Cooking Class: Glorious garlic

From aioli to s’hug, these little cloves can perk up any soup, sauce or main dish – and even dessert.

By FAYE LEVY
August 22, 2011 17:33
garlic

garlic_58. (photo credit: courtesy)

 
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Yemenite cooks might not have much in common with those of France and Italy, but they all share a love of garlic and use it in a similar way. They add uncooked garlic to soups at the last minute to perk up their flavor.

That’s part of the reason why minestrone tastes so good. When the popular Italian sauce pesto is added, the garlic in the pesto is raw. The same is true of the fiery Yemenite condiment s’hug, made of garlic blended with hot peppers, which adds a lively flavor when mixed into hearty meat soups.

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Cooks in Provence stir aioli, a delicious garlic mayonnaise made with olive oil, into a fish soup called bourride.

Each of these savory preparations is served as a table sauce, too.

Garlic’s impact depends on how you cut it, whether you cook it and for how long. Even one clove of raw garlic can seem like too much for a cup of sauce if the garlic is not handled properly. On the other hand, you can eat garlic cloves whole if they are roasted or poached.

Finely minced raw garlic gives tehina sauce just the pizzazz it needs so it won’t be bland. If the garlic is cut in pieces that are too large, however, even a tiny amount can overpower an entire bowl of the sauce. Such an error is often the culprit behind some people’s dislike of garlic.

A bit of terminology: Crushed garlic, often called for in recipes, means a garlic clove that you smash with a chef’s knife held flat. Chopped garlic is cut into fine pieces. Minced garlic is chopped as fine as you can.

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For most purposes, you can mince garlic in a food processor to a sort of puree.

This works fine for aioli, pesto and s’hug.

Cooking has a great effect on the flavor of garlic. Whenever you roast whole garlic cloves, simmer garlic in soup or poach it in cream, the garlic’s flavor becomes mellow, even sweet. The first time I tasted the famous French specialty chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, I was surprised to find how mild the garlic flavor was.

I’ve even enjoyed garlic ice cream.

When I’m preparing vegetable or lentil soup, I often add the garlic twice, for two different effects. I cook some coarsely chopped garlic cloves with the other soup ingredients to contribute a delicate garlic taste to the broth. Then, for extra punch, I add finely minced garlic to the finished soup.

Richard Collins and Robert Leighton, authors of The Kardea Gourmet: Smart and Delicious Eating for a Healthy Heart, use a similar technique when making their walnut basil pesto. They briefly saute part of the garlic to decrease its bite, and add the rest of the garlic to the sauce raw.

Most people don’t think of garlic as a sweet ingredient, but it’s the sugar content of “the stinking rose” that causes it to burn easily. For this reason French chefs who start a stew or soup with onions and garlic are careful to saute the onions first, as they take longer to become tender. Once the onions are nearly done, they add the garlic so it sautes briefly and does not burn.

Cathy Thomas, author of Melissa’s Great Book of Produce, advises buying plump, firm garlic bulbs with dry skins and avoiding heads with shriveled or soft cloves. The garlic should be stored in a cool, dark area with plenty of breathing room and will keep for up to six weeks.

It’s better to store the garlic heads whole; breaking them into cloves shortens their shelf life.

To peel a garlic clove, place it on a cutting board. Using a chef’s knife held flat, hit the garlic or press the knife on it firmly with your palm so that the garlic’s skin separates from the clove. If the clove has a green sprout, some chefs discard it, especially when using the garlic raw.

CLASSIC AIOLI

This sauce, made by the same technique as mayonnaise, is delicious with cooked or raw vegetables, fish and hard-boiled eggs or as a sandwich spread with grilled eggplant slices or cold turkey. Instead of using a food processor, you can make the sauce in a blender.

In that case, chop the garlic with a knife first.

Because the egg yolks are raw, make this sauce only with very fresh eggs.

Otherwise, make Quick Aioli following the note below, using prepared mayonnaise.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

✔ 3 medium garlic cloves, peeled
✔ 3⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
✔ 2 egg yolks
✔ 1 to 11⁄2 Tbsp. strained fresh lemon juice
✔ Salt and freshly ground pepper
✔ 1⁄2 to 1 Tbsp. lukewarm water

Drop garlic cloves through feed tube of food processor fitted with metal blade, with motor running, and process until finely chopped. Add egg yolks, 1 Tbsp. of the oil, 1⁄2 Tbsp. of the lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Process until thoroughly blended, scraping bottom and sides of processor container several times.

With motor running, gradually pour in 1⁄4 cup oil in a very thin trickle. The remaining oil can be poured in a little faster, in a thin stream. With motor still running, gradually pour in 1⁄2 Tbsp. more lemon juice, 1 tsp. at a time. Add lukewarm water, 1 tsp. at a time, to make sauce slightly thinner.

Transfer to a bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning. If you like, gradually stir in more lemon juice. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Note: To make Quick Aioli, finely mince 2 or 3 garlic cloves. Mix minced garlic thoroughly with 3⁄4 cup mayonnaise, preferably one made with olive oil. Flavor to taste with lemon juice, adding it gradually.

S’HUG – YEMENITE HOT PEPPER GARLIC CHUTNEY

S’hug is basically equal parts of hot pepper and garlic. Fresh coriander is a good addition, and some people like to add cumin, too.

It is supposed to be very pungent from the peppers; but if you prefer it milder, remove the seeds and membranes and use only the flesh of the peppers. Wear gloves when handling hot peppers if you are sensitive to them.

S’hug keeps for about a week in the refrigerator; it can also be frozen. Add s’hug in small amounts to sandwiches or stir into soups or stews.

Makes 1/2 to 2/3 cup, about 4 to 6 servings.

✔ 1⁄2 cup garlic cloves, peeled (about 60 gr.)
✔ 5 medium jalapeno peppers or 10 smaller hot green or red peppers (about 60 gr.)
✔ 2 to 3 Tbsp. water, if needed
✔ 1⁄2 cup coarsely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
✔ 1⁄2 tsp. salt, or to taste
✔ freshly ground black pepper to taste
✔ 2 to 3 tsp. cumin, or to taste

Put garlic and peppers in food processor and puree until finely chopped and well blended. If necessary, add 2 or 3 Tbsp. water, just enough to enable food processor to chop mixture. Add fresh coriander and process until blended. Add salt, pepper and cumin. Keep in a jar in refrigerator or freeze it.

WALNUT BASIL PESTO

This recipe is from The Kardea Gourmet. Collins and Leighton make their pesto lighter than more traditional versions and use lightly sauteed heart-healthy walnuts instead of the usual Parmesan cheese. “If you love Parmesan cheese,” they write, “sprinkle on top of the dish; do not blend in. In this way, the flavor will not get buried. You will be able to identify the taste with far less cheese.” They serve the pesto in small portions.

In addition to pasta, they also like pesto with a mixture of chickpeas, diced red and yellow peppers and halved cherry tomatoes or as a spread for sandwiches.

To freeze the pesto, place about half a cup (enough for about 450 gr.) in a small container. Cover with a thin coat of olive oil and freeze.

Makes 12 servings

✔ 2⁄3 cup extra virgin olive oil
✔ 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
✔ 1 cup walnuts
✔ 4 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
✔ 1 cup fresh parsley, loosely packed

Heat a pan over low heat. When heated, add 1⁄3 cup of olive oil, 3 cloves of chopped garlic and all the walnuts. Saute 2 to 4 minutes or until garlic is soft but not browned. You are only sauteing to remove the bite of the garlic and add nuttiness to the walnuts. Set aside and let cool.

In a food processor, add the second 1⁄3 cup of olive oil, the basil, the parsley and 1 clove of the fresh, chopped garlic. Blend with the sauteed walnuts.

Refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Vegetable Creations.

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