October is a great month to get to know garlic, sometimes referred to as the stinking rose. Related to onion, leeks and chives, garlic has many health benefits and can be enjoyed in endless ways. Though widely used as an herb or spice, garlic is, botanically, a vegetable.
Before garlic was used in the kitchen, it was used as a medical treatment for a multitude of ailments in ancient cultures and was consumed by Greek Olympic athletes to boost their athletic performance. Folklore gives garlic the ability to ward off vampires and werewolves too.
Current research shows garlic can boost the body’s immune system and reduce the severity of the common cold. It is a helpful herb for those suffering from high blood pressure or hypertension and it improves cholesterol levels which may lower the risk of heart disease. Garlic may benefit bone health by increasing estrogen levels in women and it can protect against organ damage from heavy metal toxicity.
Garlic’s unique smell, taste and many of its benefits come from sulfur compounds which are converted into allicin when the cloves are crushed, chopped or minced. Offering both therapeutic and nutritional properties, garlic is most effective but also most pungent in the raw.
To mellow the strong flavor of garlic, roast an entire trimmed garlic bulb in the oven. Roasted garlic is a fantastic way to add rich, nutty flavor to dips, sauces, dressings, stir-fry and soups. Mash roasted garlic into a paste and spread it on a crusty slice of bread like butter.
Easy to grow at home, garlic is best planted in the fall before the first hard freeze. Look for organic hardback garlic and keep in mind each clove planted nets a full bulb when harvested in the spring.
Cutting down the flower stock from the root of hardback garlic, also called scape, a couple of weeks prior to harvest will help the bulbs grow. The scapes taste mild with a hint of garlic so they can be used to make a pesto or used in any dish as one would use chives or scallions.
Softneck garlic is what is usually found at the grocery store. When purchasing garlic, pick the bulb up and give it a squeeze. Check that it is firm and not hollow or dehydrated. Keep an eye out for sprouting, which is another indicator that the garlic is old.
Even though whole garlic bulbs can last up to six months, why not try a 40-clove garlic roasted chicken recipe and celebrate Garlic Lovers Day on October 6?
By Lisa Nicklanovich; courtesy photo