Garlic – If You’re Not Using it, You Should Be…
This is going to be a little bit of a different post than all of my others to come out thus far. In this post, I’m not providing you with a recipe. Rather, this post is going to be focusing on GARLIC. We’re talking about those magical little nuggets of flavor that can breathe life into dishes in an unexpected way. So, grab a nice, wide kitchen knife and let’s get ready to smash some garlic.
I’m going to be completely honest, it took me a long time to get into using fresh garlic when I cook. Now, quite literally, I use it every day. Don’t confuse that with a complaint. I thank garlic for really stepping up everything I use it in. Not just Italian but almost anything that starts out with a saute of onions or other types of veggies really piggy back off of garlic when thrown together in a skillet. It’s a must have in our home, and we pick some up every time we go grocery shopping because we go through so much of it.
I’m not saying I’m the “garlic guru” by any means, because I feel like I’m constantly learning of new ways to use this amazing ingredient. I think that versatility is why I keep coming back to it, and keep trying to incorporate it into dishes in different ways. Being that you can eat it fresh and raw like in a salad, or sautéed for the beginning of a more complex dish, really speaks to how universal garlic is. Also, I know that there is a whole slew of medicinal properties that this surprising little power house holds. I’m not as well versed in that, because I use it strictly for its flavor.
What I want to get down to here are my favorite ways I use garlic. But first…..
WHAT IS GARLIC
Garlic is an onion. Bottom line. It’s closely related to pretty much any onion, but more so along the lines of chives, green onions, and shallots. It grows just like onions do, like a root in the ground. What’s really neat about how they grow, is that you can grow a whole new bulb of garlic with just one clove! Think of it this way, every clove is a seed that you can plant. Quite literally, you can grow a limitless supply of garlic in your kitchen up on a window sill. Check out this neat wikiHow on how exactly you go about growing your own garlic in your kitchen. Garlic WikiHow
So now that you’re standing there with a couple of bulbs of fresh garlic in your hands, what are you going to do with it? The list is literally endless, but to know how to incorporate into your cooking, you have to know how to work with it. Working with garlic can sometimes seem like a bit of a chore. If you ever catch yourself thinking that after you’ve dropped the same glove of garlic on the ground 6 times and still haven’t gotten the wrapper off……just remember it’s totally worth it. I’ve kind of found my own groove with peeling garlic, but I know there are tons of hacks and preferred methods of peeling and mincing it. I’ve just found the more I worked with it, the easier it got.
I think that is a big part of feeling comfortable cooking with a certain ingredient. Don’t give up on it, keep using it and you’ll be more and more comfortable each time, and soon, using it will be second nature.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
The way I peel a clove of garlic is a little of a different way than I’ve seen or heard recommended online or in person. How I always explain to people how I peel garlic is literally this, “imagine trying to give the clove an Indian burn.” You know, that thing that cruel little school children, (like myself back in the day) use to do to their friends to make their arm turn red.
Basically, you want to hold the clove long ways with each half pinched between your thumb and pointer, squeeze and twist in opposite directions. You want to squeeze and twist hard too. It’ll almost feel like you’re going to twist it in half, but really you just want to distort the shape of the clove enough to loosen up its wrapper. You’ll hear some little cracks, and that’s ok, that’s the wrapper breaking. After doing this a couple times, you should see a line somewhere in the peeling that you can begin to lift off, and remove the whole peeling.
Well maybe not to someone who hasn’t done it literally thousands of times, but you’ll get there 😉. I’ve also seen a popular kitchen hack to where you can literally shake the peelings off in a jar. You can start with the whole bulb or just the number of cloves you want to peel, throw them all in a jar with a lid and shake the living daylights out of it. If you shake hard enough and long enough all of the peels should come right off and you’ll be left with cloves of garlic ready to go at the bottom.
I have to say I love this knife for garlic. It’s just wide enough to get a good smashing surface, but not so much so that it’s annoying when you chop. It’s stays really sharp, but a quick run across a steal makes it’s PERFECT. Grab one here: Farberware Chef Knife
Smash, Mince, Repeat
So, you’ve peeled some garlic cloves. Hard work done right? Not entirely…and it’s not really hard work by any means, but mincing garlic can be a little cumbersome, especially if you’re in a hurry. Basically, if you’re mincing the garlic, you have the smash it. Trust me, it’s fun, and you get to take out a little of your pent-up anger on your garlic. After peeled, just lay a nice wide knife flat on the clove of garlic, and give it a swift little hit with heel of your hand. After that but BEFORE YOU START MINCING, leave that bad boy sit for a good 5 minutes. It gives the garlic time to aerate and let way more flavor out. Trust me, you want to do this.
For those of you out there with garlic press, GOOD FOR YOU. I’ve read everywhere that pressing garlic is the best route to go and a real time saver, I’ve just never had the interest in purchasing one. It’s definitely apparent that it would make life easier, but there’s something about the connection you get with the food when you really get your hands in there and work with it. I feel that utilizing your hands just as millions of people before you did, is a sort of nod to the ingredient’s longevity over the years.
Or Just Slice and Repeat
Slicing garlic on the other hand, doesn’t produce quite the pungent flavor that mincing does, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you just want a touch of that garlic flavor without overpowering everything else in the dish, and I think slicing is the perfect way of doing that. Basically, cut off the little root looking end of the clove and CAREFULLY continue to slice the garlic. I use it in salads, green beans, some stir fries and literally anything in between. I’ve also heard that you can either halve or smash a good clove of garlic, and rub a bowl or plate or whatever you may be serving your dish in. It adds the oils onto the dish itself and brings a touch of the flavor to the food without the actual pieces of garlic.
Also, I think it’s worth mentioning that garlic can burn very easily. This is why you see in recipes to add the garlic after you saute the heartier veggies. Burn garlic can completely ruin the flavor of dishes. It honestly smells and tastes like burnt plastic to me. Just always be sure to only saute your garlic for 30 seconds to a minute. A good rule of thumb to stick buy is as soon as you smell it in your skillet, add your next ingredient or remove your pan from the heat.
I could go on forever, buuuut….
To wrap this thing up, garlic is a 100% essential keystone in my kitchen. I feel like I’d be lost without it. From smashing and mincing it to really get the punch from it, to slicing it whole and adding it to a tossed salad (a must try!), it’s a flavor that my food lacked for a long time. I’ll never turn back. I implore you, if you don’t use fresh garlic now, START. You won’t be sorry. Garlic powder is nice sometimes, but doesn’t quite pack the kick that fresh does.
P.S. I know I didn’t talk much about the health benefits of garlic, because I don’t know them all. There are tons of benefits though. People have been using it for its health and medicinal benefits for LITERALLY thousands of years. Do a little research and check out how it can help you!