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Garlic (Recipe: tuna nicoise-ish)


Some pantry items are so universal that it's a wee bit intimidating to write about them.

After all, what can I possibly say that you don't already know about salt? Who doesn't use pepper? Or sugar? Or onions? And how can I choose just one recipe out of the hundreds of thousands that depend on these common ingredients? 

I keep those pantry staples — the biggies — on a separate list, and every few months I work up the courage to tackle another one. So, here goes.


Americans didn't really get garlic until fairly recently in our culinary history (the 1940s). Before then, garlic was associated in a derogatory way with the ethnic foods found in working-class immigrant neighborhoods; in diner slang, garlic was Bronx vanilla or Italian perfume. As our world view broadened, so did our palates.

Long before America's culinary awakening, more than 5000 years ago, the people of ancient Egypt cultivated and venerated garlic, imbuing it with sacred qualities (garlic was found in King Tut's tomb) and consuming it to enhance strength and endurance. Migrating tribes and explorers carried garlic throughout Asia. Today, China, South Korea, India, Spain, and the US are primary producers.

One of the world's heathiest foods, garlic has been proven to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. High in vitamins C and B6, selenium and manganese, garlic also is an anti-inflammatory, may help protect against several forms of cancer, and may be beneficial in weight control.

Above all, though, garlic tastes good. Really good.

Garlic is the master ingredient in master sauces like aioli, skordalia, rouille, tarator, curry paste and pesto. Without garlic, this famous chicken dish would be...well, just chicken. From simple veggies to soups and stews, garlic enhances the cooking of dishes from Italy to Cuba, from India to Russia.

Last summer I learned from Marcia, my gardening neighbor and cooking group pal, that garlic is easy to grow. First, choose your variety; there are two main types of garlic, hardneck and softneck. Hardneck (what we usually find in the market) has a stronger flavor and is easier to peel.

Then, start with individual cloves of seed garlic or organic garlic from a local farmstand. In a sunny part of your garden, shove the cloves into the ground with your finger, cover, and wait. In 60 days or so, when the green shoots are 8-10 inches tall, you can harvest right then and there, and enjoy these garlic "scallions" in eggs or soup. Or, let the cloves continue to grow, and harvest the new bulbs when the tops dry out and begin to collapse. Pull up the whole plant and hang it in the shade to dry. As the garlic dries, the skin turns paper white, and the flavor intensifies.

The rule of thumb for cooking with garlic is that the finer the chop, the stronger the flavor. Whole cloves impart very mild flavor; sliced cloves have a bit stronger flavor; minced cloves or those put through a garlic press yield the most intense flavor.

You don't need anything but a broad, sharp knife to handle your garlic, though there are dozens of gizmos on the market for everything from peeling to roasting to pressing — and even for removing the garlic smell from your hands (but why bother? — the aroma of garlic is one of the most seductive in the kitchen). To separate cloves, lay the head of garlic on its side. Place your broad-bladed knife on top of the bulb, and smash with the heel of your hand — be firm and decisive, and the bulb will separate into cloves. Repeat the smashing action with individual cloves to remove the peel.

By the way, the 2007 Gilroy Garlic Festival opens in 136 days.

Tuna nicoise-ish

A slightly Asian take on salade Nicoise, this main course salad serves 4. Can be doubled.


1 lb fresh tuna steak
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, smashed but not peeled
1/2 cup water
2 lb whole red new potatoes
1 lb asparagus or green beans, whichever is in season
Rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp oregano
Black pepper to taste
Olive oil
12-15 pitted Kalamata olives
1 ripe tomato, sliced, for garnish


In a large ziploc bag, marinate the tuna in the soy sauce, lemon juice, garlic and water for 1 hour (not longer!) in the refrigerator.

While the fish is marinating, bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook the potatoes until fork tender. Drain, slice, and transfer to a large bowl. While the potatoes are still warm, splash them with rice wine vinegar (about 1/3 cup or more). Stir to coat all the potatoes; they will soak up all the vinegar. Let stand.

While the water for the potatoes is boiling, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the sliced asparagus for 2 minutes. Splash with rice wine vinegar, and season with oregano and black pepper. Add to the bowl with the potatoes and mix.

Cook the tuna on the grill or under the broiler; be careful not to overcook. Cut into bite-size pieces.

On a large platter make a bed of the potatoes and asparagus. Scatter the tuna on top. Garnish with olives and sliced tomatoes. Serve at room temperature.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

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Big fan of eating garlic, as I've said before, but it's also, as you mention, very medicinal. I've rubbed it on sores and eaten large amounts when ill and it's amazing how fast it helps you heal.

Thanks for the history on garlic, my absolute favorite item in the pantry! I did not know it was easy to grow. I shall try it this spring. Do you know if it will grow in a container.

Hi Lydia - This is my time here, you have a delightful blog! Garlic is the foundation of my culinary repertoire, most of my recipes start with some finely chopped garlic sauteed in olive oil, the aroma to me is irresistible!

Ahhhh! Tuna and garlic!! I'm going into a trance now, thinking about that recipe. I love both of them. Thank you!

Garlic will come through a winner with so many dishes. I almost always double the amount...I'm a glutton aren't I.
Beautiful salad.

Lydia, I am imagining the taste of the salad. Must be very nice! My pantry is poorly stocked now (too busy for shopping this week). I ran out of garlic last night when whipping up something to eat, and it was kinda annoying. :) You are absolutely right about the universal use of garlic!

We go through a lot of garlic around here, too. I roast a head or two every week for snacking or adding to recipes - amazing how many things you can put it in. We've also gotten into the habit of eating garlic raw, with big chunks of blue cheese and crusty bread. Course, we have to do that at the cabin because we become a bit...pungent.

interesting to know how the new food getting into a country. Like, I see more and more coverage on Philadephia cream cheese in Italian food magazines.

hello my name is connie and i'm a garlic-aholic. my dad and i used to eat a clove of pickeled garlic every night. and whenever a recipe calls for garlic, i stare in disbelief and say 'now honestly, 2 cloves? that's not nearly enough!'

I'm not a huge fan of garlic as I am of onions, Lydia. But I use it because my husband likes it a lot.

Lisa, garlic definitely has healing powers.

Link, there's a farm near me that's growing several different softneck and hardneck garlics, and a wonderful organic farmer in Oneco, Connecticut, who brings his garlic varieties to our local farmers' market. It's fun to try new types of garlic.

Veron, I'm asking Marcia and other gardening readers to give you some advice about growing garlic in a container. My own thinking would be, why not? As long as the container is deep enough to contain the bulb....

Monisha, welcome to The Perfect Pantry! Cooking without garlic is unthinkable, isn't it?

Sher, fresh tuna is one of my absolute favorites. And with garlic...yum!

Tanna, I always add more garlic, too. I don't like it raw, but cooked and mellow -- yep, I can eat a lot of it!

Anh, I could eat for weeks on what I keep in my pantry (and fridge and freezer). Problem is, I'm always in the mood for something I don't have on hand!

Jared, raw garlic and blue cheese must keep all of the critters in the wilderness at bay! I do love the sweetness of roasted garlic.

Gattina, that's so interesting about Philadelphia cream cheese! Maybe it's a substitute for mascarpone (with a bit of sugar added)?

Hi, Connie! I don't think I've ever had pickled garlic -- oh, except that I do throw a clove into jars when I'm putting up dill pickles, and sometimes I eat them, so I guess I have had pickled garlic!

Patricia, I'm surprised that you're not a garlic lover. You are sweet to cook with it even though you don't love it -- a sign that you really love your husband.

We actually have a Garlic Festival here in Virginia in the fall each year in Nelson County with the focus on garlic and wine. Every year we say we are going to go but haven't made it yet, but it seems a great way to pay homage to one of the best ingredients there is (not to mention vampire repellant!)

Well, if garlic was in King Tut's tomb, it must have been revered! Have you ever been to "The Stinking Rose" restaurant in San Francisco? It is devoted to garlic in every recipe, including garlic ice cream for dessert. It was surprisingly good, although probably an acquired taste for most folks!

Bless you, Lydia, this will be my dinner tomorrow. I have everything on hand, and I am trying to clean out the fridge. You must be psychic, or as we say at our house, "You must be psycho!"


My complaint as of late has been about finding fresh garlic! Seems the stores I go to just don't have the quality I'm looking for. I'm also seeing a lot more varieties. I don't want more choices I just want better garlic.

I implored my readers to throw their garlic presses away. That "stuff" that comes out of them isn't garlic. I contend that if you can't or won't chop garlic, you don't deserve it.

Deborah, how wonderful to know about another Garlic Festival. I hope you'll get there this year and report to the rest of us about it. Garlic and wine -- what could be bad about that?

TW, I've heard of that restaurant but never had the pleasure of eating there. Garlic ice cream, though, sounds a bit like the durian ice cream we had in Malaysia -- an acquired taste, for sure.

Mimi, I am definitely psycho more often than psychic. You, too?

Tom, I agree completely. I have a garlic press because many of my cooking group participants ask to use it, but I never use it myself. I think it turns garlic to garlic juice. As I said, all you need is a big whacking knife, and you can do everything that garlic requires. As to the quality of garlic in the markets, I agree with you on that, too. Even at Whole Foods, the garlic is nothing like what we get from the farmstands (and our own gardens) later in the summer.

Veron, While I grow many different kinds of garlic, I have never grown it in a container. Garlic is planted in fall, mulched after the first frost. In spring, remove the mulch and watch the green shoots come up. I don't know if container conditions (temperature, depth, etc) would be sufficient. But! The Chief Clove at thegarlicstore.com would have the answers. Why don't you visit that website and email your question to him? And, then get back to the rest of us....now I'm curious.
If you have a small amount of land, save tiny bulbs from the clove (organic) and push into the ground in fall; you can plant them very close together. In spring when the green shoots show, gently pull them up and use in sautees, etc. Again, the Chief Clove has growing instructions and recipes for this...as well as other kinds of garlic.

Thanks Marcia. Will check out the website right now!

You rightly pointed out that you don't need anything more than a broad, sharp knife for handling garlic. I'd like to add that you don't need those silly steels for getting rid of garlic smells on your hands. You know how they tell you to rub your hands on it under cold running water? That's because it's the cold water that does all the work. Just rub your hands under cold water. Similarly, run cutting boards and knives under cold water before washing them or sticking them in the dishwasher. No lingering garlic smell if you do.

I definitely want to give growing it a try. I use so much that it would be financially beneficial!

Bronx vanilla, I love it! Except for salt, pepper and olive oil, it's the most indispensible item in my pantry.

Marcia, thanks so much for the gardening advice. Anyone else have experience with growing garlic in their garden or container?

Terry, I've decided that there are more kitchen gizmos invented to handle garlic and lemons than any other type of kitchen tool. What's up with that???

Freya, I'm going to check out the web site Marcia mentions and get more info. I'm likely to listen to anyone who calls himself The Chief Clove!

Scott, I'm with you. The four food groups: salt, pepper, olive oil and garlic.

Ah, another soul who can never have *enough* garlic! :) Since it's almost spring, I think I'll have to do a post featuring garlic from Garonne, with a purplish tinge on its skin.. just need to get a hold of the fresh kind, though! They are so much more potent than the pantry variety, and can actually dissolve the skin in my mouth! :) Gross but true!

Great recipe, but when I buy fresh tuna and marinate it in soya sauce, I almost always make a dip from a mix of wasabi and mayonnaise. Pure delight (but no garlic's involved)!

I got a response from the Chief Clove! He said he has garlic in containers on his deck. just make sure that the container is 12 inches deep at least.

Shilpa, you're going to love tomorrow's post....

Veron, that's cool -- are you going to try it? If you do, and you post about it, I'll link back here.

Veron, Thanks so much for getting back to us with the Chief Clove's response! Now I look forward to hearing about your experiences in growing it.
BTW Miss Lydia, that photo of the garlic cloves is the best pic yet.
Love it! Almost as good as Shawn's paintings.

Garlic!!!Interesting read .I'm a garlic addict in a way, can't think of any meal without Garlic...

Marcia, thanks. Garlic is so photogenic!

Lera, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I agree -- garlic does (and should) find its way into every meal.

No vampire would come near our house with all the garlic we use ;)

Jeff, no vampires here, either.

I recevied my flower pot garlic cloves. It said to refrigerate for a couple of weeks before planting. I'll probably put them in on the first of May. Oh, I received a garlic sampler too...can't wait to try them out ! :).

Veron -- yippee! Can't wait to see how this works out! Is the garlic sampler to eat, or to plant in the garden? What fun -- I'm going to thegarlicstore.com to check it out. Thanks for letting us know. If you blog about it, I'll link back.

the sampler pack is for eating :)

Cyber serendipity strikes again -- I just read an email about a former college classmate who was from Gilroy, then used garlic in a gratin de pommes de terre, then read this post...

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