Everyone knows garlic repels vampires, wards off envious nymphs, and protects against the Evil Eye, so I thought it might just be an appropriate topic for this time of year. (If you really want to do this right, wear a necklace of garlic cloves, hang a head of garlic with chili peppers and lemons in your kitchen, or rub fresh garlic on your chimney and keyholes. I guarantee this will keep questionable spirits at bay!)
I adore garlic, but we have not always been on such cozy terms. In fact, I used to think garlic was just weird and stinky and I had no idea how to cook with it (oh, the naivete! The missed opportunities!). A man who attended the church I did as a kid ate raw garlic every single day, and boy, did we know it. (I didn’t realize at the time what a total bad-ass he was.) When I was a sophomore in college and had just moved into my first off-campus apartment, my roommate Jenn and I invited friends over for dinner. I decided to make a creamy spinach garlic dip as an appetizer; delicious and easy, right? All I remember is people stepping away from the table, clutching their throats, and grabbing drinks. I realized with horror that instead of adding two cloves of garlic as stated on the recipe, I had added two heads of garlic. (My boyfriend was the only guest who “enjoyed” the spinach dip, and even he had to make an early, garlic-induced departure.) Clearly I lacked exposure to, and experience with, this beautiful little vegetable.
Neither herb nor spice, garlic truly is in a class of its own. I’ve read that garlic is a member of the illustrious onion genus, an allium vegetable and flowering root plant (other relatives include leeks, scallions, and chives). Any way you mince it, garlic plays an integral role in cuisines around the world. Originating in Central Asia about six thousand years ago, garlic has been revered and used as both food and medicine over the centuries. There is an Islamic myth that when Satan was thrown out of the Garden of Eden, a bulb of garlic grew up in his left footprint and an onion in his right. (I’m not quite sure how to take this.) The Egyptians considered garlic sacred (they never disappoint!), and I’m totally with them on this. I sincerely hope to find garlic in the hereafter.
Aside from adding incredible depth of flavor to your favorite recipes (99.9% of them, anyway), garlic provides your bod with antioxidants, detoxifies your blood, aids in circulation, helps fight inflammation, stimulates the immune system, and reduces plaque in your arteries, thereby lessening the chances of having a heart attack when you encounter that vampire. Garlic has long been used to battle colds and respiratory problems, warts, ear infections, and athlete’s foot, among countless other ailments. Even better, fresh garlic has been shown to kill certain harmful bacteria (E coli and Salmonella, thankyouverymuch!) and may also help fight the development of prostate cancer and colon polyps. Serious nutrient smack-down! If you’re concerned about getting enough fresh garlic love in your diet, don’t pick up pills totally devoid of garlic taste or aroma; the process of aging garlic destroys many of its health benefits. If you are going to supplement, go for garlic oil or a coated pill that dissolves in the intestine rather than the stomach.
Two teaspoons of garlic are what we should aim for daily (Is that all, you ask). I happen to love fresh minced garlic in salad dressing or on vegan pesto pizza, but yes, it does leave my mouth zinging, the taste lasts for hours and I have few friends. I was happy to discover that cooking does not diminish the heath effects of garlic, so you can add its subtle flavor to soups, roasted or sauteed vegetables, mashed potatoes, curries, and scrambled tofu without fear or regret.
This garlicky goodness is not for wimps. Proceed with caution.
Delicious Kick-Your-Cold-To-The-Curb Soup (kudos to Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Soups)
- 4 cups chopped green cabbage
- 3 celery stalks, sliced (oh really, not left whole?)
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 2 carrots, sliced and diced in fancy shapes
- 12 garlic cloves, 6 sliced and 6 minced (I told you I wasn’t messing around)
- 4 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
- 1 green chili, seeded and diced
- juice of one lime
- 1/3 cup white miso
- 12 oz extra firm tofu, cubed (optional)
- 1 package somen or soba noodles (optional)
- Several drops of roasted sesame oil (optional)
1. Boil 6 cups of water in a large pot. Add cabbage, celery, carrots, sliced garlic, and onion. Cook (covered) for about 15 minutes. If you’re adding tofu or soba/somen noodles, add them in and cook for another five minutes. (Or, you can cook noodles separately and add in at the end if that’s how you roll.)
2. Stir in minced garlic, ginger, and chili and turn off the heat. Add lime juice and miso, making sure it’s completely dissolved. You’re done! You can add a few drops of oil to jazz up your bowl, but I like it just fine without. This soup is restorative if you’re sick, and a preemptive strike if you’re not. Enjoy!