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Easy meals that bring out the best in garlic
2015-07-30
By Li Anlan and Wang Yuan

Garlic has been part of the cuisine, medicine and folklore in cultures around the world for thousands of years. In China, the world’s largest cultivator of garlic, this pungent relative of the onion family has a history dating back to 2000 BC and it still is an essential ingredient in Chinese cooking.

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Garlic is said to help digestion, prevent colds and reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure. In World War I, it was used as an antiseptic to help prevent gangrene. On a more whimsical level, garlic strings were hung on doorways to chase away ghosts in ancient China and to ward off werewolves and vampires in Central Europe.

Patio gardeners find it easy to grow in pots. Garlic thrives in cold and must be planted over the winter months.

Large cloves are best because they produce larger bulbs. Each planted clove will produce one bulb of garlic. Be sure to plant the cloves stem (flat) side down and pointed ends up. The bulbs are ready to harvest with the green shoots start to yellow.

Aside from its somewhat unpleasant side effect of causing bad breath, garlic brings a distinctive flavor to cooking.

It is a staple in Chinese, Southeast Asian and Mediterranean cuisines. Sometimes it is eaten raw.

In Shandong and Henan provinces, restaurants often have small plates of raw garlic cloves on the table for diners to eat with noodles.

Removing the garlic from its peeling can be finicky.

Some people use garlic presses, while others just smash unpeeled cloves with the side of a cleaver, releasing the garlic from its outer peel easily and making it simple to chop fine.

Cooked garlic — boiled or baked

In order to reduce the spiciness while still retaining the original flavor of garlic, people in Guangdong Province often boil it before serving. Cantonese cuisine uses boiled garlic in various dishes.

For example, bak kut, a soup popularly served in Malaysia and Singapore, features fresh pork ribs stewed with herbs and two bulbs of boiled garlic.

In some Western cuisines, garlic is often baked or grilled with vegetables, meat or seafood. The Mediterraneans also like garlic-toasted breads.

Three-cheese garlic bread

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Ingredients:

1 loaf French bread

4 garlic cloves

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 cup butter

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius.

2. Chop the garlic cloves finely, add butter, garlic powder and chili powder and stir.

3. Cut the bread into slices and spread butter mixture on top of each slice. Place bread on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 2 minutes.

4. Mix the three cheeses. Remove bread from the oven and sprinkle cheese mixture on each slice. Return the bread to the oven and broil until the cheese is melted.

Pickled garlic — a tradition in the north

In northern China, people traditionally weaken the pungency of raw garlic by pickling the cloves. This preserving method is not only easy to do but it also keeps the garlic for a longer period of time.

Simply immerse the peeled garlic in a marinade of brown sugar and sweet rice vinegar, and store for later use.

There are two typical kinds of pickled garlic: sugared garlic (糖蒜) and Laba garlic (腊八蒜).

Sugared garlic is a favorite in Beijing and in Shanxi Province. It’s often used to cleanse the palate and help digest heavier meals, like boiled mutton.

Laba garlic is named after the Laba Festival, which is celebrated on the eighth day of the last lunar month. Families in the north put garlic cloves in a jar filled with high-quality rice vinegar and store in a cool, dry place. Ten days later, the garlic turns to a special turquoise hue from soaking up the vinegar and various spices. Laba garlic is often served with dumplings.

Fish with pickled garlic

Ingredients:

2 fish fillets

1/2 cup pickled garlic

3 fresh garlic cloves

5 slices of ginger

2 pieces of star anise

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons Chinese cooking wine
2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 cup oil

3 cups water

1. Rinse the fish in cold water and chop into cubes.

2. Marinate the cubes in a mixture of salt, sugar, soy sauce and Chinese cooking wine for about one hour.

3. Dust the fish with cornstarch and fry in hot oil.

4. Remove the fish and half of the oil. Add ginger, garlic cloves and anise.

5. Add water, salt, sugar and soy sauce, and then stir in the fried fish.

6. Add the pickled garlic to finish.

Black (fermented) garlic
— sweet with a mild finish

Fermented garlic is one way enjoy garlic without developing bad breath.

It takes 60 to 90 days for the fresh white garlic to ferment into a black color.

The key to the process is keeping moisture at the right level. After fermentation, the protein and carbohydrates in the garlic decompose into amino acid and fructose, while still preserving the allicin.

Black garlic is sweeter in taste than regular garlic and is said to contain twice the levels of antioxidants.

Spare ribs with black garlic soup

Ingredients:

1 rack of spare ribs

1/2 cup black garlic

1 teaspoon parsley

2 slices of ginger

2 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons Chinese cooking wine

5 cups of water

1. Rinse the rib in clean water and chop it into chunks.

2. Marinate in Chinese cooking wine for 30 minutes.

3. Boil the ribs in the water until thoroughly cooked.

4. Add ginger, salt, parsley and black garlic to finish.

Pork with raw garlic sauce

Ingredients:

1 slab of pork belly

1 raw garlic bulb

5 slices of ginger

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 piece of star anise

1 teaspoon salt

3 teaspoons Chinese cooking wine
5 teaspoons soy sauce

1 cup oil

3 cups water

1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the pork, ginger, anise, salt and cooking wine and cook until the meat is tender.

2. Set the pork aside to cool, then slice into even pieces.

3. Crush the raw garlic. In a pan, heat up the oil and then add the garlic, soy sauce and sesame.

4. Spread the mixture over the pork slices and serve.


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