Garlic – part 1

Garlic is one of the most popular spices in the world, and wher­ever it was intro­duced to, it met enthu­siastic ap­proval. It is re­ported that in an­cient Egypt, the workers who had to build the great pyramids were fed their daily share of garlic, and the Bible mentions garlic as a food the Hebrews en­joyed during their sojourn in Egypt (see pome­granate). See also onion on the cooking of ancient Meso­potamia, where garlic played an eminent rôle.

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In Europe, garlic has been a common spice since the days of the Roman Empire, and it was ex­tensively used from India to East Asia even before the Euro­peans arrived there. After the Age of Ex­plora­tion, its use spread rapidly to Africa and both Americas. Curi­ously enough, in our days Northern Euro­peans seem to be the only ones who look on it with sus­picion because of its strong smell, which is some­times felt unpleasant.

Some cuisines are fond of raw garlic. In parts of Austria, salads (based on lettuce) are prepared with vinegar, oil and minced garlic. The more Northern practise of rubbing the salad bowl with a halved garlic clove (and dis­carding the clove after­wards) is generally frowned upon, and the tasty pumpkin seed oil is preferred over bland refined vegetable oils.

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Raw garlic appears in quite a multitude of Mediterranean sauces. Prominent examples are the Provençal specialty aïoli, basically a mayonnaise based on olive oil and enriched with garlic; furthermore, Greek skordalia [σκορδαλιά] a paste made from cooked potatoes and raw garlic, and Turkish çaçık, a refreshing soup made from plain yoghurt, shredded cucumber, garlic and peppermint leaves. A similar, but thicker, saucy product is known as tsatsiki (also spelled tzatziki [τζατζίκι]) in Greece, where it is often served to barbecued lamb souvlaki [σουβλάκι]. Many appetizers from West Asia (e. g., hummus, see sesame) contain some fresh garlic. Occasionally, minced garlic is spread along the edge of Italian pizza.

A number of salads or appetizers with raw garlic is found in Georgia, where it is usually ground to a paste together with walnut and herbs like parsley, celery or coriander. Such a paste may be spread over fried aubergine slices (badrijani [ბადრიჯანი], often served with fresh pomegranate seeds) or may be mixed with vinegar to yield a dressing for tomato and cucumber salad (k’it’ri-k’amidoris salata [კიტრი-კამიდორის სალათა], usually topped with parsley, coriander and/or basil leaves).

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In China, raw garlic appears in many salads, for example suan ni huang-gua [蒜泥黄瓜], crunchy cucumber cubes with a dressing of vinegar, sesame oil and garlic, topped with coriander leaves. Yet similar appetizers (also employing dried chiles, chile oil or soy sauce) are prepared with many more vegetables (string beans, steamed leaves) or glass noodles. A non-vegetarian example is hong-you ji-si [红油鸡丝], thin strips of boiled chicken breast dressed with chile oil and garlic. A mixture of finely chopped garlic and sesame oil (diluted with bland vegetable oil to taste) is often served as a dip on the table.