Because we cook almost daily in our household and because any visitor can smell this once they step through our front door, I would like to draw attention to the faithful garlic. It is our kitchen staple and we rarely allow ourselves to run out of it.
Some may look at the garlic with a little disgust because it tends to have a pungent smell and may find it too strong an element to add to a dish but the wonderful thing about the garlic is that you can control its pungence and taste depending on how you prepare or cook it. The longer it is cooked, the milder it gets. If you love garlic, use it fresh: smash and mince it with a knife and use it in a salad dressing or mix it with butter and use it as a bread spread. For a smoky and less pungent variant, roast a garlic whole before mincing it. If you want just a tiny smack of the taste of garlic, you can pickle it in vinegar or preserve it in oil.
In Southeast Asia, the garlic is very often used in many condiments. One of the more popular condiments is that of the garlic-chilli paste. It is, to me, a quintessential taste of home. I make it myself and have it stocked in my fridge so that I can use it as a dip for seafood and fish or mix a little of it into my fried rice whenever I want a taste of “home”. It is my quick fix. You see, I very often have terrible cravings for the spicy foods of Southeast Asia that I unfortunately can’t get much of over here. My version of the garlic-chilli paste is more or less a blend of chilli padi (bird’s eye chilli), garlic, shallot and ginger with some salt and sugar topped with some oil. A squeeze of lime to the red, hot paste just before serving brings it to another level of deliciouness.
I love how the garlic also presents itself in so many dishes across cultures. We cook both Asian-and Italian-inspired (aka pasta) dishes and both cuisines seem to welcome the garlic very often into their already interesting repertoire of spice, herb and fresh produce. The garlic is truly a cross-cultural produce! A quick glance at its wikipedia entry shows its culinary uses across several cultures – from East and Southeast Asia to Northern Africa and Southern Europe, the garlic is cooked and eaten in so many different ways.
When I make simple meat and seafood marinates with garlic in them for friends who don’t eat much garlic, they would almost always say that the food tastes great and ask what I had put in there. Depending on how you prepare the dish, the taste of garlic does not always need to come across so strongly or be instantly recognisible to the taste bud for it to elevate the flavour of the dish.
Oh, the faithful garlic. You are the silent ingredient that renders an otherwise plain dish spectacular! We almost never run out of garlic in our hosusehold. It is one of our kitchen staples. What about you? Do you use garlic or the other parts of the bulbous plant (e.g. its flower, leaves or stalk) in your cooking? How is garlic used in your culture?