Garlic (Recipe: Tunisian fish ball tagine)
- Americans came late to garlic as a culinary delicacy, but in Egypt, it was popular 5,000 years ago. So popular, in fact, that slaves building the great pyramids were fed garlic to boost their strength.
- The word garlic comes from the Old English garleac, meaning spear leek.
- A member of the lily family, garlic contains a variety of powerful sulfur-containing compounds including thiosulfinates, sulfoxides, and dithiins -- none of which sound very appetizing. In fact, it's the crushing of the cells that releases allicin (a thiosulfinate), which creates garlic's distinctive aroma.
- To get rid of that aroma on your breath, chew parsley; to neutralize the smell on your hands, rub them on the chrome faucet over your kitchen sink. Really. It works.
- The rule of thumb for cooking with garlic is that the finer the chop, the stronger the flavor. Whole cloves impart very mild flavor, which is why chicken with forty cloves of garlic is less intimidating than you'd imagine. Sliced cloves have a bit stronger flavor; minced cloves or those put through a garlic press yield the most intense flavor.
- If you plant the cloves in your garden and let them sprout to a height of six inches (before they flower), you'll get something that looks like a scallion but tastes like a chive. Snip these and stir them into scrambled eggs. (True confession: I've had the same cloves planted in my garden for three years. I'm afraid to dig them up now for fear they've mutated into another life form. But every Spring they send up shoots, and I cut them for scrambled eggs.)
- It's best to store unpeeled heads of garlic in an open container, in a cool, dry place away from other foods. Best, but not required: I have a lovely wooden bowl from Africa that holds onions and garlic, and an occasional ginger root, on the counter near the stove. If you use garlic (and onion) frequently, it's perfect fine to let them hang out together.
- I promise you will use plenty of garlic if you try these recipes: classic garlic bread, homemade chili garlic sauce, garbanzo bean (chickpea) soup with garlic, sumac, olive oil and lemon, honey garlic grilled eggplant, garlic honey asparagus, garlic stuffed mushrooms, or an elegant garlic soup.
- According to an Indian proverb, garlic is as good as ten mothers. If, like mine, your mother didn't cook much with garlic, maybe the garlic is better than ten mothers.
Tunisian fish ball tagine
These meatballs are light and airy, and the flavor doesn't scream "fish". Recipe slightly adapted from The Tagine Deck: 25 Recipes for Slow-Cooked Meals, by Joyce Goldstein. Couscous is the perfect accompaniment. Serves 6.
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro (or use more parsley instead)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp ground cumin
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp harissa
1-1/2 lbs cod (I used cod loin), or other white fish
1-1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
Olive oil for frying
For the sauce:
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
14 oz crushed tomatoes (I used canned)
1-1/2 cups water or clam broth
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
Chopped parsley for garnish
Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Fill a small bowl with cold water and set aside.
To the bowl of a food processor, add the parsley, cilantro, onion, garlic, cumin, salt and harissa. Pulse 10 times until the onion and garlic are minced and everything is well combined. Break the fish into chunks, and add to the processor. Pulse 10 more times or until the fish is minced.
Transfer mixture to a large bowl, and stir in the bread crumbs and egg. Knead with your fingers until the mixture is smooth.
Break off a small piece of the mixture and fry it in a tiny bit of olive oil in a nonstick frying pan. Taste for seasoning, and adjust with salt and pepper if necessary.
Keeping your hands moistened with cold water, form the fish paste into balls approximately one inch in diameter. Set the balls on the baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to cook.
To make the sauce: Warm the olive oil in a tagine base or Dutch oven. Add the garlic, crushed tomatoes, water or broth, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and add the fish balls to the sauce. Cover the pan, and cook for 15-20 minutes, turning the fish balls gently in the sauce midway through, until the fish is just cooked through. Garnish with chopped parsley, and serve hot.