlic. Place your bird on top and pour the white wine over the chicken, then the oil.

Seal the lid with a mixture of flour and water, and bake for 90 minutes. When done, remove from oven and allow your pot/Ducth oven to sit still for a good fifteen minutes! Don’t peak, it’s all good. Serve with country crusty bread and a good, young Shiraz.

If you feel like a really sumptuous mashed potato dish here’s my very favorite, liberally laced with pink garlic and flavored with truffle oil.
This works very well with any meat, fish or vegetable dish or on its own, I call it my Socialist Spud Extravaganza: try to procure yourself some pink garlic (found in good health food stores and some supermarkets). Compared to white garlic, pink garlic is much milder and therefore less likely to overpower the delicate truffle oil (BTW, you only need a few drops of the oil, one small bottle can last a whole year, not a bad buy at around $15). There are two versions of this dish, the simple one and the piped one. Use a good floury potato for this, like Russet or Pontiac.

For say 6 to 8 servings you’d need 3 pounds of potatoes, 2 whole heads of pink garlic, salt & pepper to taste. Peel and cut your potatoes. Place the potatoes and the garlic into a pot, cover with water and cook slowly (my great grandmother used to cook hers in milk, ever so slowly). When done (this is the simple way) add a little cream to it, not much, just enough to moisten the spuds, mash and add a few drops of truffle oil.

The complicated way (but it’s so much fun!): beat half a pint of double cream till it sticks to your whisk, mash the potatoes, fold in the cream slowly, add the truffle oil, salt & pepper to taste and use a forcing bag with a large nozzle to pipe your mash into individual dishes (or a large one, up to you) and place under the grill for a minute or two till slightly brown.

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And now we come to the Garlic Ice-Cream! In my heady days in Sydney I concocted alternative sorbets and ice-creams to keep me interested and it looked good on my menus, stuff like tomato & basil sorbet, Lapsang Souchong & lychee sorbet, Roquefort ice-cream, bacon & cabbage ice-cream, and of course garlic ice-cream among other oddities. I even made a marijuana sorbet one night for a special wedding party and got the bride’s mother a little under the weather…but that’s another diary.

It’s not complicated, think of making a vanilla ice-cream and you’re half there. For a liter + of the stuff you’ll need:

4 heads of pink garlic, peeled (heads, not cloves!); a knob of unsalted butter; 1 liter of cream; 1/2 a cup of sugar; 6 egg yolks. I make a puree of the garlic cloves by simply baking them in a sheet of foil, add the butter and wrap the whole thing up tightly, bake at 280 for 20 minutes or until soft. Mash the garlic finely and set aside. In a saucepan boil the cream. In a bowl, whisk in the 6 yolks and beat in the sugar, then add the garlic pureee, incorporate it nicely and add and the hot cream slowly.

Let it cool then either use an ice-cream churner or pour into a plastic container and place in the freezer if you don’t have one, making sure you check every 10 minutes with a fork to stop crystals forming. Voila! It’s done and you will get brownie points when you serve this to your guests.

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Here is a (partial) list of what garlic does to you, so next time you’re contemplating making a garlic soup or a sauce, don’t be mean, use lots of it:

Alleviates allergies;
Aids general immunity;
Promotes good circulation;
Cleanses the digestive system;
Helps cure flatulence;
Protects against the forming of blood clots;
Protects the kidneys;
Prevents cancer-cell growth due to its sulfur compounds;
Reduces low blood sugar;
Act as an anti-viral and anti-bacterial agent;
Clear up boils, because of the anti-bacterial properties;
Help clear up asthma;
Acts against infections, including colds, coughs, respiratory problems, bronchial disorders and catarrh;
Kills internal parasites and is an excellent internal antiseptic, and that’s for starters. It does much, much more.

We even have a spot in Provence named after garlic: Cap d’Ail


Fun garlic facts:
In ancient Egypt, 15 lbs. of garlic would purchase a healthy slave. Workers constructing the Great Pyramids of Giza lived mainly on garlic & onions.

There are 300 strains of garlic in the world.

California grows 500 million pounds of garlic on more than 27,000 acres.

In World War I, Garlic was used to control infections in wounds and in 1963 Russia sent out a call for garlic to help control a raging epidemic of flu.

Garlic was so highly regarded that it was even used as currency. Last but not least, garlic is also known for its aphrodisiacal properties, which have been extolled through the ages in literature, cooking recipes, and medical journals.

Researchers have known for some time that garlic–like its close relative, the onion–is a rich source of heart-protective compounds called thiosulfinates. These sulfur compounds, best known for causing eyes to water, may lower blood pressure and break up potentially harmful clusters of platelets in the bloodstream.

But, up to now, most researchers and nutritionists assumed that the best way to seize on garlic’s cardiovascular benefits was to eat the small bulbs in their most unfettered form: in the raw.

Not so, discovered ARS plant geneticist Philipp Simon and his colleagues Pablo Cavagnaro, Alejandra Camargo and Claudio Galmarini, whose findings appear in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Simon works in the ARS Vegetable Crops Research Unit in Madison, Wis. Cavagnaro, Camargo and Galmarini work at the INTA La Consulta in Argentina.

Since most people worldwide sauté or bake their garlic before eating it, the researchers wanted to know if cooking reduced garlic’s blood-thinning effects. They also wanted to see what impact crushing the garlic before cooking had on its ability to bust up artery-clogging platelets.

After boiling, baking and microwaving both crushed and uncrushed cloves of garlic and evaluating them for their antiplatelet activity, the scientists learned that lightly cooked, crushed garlic provides most of the health benefits found in raw garlic. The only exception was microwaving, which stripped garlic almost entirely of its blood-thinning effects.

And a very interesting conversation about garlic health takes place here.

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This entry was posted in Food, Health, History, Memoirs, Recipes. Bookmark the permalink.

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