Garlic. The word alone stirs the senses with memories of powerful aromas, zesty flavors and memorable, savory meals. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't enjoy this punchy allium, and you might be surprised at the range of dishes that are improved by it. Breads, sauces, appetizers and entrees ? just about everything short of cheesecake takes on a bold, flavorful taste with this versatile kitchen staple.
But garlic does more than add flavor: It's been used for food and medicinal purposes since at least 3000 B.C., renowned for its powerful antiviral and antibacterial properties. As the realm of holistic health has grown, it's now also recommended to help prevent heart disease (it can lower cholesterol and blood pressure) and even cancer. In The Green Pharmacy, James A. Duke, Ph.D., suggests garlic to treat allergies, athlete's foot, diabetes, colds, the flu and more.
You can easily enjoy the numerous benefits of garlic, for the palate and body, by growing your own this season. Fall is a terrific time to plant garlic, and come summer you'll be rewarded with large, flavor-packed heads ready for nibbling, cooking and preserving.
Garlic is simple to grow. Good soil, full sun and watering every few days are its main requirements, and garlic doesn't attract many insects ? it can even deter them from other crops! If the plant begins to flower, snip the stalk to keep growth energy directed to the bulb instead. You'll know it's time to harvest when the tops of the stalks start to brown.
Served as an appetizer, spread on bread, or mixed in mashed potatoes, one of the simplest, most useful garlic preparations is roasted garlic. These basic recipes are adapted from Growing and Using Garlic, by Glenn Andrews.
1 whole head garlic
1 tsp olive oil
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Slice off the top fifth of the garlic head. Place the head on a medium-size square of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Drizzle the olive oil over garlic. Seal the foil securely. (Unless you want your whole house to smell of garlic, don't crumple the foil too much; this would create cracks through which the aroma could escape.) Bake for 40 minutes, the garlic should be golden brown.
Garlic also makes a yummy, easy hummus:
1 cup dried chickpeas (garbanzos)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1? teaspoons garlic, minced (about 3 cloves)
1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste, available at most supermarkets)
Salt to taste
Soak the chickpeas overnight in enough water to cover by at least 1 inch.
Drain. Cover amply again with fresh water. Boil for about an hour, or until very soft. Drain again. Put chickpeas, along with lemon juice, garlic, tahini and salt, in a food processor or blender and run the machine until the hummus is smooth. (You may have to add a little water, one tablespoon at a time, to make the mixture thin enough to process. The consistency you want is similar to mayonnaise.)
Serve as a spread or dip for pita chips or triangles of toasted pita bread. Makes about 2 cups.
Learn more about garlic varieties and growing, braiding, cooking and preserving garlic in the Growing and Using Garlic e-handbook from Mother Earth News.
Share your garlic recipes and growing tips in the comments section below.