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Ingredient: Garlic

The Stinking Rose


Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck Garlic

Copyright 2010 Felipe Gabaldon

Garlic has supposedly been known as "the stinking rose" from ancient Greek and Roman days. The "stinking"bit is obvious - garlic has a distinct odor and while most of us have learned to like it (when I sold my last two houses I'd roast a head of garlic before showing it - or boil cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg). Either way most people responded positively to the odors and felt welcomed.

Why it's called a "rose," though, is a mystery. Garlic is actually a member of the allium genus (allium sativum) which includes onions, leeks and chives and as well as lilies - so why not the stinking lily? I don't see how it can be related to garlic's appearance because garlic looks nothing like a rose. Oh well.

There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of garlic cultivars but three primary species: softneck and hardneck. (Elephant garlic is a more distant relative.) Of the two, softneck garlic is what you find in most grocery stores. This variety is easier to plant and harvest mechanically, grows over a wider range of climates, and has a longer shelf life than hardneck.

In general if you want hardneck garlic you'll have to find it at a farmers' market or grow it yourself. Some people prefer the flavor of hardneck garlic claiming it's more complex and more rounded than softneck but when I did a blind taste-test with my next door neighbor he couldn't tell the difference and, for that matter, neither can I. Elephant garlic (allium ampeloprasum) is characterized by huge cloves and a much milder flavor than regular garlic.

The cloves of the garlic are not the only edible part. The leaves, which taste a lot like chives, are often included in salads and stir-frys. And for a real treat, look for garlic scapes. The scapes are the stalks on which garlic flowers bloom. They're twisty and gnarled and have a distinct, but mild, garlic flavor with grassy notes. They're quite crunchy, even when cooked, so they bring texture to whatever dish they're included in. My favorite way to use them is to chop up a couple and toss them into a batch of collard or turnip greens. And although the flowers themselves are not particularly appetizing, they make a beautiful garnish for a plate.

Garlic should ideally be stored in a well-aerated dark cabinet at around 70 degrees. If your garlic should sprout, remove the sprout (it's bitter) but the rest of the clove will be fine. You can store garlic in vinegar or other acids, but not in oil. Garlic may be contaminated with botulism, which thrives in oil even at refrigerator temperatures. Commercial garlic oil is generally pasteurized to make it safe. So are the little jars of peeled whole or chopped garlic at the grocery store. I usually have a jar in my fridge for emergencies but the pasteurizing seriously weakens the garlic's flavor so I only use it as a last resort.

Rose or not, stink or not, many the world's best cuisines from Vietnamese to Mexican would be far poorer without these luscious bulbs.

Click here for a few arlic recipes...

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