Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Spice of Life

Perhaps not surprisingly, I have a lot of stories about garlic.  Its taste (or should I say its smell) is unmistakable and instantly recognizable.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who immediately falls in love with the smell of sauteing onions and garlic in the kitchen.  For me, that aroma is more than a childhood memory, it's been a part of my life forever.

Its scientific name is Allium Sativum. It's in the same genus as onions, Allium, and is closely related to shallots, leeks and chives (chives, huh?).  The aroma and flavor aside, it is justifiably considered a real wonder-food.  It's cardio-protective, anti-cancer, a digestive stimulant, helps lower blood pressure, and reduces the tendency of blood to clot, thereby also reducing the risk of blocked arteries and heart disease.  All this from a humble little perennial bulb often disparagingly called "the stinking rose."

I've never called it that, mind you.  Quite the contrary.  When my wife and have had people over for dinner and I was serving something exceptionally garlicky, I often tell them that variety is not the spice of life, it's actually garlic.  (Though I doubt garlic is classified as a spice at all).

I own two cookbooks entirely dedicated to it (The Book of Garlic and The Complete Garlic Lovers' Cookbook) and have been eating it all my life in some form of another.  There are very few dishes made by my grandmothers, grandfather, mom or dad that didn't include it.  Certainly the most notable was Baccala.  Baccala is a traditional Italian dish that my family always has around Christmas.  (It is served as part of the "Feast of the Seven Fishes," typically eaten in southern Italy on Christmas Eve).  Baccala consists of layers of dried salted codfish, boiled and sliced red potatoes, fresh chopped parsley, lemon juice, olive oil and tons and tons of chopped raw garlic.  (Now that I think about it, it's really a pretty healthy dish - not vegan or nutritarian, but in the scheme of things, there's a lot of good stuff in there.  Cool - a holiday food I'll be able to eat with almost zero guilt!)  In case you've never done it, garlic eaten raw is a pretty intense sensation, both for your taste buds and for the olfactory senses of those around you.  Our family still makes this dish every single year.  One year, as a matter of fact, when my wife and I were living in Queens, we found a fish store in Astoria with the best price on salted cod anywhere - we became the "suppliers" to the whole family that year.

Baccala, here prepared more as a salad
(with olives, too - kind of strange I think, but perhaps worth a try!)

But certainly my favorite story about garlic is from my days in graduate school.  In my former life, before becoming a teacher, I was an actor, and it's for that I was in school.  My classmate, roommate and dear friend Noel and I both loved food and were also very interested in healthy eating.  We discovered a book called The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity, dealing with numerous food, health and nutrition topics and relying on thousands of years of Chinese philosophy and medicine.  A very interesting book, if I recall correctly.

Somehow because of this book, Noel and I began eating these enormous raw salads for our lunches.  We'd leave class or rehearsal, go back to our apartment and throw together greens with roughly chopped vegetables and three of four cloves of crushed raw garlic.  We'd eat our lunch, rave about how delicious it was and how good we knew it was for us, and then go back to rehearsal.  Back in the rehearsal room, people kept commenting on some odor.  We were totally oblivious.  It took over a week of people wondering what that smell was for us to realize that it was us!  We had a good laugh over that.

Garlic in Juice?

So I'm on day four of my juice fast and for dinner tonight I had what I think was the very first juice I made with my juicer when I got it back in January.  Like many others, it's from The Juicing Bible and is called Carrot Allium Juice.

Carrot Allium Juice

3 carrots
2 cups spinach (or kale)
1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic
dash cayenne pepper

I so distinctly remember drinking that juice for the first time.  It was an intense and exhilarating chest-opening experience.  I was certain I could feel that juice doing great things inside me.  Maybe I'm psycho-somatic, or just overly suggestible.  My mother tells the story of how once, when I was a child, I complained to her of a headache.  She gave me an aspirin and I held it to my forehead for a few seconds, after which I gave it back to her and said "Okay, I feel better."  So maybe it was just my imagination, but based on garlic's medicinal properties, perhaps I wasn't really that far off.

So I made Carrot-Allium Juice for dinner tonight, I doubled the recipe, and added THREE cloves of garlic.  Wow!  I may have overdone it.  That's been the only juice I've made that I actually had to drink slow.  I can still taste it and feel it in my chest.  Pretty powerful stuff.  For those of you trying this at home, be forewarned that one or two cloves is really plenty.

Good luck to all of you juicing at home - I'm hearing from more and more people who are dabbling in it - good for you if you are!

Go Garlic!

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