What is related to onions, leeks and lilies, keeps mythical creatures at bay, enhances the flavor of many dishes, and has antimicrobial properties? If you guessed Allium sativum (aka garlic), then you are correct!
Hailing from Central Asia and Northern Iran, records show garlic has been cultivated and used for culinary and medicinal purposes for nearly 5,000 years. There are two subspecies of garlic which all varieties can be categorized into: hardneck or softneck. Hardneck garlic produces a hard central stalk and scape (which can be harvested for a delicious vegetable side dish or pesto). Hardneck garlic tends to be a bit more flavorful and have larger, easier to peel cloves than softneck varieties. Softneck garlic has no hard central stalk, smaller cloves, and is the type we typically see in the grocery store (Note: nearly all garlic in US grocery stores is imported from China).
In the garden:
In Michigan, garlic is typically grown as an annual. To plant, heads are broken into their individual cloves in late fall and pushed 2-3 inches into the ground. Plantings and then mulched with a layer of straw or leaves. Garlic is ready to harvest when its stalks turn brown and start to die back which usually happens in July or August; about 8 months after planting.
In the kitchen:
Most people are familiar with garlic’s ability to enhance the flavor of sauteed vegetables, enrich a pasta sauce or add depth to a roasted chicken. Cooking mellows garlic’s pungent, spicy flavor and adds richness to almost any dish. Because of its flavor enhancing properties, garlic can also be a great seasoning for people looking to reduce their sodium (salt) intake. Raw garlic is also a wonderful culinary treat and works well in dressings, marinades, and dipping oils. If you opt for garlic powder versus fresh, note that 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder equals one clove of garlic.
In addition to garlic cloves, a wonderful summer treat is garlic scapes. Scapes are the flower stalks of hardneck garlic and are harvested to encourage larger bulb formation. They have a mild onion like flavor that mellows with cooking and are very tender, like young asparagus. Common ways to enjoy scapes included lightly sauteing them with salt and a splash of lemon juice or pureeing into a spicy pesto.
In the Medicine Cabinet:
For thousands of years, garlic has been lauded for its medicinal properties. Garlic is full of organosulfur compounds, like allicin, which act as antioxidants and antimicrobials. These compounds also display anti inflammatory properties. Current research shows regular garlic consumption might help lower cholesterol levels and bolster the immune system.
Check out this awesome recipe for 40 Clove Chicken from Dyer Family Organic Farm:
From Get Going with Great Garlic by The Dyer Family Organic Farm (available at Argus Farm Stop)
“This is one of our favorite recipes to serve company and the most requested recipe that we hand out at our market tables.”
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
½ cup plus 2 Tb olive oil
10 sprigs fresh thyme
40 peeled cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 350F
- Season chicken with salt and pepper
- Toss with 2 Tb olive oil and brown on both sides in a wide fry pan or Dutch oven over high heat.
- Remove from heat, add oil, thyme, and garlic cloves.
- Cover and bake for 1.5 hours
- Remove chicken from oven, let rest for 10 minutes, serve!
Kelly Wilson is the Director of Community Partners for Taste the Local Difference. Contact her at email@example.com
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