“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek … Garlic makes it good.”
— Alice May Brock, author of Alice’s Restaurant cookbook.
This article is part of our Guide to Garlic. Click here for growing tips or click here to learn about garlic's health benefits.
From subtle to spectacular, garlic’s flavor palette is almost as wide-ranging as its number of varieties. One tiny, fresh clove can deliver a powerful punch, yet an entire handful of bulbs, when roasted or gently sweated in olive oil, can melt into a tender puree with a sweet, deceptively mellow flavor.
A member of the lily plant family, garlic (Allium sativum) shares its lineage with leeks, onions, shallots and chives. Like its pungent relatives, garlic is more vegetable than seasoning: Although garlic greens make tasty springtime fare, we most often use the fleshy, underground bulbs that separate into cloves—each neatly wrapped in paper-thin skin.
Knowing even a little bit about the types (softneck and hardneck), groups and some of the hundreds of cultivars can give you a master’s edge in the kitchen.
Of the hardneck garlics—including Rocambole, Porcelain and Purple Stripe—Rocambole is best known. The Rocambole varieties ‘Spanish Roja’, ‘Russian Red’ and ‘Carpathian’ have complex, full-bodied flavors that chefs love. Porcelain varieties (such as ‘Romanian Red’ and ‘Leningrad’) have larger but fewer cloves per bulb. Purple Stripe hardneck varieties are perhaps the most beautiful garlics.
Softneck bulbs—such as Artichoke and Silverskin varieties—tend to be larger, have more cloves and store longer than hardneck garlic varieties. Artichokes often are mild-flavored, but can become pungent when grown in cold climates. Silverskin varieties tend to taste very strong and often lack the complexity of other types.
Use these garlics for roasting, mince and sauté the cloves, or display the bulbs in braids. Also enjoy the milder Artichoke garlics in egg dishes with tender vegetables and in cream soups. (For more about choosing garlic, see "A Few of My Favorite Garlics.")
6 Tips for Cooking with Garlic
Cooking with garlic is a matter of taste, technique and health. The compound allicin gives garlic its unmistakable odor and health benefits. (For more about the health benefits of garlic, see "Garlic: Nature's gift for life.") Try these tips for maximum flavor and good health:
To peel and crush a single clove, flatten it with the side of a French knife, then gently press the knife with the palm of your hand. To easily peel a handful of cloves, first soak them in lukewarm water for 15 minutes.
Slice, chop, crush or mince garlic for increasingly pungent results—the finer the cut, the more intense the flavor. Use a plastic board because a wooden board can absorb and transfer flavor.
Roast garlic in a shallow clay or stainless pan.
Use garlic-kissed oil to sauté greens or dress pasta. Heat 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium. Add 3 or 4 garlic cloves and swirl. Cook until cloves are aromatic and golden. Remove, slice and use the sweet cloves as a garnish.
Fresh lemon removes garlic odor from hands and utensils. Rubbing hands on a stainless steel utensil also will remove the odor.
For just a hint of garlic, add a whole clove to sauces and remove it before serving. Or, rub a clove around the inside of a serving bowl or over toasted bread.
Feisty or fragile, fiery or sweet, garlic is the secret to making food good. For a stroll down Gourmet Alley try these garlic-inspired recipes.
Roasted Garlic and Artichoke Spread
Garlic Citrus Caramel Sauce
Sauteed Garlic Scapes
Roasted Garlic and Artichoke Spread
Makes 1½ cups
More than a spread, use this Mediterranean combo on steamed vegetables, in sandwiches, or as a dip.
3 bulbs garlic, excess skin removed
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 can (14 ounces) artichokes, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Freshly ground sea salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut a ¼-inch slice off tops of garlic bulbs. Set root ends down on a large square of aluminum foil or on a baking pan. Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over tops of bulbs.
Fold foil into a package or cover pan with foil. Bake 1 hour or until cloves are tender. Cool.
Squeeze garlic flesh out of skins and into a blender or food processor. Add artichokes and rosemary.
Blend on high, adding remaining oil through opening in the lid, until soft and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Garlic Mushroom Chicken
Makes 4 servings
This dish debuted at the 2007 Hudson Valley Garlic Festival and the crowd was wild for it. I used fresh Spanish Roja garlic. It caramelizes as it slow-cooks, lending a sticky-sweet garlic flavor to the other vegetables.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 pounds chicken pieces, skin removed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Few grinds fresh pepper
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 20 peeled, whole cloves garlic
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 2 cups chopped zucchini
- 1 can (12 ounces) coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon roasted red pepper paste or chile flakes
- 1 pound mushrooms, sliced
- 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
- Chopped fresh marjoram or basil
- In a large electric wok or Dutch oven, heat oil on medium-high. Brown chicken, turning occasionally. Using tongs, remove chicken to a plate. Season with salt and pepper.
- Reduce heat to medium and add butter. Stir in garlic, onion, red pepper and zucchini. Adjust heat and gently sauté vegetables until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add coconut milk, stirring to loosen browned bits. Bring to a boil.
- Stir in mushrooms and return chicken to wok. Cover, reduce heat and simmer gently for 40 minutes or until chicken is falling away from the bones, turning chicken once or twice. Add spinach and herbs and cook about 5 minutes longer, or until spinach is wilted. Serve immediately over steamed greens, rice or noodles.
Garlic Citrus Caramel Sauce
Makes ¼ cup
Although lightly spiked with orange, this sauce has a mild flavor and is surprisingly versatile. Because it isn’t cloyingly sweet, it can be used as a glaze for poached fish or chicken. For desserts, drizzle it over yogurt or ice cream, or use it to add a finishing touch to tarts, pies and cakes.
- 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- ½ cup orange juice
- In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine garlic, sugar and water.
- Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Adjust heat to keep mixture boiling. Boil 7 minutes without stirring. Swirl pan occasionally to move around garlic pieces, and prevent burning, but otherwise do not disturb.
- When sauce has turned a light amber color, remove pan from heat and gradually stir in orange juice. Return pan to medium heat and boil another 8 to 10 minutes, or until sauce is thick and syrupy and reduced to about ¼ cup. Strain or serve with the caramelized garlic bits.
Sautéed Garlic Scapes
Serves 6 to 8
Garlic scapes (flower stalks) are tender and delicious when harvested before they uncurl. Take care to trim off the bottoms of the stems and tips of the flower heads.
Haloumi is a Cypriot goat and/or sheep cheese that can be grilled or fried without melting. Its salty flavor complements this dish; if you have trouble finding haloumi, you can substitute another salty cheese, such as cheddar or aged chévre.
This recipe is best when made the day before serving and then refrigerated. Let it stand at room temperature before serving.
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
8 ounces young garlic scapes, trimmed
1½ cups coarsely chopped tomatoes
¾ cup dry white wine
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper or to taste
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
¼ cup grilled haloumi cheese, diced finely
Heat oil in a broad sauté pan; add sugar. Stir to caramelize sugar, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add scapes. Cover and sauté scapes over medium-high heat for no more than 3 minutes, occasionally shaking pan to prevent scorching.
After 3 minutes, add tomatoes and wine. Stir, then cover and reduce heat to low; continue cooking 5 to 6 minutes, or until scapes are tender but not soft. Season, then add parsley and haloumi. Allow to cool, then serve at room temperature.
—From the Mother Earth News article “Garlic Scapes” by William Woys Weaver; available at www.MotherEarthNews.com.
— Pat Crocker loves the stinking rose (otherwise known as garlic), which she considers the king of all herbs "because it reigns supreme in the kitchen." A culinary herbalist, photographer, writer and lecturer, Pat is author of several award-winning books, including The Vegetarian Cook’s Bible (Robert Rose, 2007).