The Joys of Garlic

Let me say it up front. I am a serious, confirmed garlic-lover. Where people hold up their noses and scowl when garlic is mentioned, I embrace the bulb with the passion of a devout believer. I come from  a culture where garlic is king. Count Dracula would have a hard time attacking us. Garlic (Latin name: Allium sativum) is a member of the onion family. It has been used throughout recorded history for both medicinal and culinary purposes. It is native to central Asia and has been around for 5,000 years. The ancient Egyptians were the first to cultivate it and it played an important role in their culture. The builders of the ancient pyramids were said to eat garlic to enhance their endurance and strength. Roman emperors were particularly fond of garlic. They used it an an antidote to poisons---something very popular at the time if you wanted to get rid of the top dog in the empire. The Spanish conquistadors used it as a preservative.

Garlic has great medicinal properties. It promotes the well being of heart function and helps maintain healthy blood circulation. One of its great health benefits is that it enhances the body's immune cell activity. It helps regulate the body's defenses against allergies; and helps loosen plaque from arterial walls. It also aids in regulating blood sugar levels. Not only that, it helps regulate the body's blood pressure. So, if you have problems with high or low blood pressure, garlic can help to equalize it. The reason is that garlic contains the compound allicin, which not only lowers blood pressure, but also assists in regulating proper weight control. Garlic also reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Studies have shown that two or three cloves a day have cut the risk of subsequent hearty attacks in half of heart patients. But most important of all, garlic contains germanium, an anti-cancer agent. Garlic had more of it than any other herb. Think of garlic as an anti-cancer food. All taken together, one can say that garlic is a powerful perfect natural antibiotic. As such it is effective against many bacteria, fungi and viruses. Back in the Middle Ages it was though to ward off the plague.

All the medicinal benefits aside, garlic is a wonderful seasoning. It adds aroma, taste and nutrition to foods. There is nothing better to give a dish that extra "oomph." Yet for maximum flavor and nutritional benefits, always buy fresh garlic. Avoid garlic flakes, garlic powder and garlic paste. They ain't as good culinarilly or otherwise.  Buy garlic that is plumb and has an unbroken skin. Then simply squeeze the bulb between your fingers to check that it feels firm and is not damp. Avoid garlic that is soft, shriveled, moldy, or that has begun to sprout. Always store garlic in an uncovered or loosely covered container in a cool dark place. These days you can purchase  garlic storage pots made of clay or marvel. They are perfect for this function. It's not necessary to refrigerate garlic. And freezing raw garlic will reduce its flavor and change its texture.

The following is one of my favorite garlic recipes. It call for twelve cloves---that's right: 12 cloves. Its an easy chicken dish for all us garlic fanatics out there.


1 broiler fryer chicken (2 1/2 to 3 pounds), cut up into serving-size pieces
1/3 cup olive oil
12 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced finely
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth

1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium-size skillet or frying pan (I prefer cast iron). Add chicken pieces and stir-fry until brown on all sides.
2. Add garlic and cook for about 3 minutes more. Add sesame oil, soy sauce and chicken broth.
3. Cook 5 minutes more, then lower flame to low simmer, cover, and cook 10 minutes more. Serve with steamed rice, pasta, or crusty bread.
    Yield: 4 servings. 

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