Garlic transforms culinary experience

Kitty Scully says humble garlic bulb adds flavour and nutritional kick.

FOR such a basic bulb, garlic or Allium sativum certainly has a big reputation and robust flavour.

Although garlic may not exactly ward off vampires, it is guaranteed to transform any meal into an aromatic and health- boosting culinary experience. Raw or cooked garlic adds a wonderful flavour and nutritional kick to any dish, with raw or pressed being the preferred mode for maximising its many health benefits. However, if you cannot tolerate raw garlic, add it chopped to foods while they are cooking. It’s best to add it towards the end of the cooking process to retain the maximum amount of garlic goodness.

Up until about 40 years ago, garlic did not feature in traditional Irish cuisine, therefore it has not always been a popular player in Irish gardens despite the fact that it does really well in our climate. As garlic is originally a native of the mountainous regions of Central Asia, it has adapted to extreme changes in temperature including very cold nights. As a result it actually performs best when subjected to a cold period of one or two months. Ground temperatures of betweeen 0 – 10º Celsius encourages optimum clove formation.

Because of this, autumn planted garlic produces better crops than garlic sown in spring. Cold temperatures break the bulbs from dormancy which is a subtle indicator to us garlic lovers to avoid storing bulbs in the refrigerator as it can trigger sprouting. The same applies to onions.

An old wives’ tale recommends planting garlic on the shortest day of the year, but as this falls on December 21, chances are the ground will be wet and the soil unworkable. Garlic enjoys a long growing season, so if planted in October up to mid-November, the harvest usually occurs in August and the bulbs are much bigger.

There are many varieties of garlic, so for planting now, ensure to choose an autumn variety such as Vallelado or Early Wight. Buy the best quality, certified disease-free bulbs and avoid planting supermarket garlic as chances are, it has come from China and thus will not adapt to our growing conditions. Also, there is no guarantee that shop-bought garlic will grow as bulbs may have been sprayed with a germination inhibitor.

As garlic is a member of the Allium family, ensure to follow a crop rotation and do not plant it in a bed where onions have been harvested. If your soil is very heavy, incorporate organic matter or plant in a raised bed. Garlic for planting is supplied in a whole bulb and it is necessary to carefully split it into individual cloves prior to planting. Cloves should be planted pointy end up and about 6 - 10 cm deep. Leave ample spacing each way in the rows, approximately 15-20cm will allow for good-sized bulbs. However, if it is young fresh immature bulbs known as ‘wet’ or ‘green’ garlic you are interested in, reduce spacing to approximately 10cm each way.

Wet garlic is simply a young, immature bulb that hasn’t yet divided and looks like a small leek and can be harvested fresh in early spring. The Chinese are keen on garlic in all its forms and cultivate it not only for bulbs but also for its flowering stem and young green leaves. Another garlic gem on the restaurant scene is ‘black garlic’, a process born in Korea, which involves heating whole bulbs of garlic for about a month and results in caramalised soft black cloves whose flavor has been likened to that of sweet savoury balsamic vinegar or molasses but with soft tangy garlic undertones. It looks amazing, tastes divine and is said to contain nearly twice as many antioxidants as regular garlic.

Garlic is relatively easy to grow and it is virtually pest free. After all, it is the most well known of all companion plants, being planted under rose bushes, etc, to repel greenfly and is used in many commercial and homemade pest repellants. According to folk medicine, garlic has been said to cure just about everything from the common cold and flu to the Plague.

Due to its anti-fungal properties, garlic is also used for getting rid of annoying athlete’s foot by soaking feet in a bath of warm water and crushed garlic. Being packed with antioxidants it will certainly help boost immune systems. One of my favourite super quick snacks to make is toast smeared with garlic. The garlic just melts into the warm surface by a simple rubbing action. Next drizzle generously with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and cracked black pepper and hey presto, a delicious nutritious cold-busting collation is born. Clearly good bread is quintessential to the yumminess of this snack.


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