When I first started cooking on my own in my late teens, early twenties, I thought there was no such thing as too much garlic. After all, didn’t everyone love garlic? I made my signature Chicken Adobo with a whole head of garlic and added some fresh, extra thin sliced garlic on top when I plated the dish, along with a sprinkle or two of green onions.
Sounded good, looked good but alas, my dinner guests weren’t asking for seconds.
Feeling disappointed, I asked my boyfriend what had been wrong with the meal. He was the first one to ever tell me words I’d thought I’d never hear—You used too much garlic!
Yup. I’d garlicked the heck out of a very good, classic dish. Adding on the shaved garlic and green onions introduced a pungent, acidic flavor that didn’t need to be there. Plus, it cloaked what was good about the adobo in the first place.
Lesson learned: Yes, you can use too much garlic.
In the years since, I’ve grown to appreciate garlic’s milder, sweeter side. Roasting and blanching are probably the best ways to bring out the natural sweetness. Garlic scapes are another great way to go. Scapes are the top part of the garlic plant. So, if you’re growing garlic, you’ll have scapes, usually around early spring up until midsummer. All you have to do is trim them off (this actually helps the garlic bulb) and use them in a stir fry or chopped up like scallions or green onions. They make a mean pesto and a fantastic Asian style pancake. The flavor is sweet, green and mild but with a tad more bite and earthiness than a green onion. You can blanch these very quickly and toss with a touch of sesame seed oil and toasted sesame seeds for a fantastic, refreshing side dish that’s about as easy as it gets.
The Spanish really know how to do garlic. From Andalucia to Catalonia to Valencia, you’ll find the garlic in their dishes is usually mellowed by cooking or roasting. Often a fat is used in conjunction with it to temper it slightly, giving depth over pungency. Ajo Blanco is a terrific chilled soup. The fat in the almonds, tempers garlic’s pungency as does a quick blanching. This soup is perfect for those warm spring and summer days. Get all your ingredients together and you can whip up a batch in literally minutes while looking every bit the seasoned epicure.
Easy Ajo Blanco (Spanish White Garlic Soup)
- 4oz. Blanched Peeled Almonds (slivered is fine)
- 1 day old baguette
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 cups filtered water
- 5 Tbsp.Extra Virgin Spanish olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
- 16-20 seedless green grapes (optional)
- Sea Salt (to taste)
Place the water in a large bowl. Slice baguette into thick slices and remove crust. You want only the white part. Blanch garlic by placing it in a cup of water and microwaving for thirty seconds. If you do not have a microwave, you can flash blanch it by boiling water on the stove and dropping the garlic in and immediately draining off by pouring into colander you’ve set in the sink and rinsing under cold water.
Put blanched almonds and blanched garlic into food processor or blender and pulse to mix ingredients thoroughly. If you are using a blender, you may need to add a few tablespoons of water to mix properly. Blend until smooth.
Remove bread from water. Use a slotted spoon and your hand to gently press out excess water (yes this is weird). Remember to retain the water; you’ll need it in a moment. If necessary, tear bread into smaller pieces and add 1 tsp. sea salt to processor or blender. Blend on pulse.
While blending, slowly drizzle Extra Virgin olive oil, then vinegar, and finally the same water the bread was soaking in. Adjust salt, vinegar and olive oil to taste.
If you have the time, chill this soup for a couple hours or overnight. You can also, pop it into the freezer for a few minutes. Serve in chilled bowls, garnished with halved grapes sprinkled on top, or whole and on the side.
Although there is a variety of garlic named “black garlic” the black garlic that’s been taking the culinary world by storm is actually a product produced in Korea. It’s regular garlic that’s been fermented by some very special process and in some very special machinery. The melanoidin that is produced when the garlic undergoes fermentation is responsible for the color, the fermentation also adds a sweetness and umami to the garlic that pairs well with anything from steaks to nectarines (no kidding). Recipes I came across mentioned Black Garlic in a Sesame, Ginger and Noodle Salad, Scallops with Chorizo and Black Garlic and Poached Nectarines in Black Garlic and Amaretto Syrup.
Smoked Garlic is another way you can get to know garlic’s milder side. You can usually find it in a specialty food shop somewhere over near the pickled peppers and seasoned olive oils. Some shops will even smoke it themselves, in which case you’ll find it at the deli or prepared food area. So what do you use if for? Smoked garlic works great with roasts. The smokiness and garlic infuse the meat with wonderful flavor that works especially well with fennel, lemon or tarragon. Cry fowl? I think so. Roasted Chicken with Smoked Garlic and Fennel is how I’m going to use mine.
Love your garlic? Well if you really love it, take the time to explore garlic’s milder side. There’s great flavor, great meals and great experiences to be had.
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