Garlic, it keeps more than the vampires away!

By Elizabeth Atia

A relative of the onion and leek family, garlic, Allium sativum, is a culinary staple in many kitchens. Personally, I can’t get enough of the stuff, especially after I began receiving fresh, locally grown garlic in my weekly vegetable box deliveries. Fresh garlic, compared to the supermarket variety, I discovered, is simply bursting with garlic flavour – it’s juicy, and less is needed for cooking as there’s just so much power in each tiny little clove.

Sometimes classed as a vegetable, garlic is usually used as a flavouring in savoury dishes, but did you know it’s actually quite good for you too?

An average 30 gram bulb of garlic contains just 45 calories, trace amounts of fat, around 10 grams of carbohydrates and significant quantities of vitamins B6 and C.

It also contains a range of phytochemicals which have antibiotic, antifungal and health protective properties. This plant has been used for thousands of years by traditional herbalists to help fight infections. It can help lower blood LDL cholesterol levels, protect against stomach and bowel cancers and may also help regulate blood pressure and maintain heart health.

Raw garlic has shown ability to kill listeria and salmonella, as well as some of the newer ‘superbugs’ that are showing signs of antibiotic resistance.

Garlic’s active medicinal ingredient is allicin, an organosulfur compound which gives garlic its distinctive pungent aroma. Top tip, if you want to get rid of that garlic breath after a particularly garlicky meal, simply chew a few parsley sprigs (mint, basil or coriander will also work). The chlorophyll and polyphenols in the green herbs bind to the aromatic sulphur compounds in the garlic, neutralising the odour.

Garlic is a wonderfully versatile ingredient: you can chop, crush, mince or leave the garlic cloves whole in a variety of recipes.

Tip: if you crush your garlic and let it stand for ten minutes before cooking with it, this helps protect the allicin content. Also, adding the garlic towards the end of cooking will help retain more of the medicinal properties of the plant, as allicin is destroyed by cooking.

Roasted whole garlic bulbs are one of my favourite ways to eat garlic. Roasting garlic transforms the ingredient into a savoury, almost sweet flavour without the typical pungency of raw garlic. To roast a garlic bulb, cut about 1 cm off from the unpeeled bulb and pop on a baking tray along with a selection of seasonal vegetables. Drizzle with some olive oil, sprinkle with fresh herbs and roast in a moderate oven for 45 minutes. After the garlic has cooled enough I simply squeeze out the contents of the browned papery bulb with my fingertips and enjoy every garlicky morsel.

5-Minute Pasta Sauce Recipe

4 tbsp olive oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped finely

350 ml passata rustica (sieved Italian tomatoes)

1 handful fresh basil leaves

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan and quickly fry the chopped garlic for one minute, until it begins to release its aroma. Take care not to let the garlic brown. Pour in the passata and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Simmer until the sauce has heated through, season to taste with salt and pepper and add your fresh basil leaves.

Serve with pasta.

Elizabeth Atia

Mum, daydream adventurer, ex-pat Canadian & quite possibly Britain's most northerly award-winning food blogger. Calls Shetland home.

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