The goods on garlic

If you ever want to build a pyramid in debilitating desert heat, eat a lot of garlic. Do the same thing, and you’ll never have to worry about a vampire sucking on your neck — or much of anybody else, for that matter. It can make an exceptional meal out of the honeycomb-patterned lining of a cow’s stomach. And if all that isn’t enough, it can help your blood flow as gently as the Afton; knock a significant dollop of cholesterol and sugar out of that blood and lower its pressure in your body and brain; and help protect your delicate self against strep, staph, E. coli, stomach ulcers, the flu, herpes and the runs.

Its effects, some more convincingly documented than others, cover quite a range. On the one end, Albert Schweitzer reportedly used garlic to treat amoebic dysentery during his humanitarian efforts in Africa. On the other, its pungent aroma somehow contributes mightily to a romantic atmosphere for dining.

If you haven’t done it, walk down the short flight of steps from street-level Windsor into the dim, subterranean confines of the Cook’s Shop and see if the always-blossoming scent of sautéed garlic doesn’t make something in you stir other than your nostrils.

Thank god this country is one of immigrants. If our culinary history had been left to the Pilgrims, all we might know of garlic today is the dubious use of powder from an overpriced spice bottle to add an “exotic” touch to generally vapid dishes, consumed while we prayed for the death of abortionists, and sealed our borders with brick walls and gun towers.

Its use for both flavor and medicinal value goes back at least as far as ancient Egypt, where slaves were shoveled piles of it to eat for the energy they needed to build great monuments to their own self-glorifying upper class. It’s reputed to be a no-miss palliative for toothaches — smoosh a raw clove of the stuff onto the offending molar and the pain withdraws, at the cost only of an evil case of stink-mouth.

Sulfur, the devil’s perfume, is responsible for the smell, but it’s worth dancing with the devil for the flavor.

Because we live where we do, there’s little evidence that garlic comes in many varieties other than the preponderant, ivory-skinned California White commonly sold as a point-of-purchase item at grocery checkout counters. It’s unlikely you’ll find Russian Red Toch, Creole Red, Brown Tempest, Burgundy, Romanian Red, Spanish Roja, Rose du Var or any of the many other singular types. Internet searches, however, can locate many of them for sale.

To get the most out of any of them, and simplify the preparation, try these tips:

• DO learn that when a recipe calls for one or more “cloves” — or less often, “toes” — of garlic, it refers to the individual nuggets that grow around a central stem. A “head” of garlic is the unbroken cluster of cloves.

• DON’T waste your money on garlic presses, “magic” odor removers and those ridiculous rubber peelers. All you ever need is a cutting board and a sharp knife. Crush a garlic clove with the flat of your knife, and its papery skin nearly falls off. (If it’s a fighter, grab the flattened clove by a piece of the skin and shake. Easy.) Sprinkle a little salt on the crushed clove and mincing will be much easier. When you’re done, run cold water over your hands while rubbing them against the side of a stainless steel pan, the back of a stainless serving spoon or the flat of a knife. The stink will vanish, promise.

• DO eat a sprig of fresh parsley to fend off stink-mouth.

• DO keep fresh garlic in a ventilated container away from heat and light.

• DO decide for yourself, if your garlic has sprouted, whether to trim the bright-green tips from the cloves. Some think they add bitterness to a dish. I generally don’t taste much difference.

• DO, if you haven’t already, make some roasted garlic. Drizzle quality olive oil on an unpeeled, unbroken head, wrap it in foil and put it in a 350-degree oven for an hour. Let it cool a little, then squeeze softened cloves onto good, coarse bread. It’s sweet, mild and addictive.

Two of the better books I’ve found on the subject are the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association’s The Garlic Lovers’ Cookbook, just released in a second, revised edition, and Chester Aaron’s Garlic is Life: A Memoir with Recipes.

The following cow-gut recipe is adapted from the latter. Get over the aesthetics and try it. It opens a world of flavors the Pilgrims never dreamed of.


(4-6 servings)

2 pounds honeycomb tripe
4 whole cloves (the spice, not the garlic pieces)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups highly seasoned tomato sauce
1 green bell pepper, seeded, deveined and diced
2 onions, diced
1/2 cup chopped celery
6 garlic cloves, skinned and minced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 large bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of cayenne (red) pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Rinse the tripe thoroughly under cold running water. Cut into thin strips, place in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then add cloves, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Cover and simmer for 2 to 3 hours until the tripe is tender. Drain well and return the tripe to the pan.

2. Add all remaining ingredients but the Parmesan. Cover, simmer 20 minutes and remove the bay leaf. Serve hot, topped with Parmesan to taste.

Ric Bohy is editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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