Taming garlic

The trick is to get your garlic to give you the effect you want.

garlic 88 (photo credit: )
garlic 88
(photo credit: )
If you've ever eaten eggplant salad and bitten into a piece of garlic that wasn't chopped fine enough, you're familiar with garlic's power to overwhelm your palate. Even with one clove, it can be hard to get that strong, garlicky flavor out of your taste-buds. After having such an experience, some people hesitate to eat any foods flavored with garlic. But garlic's potency depends on how it is used. The longer garlic cooks, the milder it gets. For example, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, a French specialty, is not aggressively garlicky; the whole garlic cloves become mellow and sweet during the hour or so in which they cook with the chicken. The trick is to get your garlic to give you the effect you want. Initially when I cooked soups and stews, I often was frustrated because my garlic didn't have enough punch. When I followed recipes that directed me to add a garlic clove or two to the pot with the meat and vegetables, the garlic's flavor was muted during the long simmering. I felt that if I was going to take the time to peel and chop garlic, I wanted it to have a more noticeable effect. On the other hand, adding it uncooked to the finished dishes imparted a strong, raw garlic flavor. One solution is cooking the garlic briefly. Egyptian cooks are fond of using slightly cooked garlic as a lively finishing touch for cooked greens, sauteing it lightly with ground coriander and adding the mixture to the cooked vegetables. In a similar way, Indian cooks use garlic to flavor cooked legumes, sauteing it for a minute or two with fresh ginger, cumin seeds and other spices, then stirring it into the cooked beans at serving time. Eventually I arrived at a compromise that suited my palate. I add some garlic to my stews at the beginning, and a little more during the last minute or two of cooking. When I was reading my friend Marlena Spieler's book, The Jewish Heritage Cookbook, I noticed that she too likes to add garlic in two stages. In response to my inquiry, Marlena wrote that she came to the realization that garlic has different effects depending on when it is used and she likes to add some at the end "when it's fresh and strong in flavor." She makes mushrooms Stroganoff by frying mushrooms in butter with garlic, then simmering them in a creamy sauce seasoned with more garlic. For her tomato soup with Israeli couscous, she sautes aromatic vegetables with chopped mint, coriander, cumin and garlic, then adds more garlic toward the end of cooking. Even her chicken soup with kneidlach has garlic in the matza balls and is finished with finely chopped garlic. This makes perfect sense, and yet not many cooks suggest using garlic twice. One who does is American chef Paul Prudhomme, who advocates a similar technique in Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen. He notes that when using aromatic vegetables - onions, celery, sweet peppers and garlic, he prefers to "add a portion of them in the early stages of cooking and then add the rest later; when you do this, you achieve levels of taste and texture." For his New Orleans Italian red gravy, which he serves over pasta, chicken and fish, he browns garlic cloves in olive oil, then removes them and browns chopped onion in the oil. He simmers the onions with chicken stock, tomato sauce, bay leaves, dried herbs, pepper and minced garlic. The browned garlic cloves and the simmered garlic each impart different kinds of flavors. In the following Middle Eastern white bean soup, part of the garlic simmers with the beans, giving the soup a mellow background flavor. The finished soup is enriched with more garlic sauteed in olive oil at the last minute. The result is a soup that is moderately garlicky. Adjust the potency to your taste, adding more garlic at the final step for greater punch. If you're a great garlic lover, omit the sauteing and stir in the garlic raw, off the heat... and be careful whom you kiss afterwards. WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH GARLIC AND HOT PEPPER This tasty soup, flavored with tomatoes, onions and garlic, is perfect for a cold winter day. You can use the same recipe with black eyed peas or chickpeas. 450 gr. dried white beans (about 21⁄2 cups) 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 2 large onions, chopped 6 large garlic cloves, minced 3 to 4 cups water 3 cups beef, chicken or vegetable broth or additional water a 400-gr. can diced tomatoes, with their liquid 2 Tbsp. tomato paste Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 tsp. paprika (optional) 1⁄2 tsp. hot red pepper or 1⁄4 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste 1⁄4 cup chopped parsley or fresh coriander Sort beans, discarding any stones, and rinse them. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan, add onions and saute over medium heat for 10 minutes or until light golden. Add half the garlic, saute a few seconds, and add beans, 3 cups water and the broth. Bring to a boil, cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper and paprika and cook for 30 minutes or until beans are very tender, adding hot water form time to time if soup becomes too thick. Stir in red pepper and half the parsley. Heat remaining tablespoon oil in a small skillet. Add remaining garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 1 minute or until fragrant but not brown. Add to soup. Taste soup and adjust seasoning. Serve garnished with remaining parsley. Makes 6 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast.