x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Why no food is complete without a good dose of garlic

I readily admit to being obsessive about garlic, in any form.

I've fed people with food allergies and aversions that range from the grave to the gratuitous, and I've learnt how to bite my lip. Still, the threat of sarcasm runs high when I'm around a friend who recoils from garlic as though it exists only to personally offend her. My opinion of this, though muted, is thinly veiled. Some things just run too deep for the suspension of judgement.

Fat, juicy cloves of fresh garlic, minced and tossed into a pan bubbling with butter or olive oil, is step one in a whole arsenal of my favoured home-cooked meals. Cooking without garlic – the most indispensable aromatic in many cooks' repertoires – is unimaginable, and the very thought makes my head hurt like a hard maths question. If "x" is greater than "y", then what will we have for dinner? Every no-brainer I know involves garlic, and lots of it: pesto, roasted lamb and rustic Lebanese dishes such as fattet hummus.

Garlic pops up steadily in one culinary lexicon after the next. Sometimes, it's part of the base along with onion and maybe carrot and celery, where it might melt subtly into background music. But garlic can also be the main event: in addition to sprucing up roast chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, I've made twice-baked garlic soufflés, creamy garlic custard with morels and parsley, roasted garlic soup with onion, cream, thyme and Parmesan cheese and Melissa Clark's recipe for double garlic soup, which uses both green garlic and garlic scapes.

"It's not that I hate garlic," explains my friend, eager for some common compassion. "It's just too strong for me." I know she doesn't need to hear another vampire joke, so instead I serve her shawarma and tell her that what doesn't kill her will make her stronger - or, preferably, convert her.

Greek skordalia, Lebanese thoum and in Provence and Spain, aioli; all are for fiends who revel in the pungency of raw garlic. Roasting garlic mellows it into a candied garlic marrow that even a child could enjoy; synergy that tastes like sorcery.

I haven't yet had the pleasure of trying the famed rosy pink garlic from Lautrec, but I've been anticipating the experience. Less cause for rapture was a violent garlic haze of a lunch in San Francisco at The Stinking Rose, where the speciality is garlic. Pots of potent garlic spread sat out, waiting to be slathered on bread. I hurt myself on lousy food in that place, and it left me groaning in a hotel room for days. I vowed to never eat that much dubious room temperature raw minced garlic in one sitting again. And then I happened to find myself driving through Gilroy, California, where the Gilroy Garlic Festival was raging in all its serendipitous and debauched glory. My vow lasted about five days. The garlic ice cream was sweet but the antacids I chewed down later were bitter, bitter pills.


  • Next week, Garlic Part II, beginning with what not to do with it