In my opinion, garlic is one of nature’s finest condiments.
Those who read my food columns regularly are well aware that I tend to incorporate aromatic, flavorful cloves into my dishes on a very regular basis. It’s incredible how a single clove of garlic can permeate the overall flavor of your meals, elevating both the aroma and flavor.
Garlic is a member of the Allium family, sharing the likes of onions, leeks, shallots and chives. All such ingredients are typically used to serve a similar culinary purpose: to act as flavoring agents for your dishes.
While they are rarely the main attraction in a dish, they do play an essential role in the end results. Salad dressings, stir-fry’s, roasts, soups and grilled meats would not quite be the same without such items.
Throughout the summer, fresh sticky garlic bulbs are pulled from the ground once they reach their desirable size. They are then set aside to cure and sold throughout the year.
Garlic bulbs can last a long time, often for many months if stored in cool dark places free of moisture. Each bulb of garlic consists of a network of individual cloves, which are the most desired edible portion of the plant. Each clove is surrounded by a paper-thin skin, which is discarded before consumption.
Garlic is enjoyed both raw and cooked. In its raw state, garlic is most pungent. Anyone who has ever sunk their teeth into a raw clove has experienced the spicy bite delivered, so strong it can even make your eyes water.
Because of its strong natural flavor, raw garlic is often mellowed out through the addition of acid-based foods, such as a lemon juice or vinegar. A homemade salad dressing using fresh garlic is one example. Garlic is also great when finely minced before making an appearance in a bruschetta with freshly diced tomatoes (also acidic), with olive oil, and fresh basil, seasoned with salt.
Cooking garlic significantly mellows out its naturally strong spicy taste, and slowly develops pleasant notes of nutty and sweet flavor. The texture transforms from crisp to creamy and can be almost as smooth as butter. I often roast the heads of garlic whole, wrapped in foil until soft, then used as a tasty spread. I also regularly add garlic to soups, soups and stews.
This week I prepared a fully loaded chicken and vegetable soup, ideal as the weather starts to cool. I prepared this in the slow cooker so all I had to do was some prep work, then just let it cook low and slow. You can really incorporate any seasonal vegetables you desire.
Chicken and Vegetable Soup
8 large celery ribs, diced.
1 large onion, diced.
3-4 large carrots, peeled and diced.
½ pound okra, diced into small rounds.
2 medium potatoes, diced.
1 head garlic, peeled and minced.
2-inch piece of ginger (available at the Saturday and Sunday farmers’’ markets).
14½ ounce can diced tomatoes.
2 large chicken breasts.
1 teaspoon salt (add more to taste once cooked).
1 tablespoon ground cumin.
2 tablespoons dried oregano.
Fresh cracked pepper.
Place all ingredients in a slow-cooker and add water until it just reaches the top of the ingredients. Mix a few times. Turn to high heat and cook for about 4 hours.
Remove chicken and dice or shred and mix back into the slower cooker. Add additional seasoning as desired to taste.
Yield: Serves about 8.