TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) My dear father, who lived until almost 90, made a point of eating raw garlic and onions daily, reminding us just as often that garlic and onions clean the blood.
He was no scientist, my father, nor did he possess any medical background. He was merely repeating folk knowledge learned from his parents, who had learned it from their parents, throughout the generations.
In fact, the health benefits of garlic have been common belief for centuries. Records show that Egyptian slaves were regularly fed garlic to increase their strength and endurance. Ancient Greeks and Romans fed it to their athletes and soldiers. Ayurvedic and Chinese medical practitioners have employed for millennia to relieve everything from coughs and fevers to skin problems, earaches and other maladies.
Now we know why. Today, scientists have proven that this little bulb, a member of the onion family, really is a wunderkind. Rich in amino acids, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and selenium, garlic also contains allicin, a sulfur compound responsible for its characteristic odor.
Released when a clove is chopped, crushed or chewed, allicin has been shown to have powerful antibacterial and antiviral properties, and studies have proven its effectiveness in the prevention of cancers in laboratory animals. Other compounds in garlic are known to possess anti-inflammatory properties.
In the kitchen, garlic is one of the most popular ingredients in the world, appearing in vegetable, poultry, fish and meat dishes, curries and condiments, marinades, sauces and salads.
At the famous Stinking Rose garlic restaurants in both San Francisco and Beverly Hills, its even used in ice cream. I wonder what my father would say.
Although most people crush garlic with one type or other of garlic press, Italian chef Carlo Lai uses sliced garlic in all his dishes. He slices whole cloves lengthwise, and either just tenderizes the slices in olive oil, or sautes them till crispy.
Garlic slices heighten, not dominate the taste of a dish, he says, and those who dont like garlic can just remove the slices.
Besides, crispy garlic slices are heavenly. Just remember not to burn garlic or it turns bitter.
To impart a light garlic flavor to salads, soups or stews, rub the side of a salad bowl or pot with a cut clove of garlic, or rub directly on poultry or meats before cooking.
For an entirely different taste sensation, try poaching, baking or roasting garlic. The result: a refined, creamy-butter consistency, with a delicate and more subtle flavor than fresh garlic. Its simply divine whipped into mashed regular or sweet potatoes, or spread on toast, a warm baguette, or pizza dough.
Here are some favorite garlic dishes to try.
This is a recipe from Israeli chef Avi Biton, of the Adora restaurant, Tel Aviv.
Cream of Garlic Soup
With Root Vegetables
20 plus 5 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large potato, peeled and cubed
1 medium carrot, scraped and cubed
2 medium onions, cubed
1 medium celeriac, peeled and cubed
1 small parsnip, peeled and cubed
3 quarts water
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/2 cup heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place 20 cloves of peeled garlic in a small baking pan, and pour over 1/4 cup olive oil. Bake 30 minutes, or until tender.
In a large pot, heat the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and saute the vegetables with 5 cloves of garlic, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the water, salt, pepper and thyme, bring to a boil and cook over medium heat 40 minutes. Add the baked garlic with its oil to the soup, and grind with a stick blender or food processor. Strain and add the 1/2 cup sweet cream. Taste and adjust seasonings and serve.
Makes 8 servings.
Note: For a decorative presentation, top with puff pastry croutons. Cut small squares of prepared puff pastry, brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with black sesame or sesame seeds. Bake in a preheated 400 F oven for 15 minutes till golden, and float in the soup.
According to Italian chef Carlo Lai, When a group of friends in Italy get the munchies just around midnight, we dont order pizza. Spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and oil) is our favorite late-night snack.
Carlos Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
1/4 cup olive oil
3 to 4 garlic cloves, each sliced lengthwise into 4 pieces
2 chili peppers, or more to taste
1/4 cup dry white wine
Salt to taste
1/2 cup minced Italian parsley
Extra-virgin olive oil for flavoring
1 pound dried or fresh spaghetti, or spaghettini
Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 3 quarts of water and 3 tablespoons salt.
Prepare the sauce: In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic, anchovies and chili peppers. Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture, pressing occasionally with the back of the spoon, until the anchovies are broken up and blended into the olive oil. (The oil must not be too hot, or it will fry the anchovies instead of allowing them to melt into the olive oil).
Remove the skillet from heat, and add the wine, a good pinch of salt and half of the parsley. Mix well. Cook fresh spaghetti for 21/2 minutes, or fresh spaghettini for 11/2 minutes, or dried pasta according to package directions. Drain well and add to the skillet. Stir until the strands are coated with sauce. Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve.
Makes 4 servings.
(Adapted from Carlo Lais book Pasta for Wimps, Sterling, 2004)
For the following chicken dish, use large Medjool dates, found in Middle Eastern and gourmet shops, or a drier type of date rather than the soft pitted kind, which tend to fall apart with long cooking.
Chicken With Dates,
Olive Oil and 12 Garlic Cloves
31/2-pound to 4-pound chicken, cut into 6 to 8 serving pieces
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 cup thinly sliced onion, separated into rings
11/2 cups whole pitted Medjool dates, packed
1/2 cup honey
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup dry red wine
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Rinse the chicken and place in a bowl. Pour over boiling water to cover and let stand for a minute or two. Using a sharp knife, scrape the skin to remove excess surface fat. Dry and place in a non-aluminum roasting pan.
Mix together the rest of the ingredients except for the thyme, and pour over the chicken. Break the thyme and rosemary sprigs into large pieces and spread over the chicken. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight, turning occasionally.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Turn the chicken skin side up in the roasting pan. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, turning once. Remove the cover and continue baking until golden brown on both sides, about 15 minutes. Serve with long-grain rice or couscous, tinged with turmeric for a golden-yellow color.