‘Stinking rose’ remains a tasty treat

The Stinking Rose. The origins of garlic’s odorous epithet are cloaked in the same lore that once defined its properties. The stinking rose was long believed to keep vampires away and ward off the evil eye. Today, though, scientists have shown that garlic protects against certain cancers, fights infectious diseases, relieves stress, treats various heart conditions, reduces inflammation, and aids in weight control.

Indeed, modern science has even confirmed the wisdom of our rebbes. Dr. Ethan Schuman, cantor at Nusach Hari B’nai Zion and a Talmudic scholar, explains that the Talmud, and later the Shulhun Aruch (the code of Jewish law by Joseph Karo), both tell us to eat garlic on the eve of the Sabbath to increase fertility. Scientists have now determined that garlic does indeed have an aphrodisiac affect.

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In Asia and Europe, in Africa and North America, and in abundance in my kitchen, garlic figures prominently in a myriad of cuisines. Garlic has been cultivated for over 5,000 years and is part of the lily family. The sulfur compound in garlic, allinese, is what makes the stinking rose stink. When the sulfur compounds in garlic are broken by chopping or crushing, the odor-causing enzymes are released. The more finely the garlic is chopped, the more intense the flavor.

I love garlic for its versatility. From raw to saut éed to roasted, garlic will add panache to the most ordinary of dishes. Raw garlic, which is the most pungent form, adds piquancy to hummus, pesto sauce, salsas and guacamole. Each of these dishes should be allowed to sit covered at room temperature for at least fifteen minutes before serving. This will give the garlic time to blend with the other ingredients and thus become less overwhelming.

Saut éing garlic softens its bite and provides a flavor boost to soups, stews, sauces, and rice and grain pilafs. Indeed, simply saut éing a few cloves of chopped garlic along with spinach, greens, broccoli, or carrots will elevate these common vegetables to gourmet status. If you’ve saut éed your garlic too long and it has turned brown and crispy, throw it out and start over. Browned garlic is bitter, and that flavor will ruin your dish.

Roasting garlic transforms its flavor into something sweet with nutty overtones. Adding a clove or two of roasted garlic to vinaigrettes provides creaminess without the cream. Passing the roasted garlic through a ricer along with your boiled potatoes will turn ordinary mashed potatoes into an epicurean delight.

Roasted garlic added to mayonnaise, along with a dash of lemon juice, creates a tasty aioli, a Provencal dip for fresh vegetables and a delicious condiment for sandwiches. And even the pickiest of eaters would agree that it’s hard to resist a slice of fresh baked bread smeared with the velvety melt-in-your-mouth garlic.

When purchasing garlic look for bulbs that are firm and compact. Avoid bulbs with a brown, powdery residue. That residue is a sign of rot. Also avoid garlic bulbs whose cloves have begun to sprout. So, too, if you notice a green sprout after peeling your clove, be sure to remove it before chopping. Garlic sprouts are bitter, and their use will alter the flavor of your dish.

To use fresh garlic, pull off the desired number of cloves from your garlic bulb. Place the cloves on a cutting board and gently press down on each with the side of your knife. After cutting off the tips at both ends of the clove, you’ll be able to slip the clove out of its papery skin.

If peeled garlic is not immediately used, it should be stored in a small container of olive oil in your refrigerator. Unpeeled garlic, however, is best stored at room temperature in a cool dark area of your kitchen in a vented container, where it will stay fresh for months.

As we know all too well, the delectable flavor that the stinky rose imparts to our food comes at a stinky price to our hands and our breath. To rid your hands of that powerful garlic smell, rinse them under cold water while rubbing them on something stainless steel, such as a cup or butter knife. To combat garlic breath, consider adding fresh parsley to the dish you are preparing with garlic, or simply eat a few sprigs following your meal. And make sure that your friends, family, and significant other eat the same garlicky dish that you do. Those that eat garlic together should most certainly stay together because no one else will want to be around you.

I love to cook with garlic, and I especially love to cook with lots and lots of garlic. I’ve included two of my favorite recipes that use plenty of garlic. The garlic pasta, as it has become known in my family, uses a combination of cooked and raw garlic. The dressing uses an entire bulb of roasted garlic.

Roasted Garlic Dressing

1 large bulb of garlic

6 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. honey

2 tbsp. cider vinegar

2 tbsp. vegetable broth

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut 1/4 inch off the top of the garlic bulb, exposing the raw garlic. Place bulb in an oven-proof dish large enough to accommodate the garlic. Pour olive oil over garlic. Cover dish with a double layer of foil paper. Bake garlic in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until garlic is tender. Remove foil paper and let mixture sit at room temperature until garlic is cool enough to handle.

Place honey, vinegar, vegetable broth, and mustard into the container of a food processor. Squeeze each clove of garlic out of its skin and into the processor container along with the other ingredients. Pulse processor to blend. With machine running, pour remaining olive oil from the dish through the food chute. Check dressing for flavor and add salt and pepper, to taste. (Alternatively, dressing may be made by hand in a large bowl with a whisk.)

Dressing can be stored in a closed container in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Makes enough dressing for 4-6 salads. Dressing can also be drizzled over grilled fish, chicken, or vegetables.

Garlic Pasta

12 cloves garlic

1/3 cup olive oil

1 pound whole wheat thin spaghetti

3/4 cup vegetable broth

1/8-1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Bring large pot of water to a boil.

Peel garlic cloves while water is heating. Thinly slice 6 cloves of the garlic and place slices in a small saucepan with all of the olive oil. Heat mixture over a low flame until oil becomes aromatic and garlic has softened, about 3-4 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let garlic mixture cool. (Alternatively, sliced garlic can be placed in a microwave-safe dish with the olive oil and heated in a microwave oven for 1 minute.)

Finely chop remaining 6 cloves of garlic and set aside.

Add pasta to boiling water and follow cooking directions on package. Remove 1/2 cup hot pasta water from pot before draining. Drain pasta.

Place vegetable broth and red pepper flakes, if using, in pot. Add drained pasta. Heat mixture over low heat, stirring until pasta absorbs most of the broth. Add the garlic/olive oil mixture to the pasta and stir gently for 1 minute. Add finely chopped garlic and chopped parsley and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper, to taste. (If pasta seems too dry, stir in some of the reserved pasta water.)

Place pasta in a large serving bowl and pass parmesan cheese.

Makes 6 main course servings.

Margi Lenga Kahn, mother of five and grandmother of one, is the Community Relations Coordinator for the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) in University City. She also teaches cooking at the Kitchen Conservatory and in private homes. Cooking is a labor of love for Margi, who enjoys creating culinary delights for family and friends. Please send comments and suggestions to [email protected]