Few vegetables are as versatile as garlic, a member of the onion family that can be slow-roasted in the oven, sautéed in a skillet, minced for a dip or marinade, or whisked into a vinaigrette. With its rich flavor and fragrant aroma, garlic is an essential addition to a wide variety of cuisines, from Italian and Greek to Chinese and Thai.
Some studies have found garlic to have a positive effect on cardiovascular health, helping to lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure–thanks to the more than 100 sulfur compounds it contains. It has also been touted for having therapeutic benefits for everything from colds to hangovers.
Here are some tips for getting the most from your garlic:
Shop smart. Always buy firm, heavy heads of garlic, since the heavier the head, the juicier and more flavorful the individual cloves will be. If a head of garlic has powdery dark patches beneath the skin, or if it feels soft, avoid buying it.
Keep it fresh. Garlic is best stored in a cool, dry place. An unbroken garlic bulb should keep for up to eight weeks, although it may start to dry out before that. Once you’ve broken into a bulb, the individual cloves will last for a week. Avoid storing garlic in the refrigerator, and don’t store it in a plastic bag. Some people like to store their garlic in a “garlic keeper,” typically a ceramic or terracotta container, with or without holes, that keeps out light and absorbs moisture.
Preparation methods matter. Depending on how you prepare it, garlic can vary in flavor. Roasting garlic, for example, renders it mild and nutty, with a creamy spreadable consistency. If you sauté the garlic, it becomes crisp and more pungent. Raw garlic has a stronger flavor than cooked. You’ll get a sharper flavor when you chop garlic, or put it through a garlic press, than when you slice it or leave it whole.
Peel and crush or press with ease. The simplest way to peel garlic is to place a clove on a flat surface, such as a cutting board, and whack it firmly and carefully with the flat side of a chef’s knife. This will crush the clove and make it easy for you to peel off the papery skin before slicing or mincing. Some people like to use a garlic press, a handy tool that lets you push a peeled clove of garlic through small holes and then extract the pulp. .
Wrap and roast. To roast garlic, preheat the oven to 400º F oven. Peel away the outer layers of the garlic bulb skin, leaving the skins of the individual cloves intact and leaving them attached to the base. Using a knife, cut off 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the top of all the cloves. Sprinkle the tops with a little extra-virgin olive oil, then wrap the whole bulb in a piece of foil. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cloves feel soft when pressed. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the garlic pulp from the skins, and eat as is. Or mash it and spread on jicama or cucumber slices (Phase 1) or whole-wheat crackers (Phase 2).
Enliven meals with garlic. Try rubbing your salad bowl with a cut garlic clove before adding the greens and dressing, or sauté a couple of sliced garlic cloves in a little extra-virgin olive oil before adding whatever vegetable you plan to stir-fry. In our Garlic and Soy Grilled Pork Chops recipe, minced garlic is sprinkled over boneless center cut pork chops, along with reduced-sodium soy sauce, and paprika, before the chops are grilled and finally garnished with fresh herbs. And for our Romaine Salad with Garlic Dressing, two whole bulbs of garlic are separated into cloves and simmered until soft. The cooled garlic pulp is blended with white wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, Dijon mustard, and anchovy fillets to make a piquant dressing that’s perfect when tossed with crisp romaine lettuce, red onion rings, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Finally, try our Whole Wheat Garlic Bread. Double or triple the recipe and use a 100% whole-wheat baguette if serving more than two.