Glorious GarlicPeter McClusky October 1, 2012
Garlic (allium sativum) is enjoying a renaissance thanks to its prominence in international cuisines. And there are legions of claims, both in lore and in science, that garlic is a powerful medicinal herb that works as an anticancer agent, an antibiotic, and to enhance the body’s immune system. Scientists have also discovered that many of garlic’s health benefits work best when the herb is prepared in a particular way. The secret? Only use crushed, raw, or slightly cooked garlic.
What substance is responsible for garlic’s health benefits? The crucial factor is a sulphur compound called allicin, which is only present in crushed, not whole, garlic. Allicin is created when the enzyme alliinase combines with the sulphur compound alliin. These two substances are stored in separate cells within a single clove of garlic. When a clove is pressed, crushed, chopped, or sliced, the substances come together to form allicin, as well as several other sulphur compounds. You can prove this for yourself: smell a whole clove of garlic (which has a fairly mild odour), then crush or chop it and you’ll suddenly notice a strong “garlicky” odour.
According to a July 2005 study called “Health Effects of Garlic” published in the journal American Family Physician, garlic loses its therapeutic effects in the presence of heat. So the trick to preserving garlic’s medicinal properties is to add it raw to a cooked dish just before serving. And, to create the maximum amount of allicin and other beneficial compounds, it’s recommended to prepare garlic by crushing or finely chopping it (a garlic press is equally effective). It’s also important to prepare the garlic just before use, as once it’s crushed allicin decays over time.
Acid inhibits the creation of allicin. So if your recipe includes an acid, such as vinegar or citrus juice, wait ten seconds after the garlic is crushed before adding it to the food. For example, if you’re preparing a salad dressing, don’t add pressed garlic directly into vinegar or lemon juice. Instead, wait ten seconds for the allicin to be created.
Always use organic or locally grown garlic. You can find a location near you in the online garlic map.
Here are three great recipes that show off the robust flavour of Ontario garlic while maximizing its health benefits. Remember: add crushed or chopped garlic just before serving!
Flu Fighter Garlic Soup For Two
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/3 cup carrot, finely chopped
3 cups water or soup stock (chicken or vegetable stock)
2 cloves Ontario garlic, chopped or pressed (for cooking)
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh shiitake mushroom
1 Tbsp thyme
½ cup lentils
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 – 3 cloves Ontario garlic, chopped or pressed
(for just before serving)
Add oil to medium-sized saucepan set to medium heat. Add onion, stirring from time to time. Cook to a deep golden brown colour. Add carrots, soup stock (or water), the garlic for cooking, parsley, mushroom, thyme, lentils, salt, and pepper. Simmer for one hour. Just before serving, add the remaining garlic. Serve in mugs or bowls.
Five Ingredient Spaghetti Sauce
When I worked as an intern on an organic farm in 2010, I made this recipe every Tuesday night when it was my turn to cook dinner. Tuesday dinner soon became known as “Spaghetti Tuesday.” (Serves 4)
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 green pepper, finely chopped
6 lbs tomatoes, preferably plum, chopped
4 cloves Ontario garlic, chopped or pressed (for cooking)
2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 – 3 cloves Ontario garlic, chopped or pressed (for just before serving)
In a large saucepan heat the oil over medium heat. Add the green pepper and cook until soft, stirring occasionally. Stir in the tomatoes, the garlic for cooking, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for at least ten minutes or up to one hour. Serve over pasta with the remaining garlic and fresh mozzarella or other cheese of your liking.
Zimbabwe Mustard Greens (Tsunga) served with Barbados Corn Meal (cou cou)
Margaret and Rodney Zondo, who will be selling their vegetables and cooking at the Toronto Garlic Festival, grow a variety of specialty greens and world crops like mustard greens and okra at their farm, Southern Horizons. Their native countries, Zimbabwe and Barbados, share a love for cou cou, a national dish in both countries whose main ingredient is corn meal.
They have generously provided their two-part recipe for Zimbabwe Mustard Greens served with Barbados Corn Meal. Both cou cou and mustard greens in peanut paste are easy to prepare with ingredients that are accessible to most.
Barbados Corn Meal
16 small tender okras
1 lb corn meal
6 cups water
2 Tbsp butter or coconut oil
2 tsp salt
Wash okras, cut off stems and boil with 3 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt in a saucepan for about 10 minutes.
Add the rest of the water and salt to the sifted corn meal and mix well.
Take the okras in saucepan off the heat and stir in corn meal mixture until well blended.
Return saucepan to the stove top and cook mixture stirring all the time with a wooden spatula over medium heat.
When mixture thickens, it is ready. Empty it into a serving dish immediately, and spread liberally with butter or coconut oil.
Serve very hot with mustard greens in peanut sauce.
Zimbabwe Mustard Greens (Tsunga)
¼ cup onions, diced
3 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup chopped chives
2 medium red tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 small cayenne pepper, minced
2 lbs mustard greens, washed and torn into large pieces (you can substitute kale, calaloo, cabbage, squash greens, collards or rapini for the mustard greens)
3 Tbsp smooth peanut butter (optional)
½ cup cold water, to be measured out in tsps (optional)
4 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch sea salt to taste
Sauté onions in olive oil in a large pot over medium heat until tender, about 3 minutes.
Add the chives, tomato, cayenne pepper and mustard greens and cook until mustard greens are wilted.
In a cup gradually add cold water to peanut butter, until it becomes a paste.
Pour peanut butter paste onto the mustard greens; stir all the time with a wooden spatula on low heat until evenly coated.
Add garlic and let simmer for a minute. Season with salt.
Serve it with Barbados corn meal.
- Large-scale garlic growers prefer soft-neck garlic because it doesn’t produce a scape, which means less labour, and because it can be stored for longer. But soft-neck garlic lacks the varied flavour range of hard-neck varieties.
- A farmers’ market customer once complained to me that local garlic is more expensive than imported garlic. It’s true. A clove of Ontario-grown garlic costs about $0.20 more than a similar imported garlic. But the extra 20 cents is not a budget buster, and the taste will be noticeably better.
- Garlic is like wine: it tastes better with age (to a point). To properly store garlic for a few weeks or months, make sure the cloves inside the bulb are not exposed and that the wrappers are firmly attached to the bulb.
- When you buy garlic, look for bulbs that are firm. If the cloves under the wrapper feel soft, it’s a sign that the garlic is past its prime.
Garlic Medicine by Linda Gabris
As far back as history dates, garlic has been used as food and recognized as having miraculous powers to promote good health and well-being, credited with curing a wide range of diseases and reputed as having remarkable power to heal wounds and cleanse the body. Folklore claims garlic was good for everything from casting love spells to warding off vampires! My grandmother always said that a couple braids of garlic in the pantry assured fine eatin’ and good health to boot all winter long and I can vouch for the fact that she was right on both counts! Grandma’s cookin’ was hard to beat and I seldom saw my grandparents ailing.
There is evidence that garlic was prized by Egyptians – old inscriptions noted that pyramid builders were allotted garlic rations to ward off evil and disease. The cultivation of garlic can be traced to ancient Asia and the Mediterranean and was introduced to America in the 1500s.
Ed note: the above is an excerpt from a much longer article on garlic medicine and recipes. For the full feature, click here.