Trying to ward off colds and flu as the season changes? Watching out for vampires while taking the children trick-or-treating? Have I got the fix for you! 

From one of my all-time favorite references, Healing Foods: “Native to Central Asia, garlic is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world... Sanskrit records document the use of garlic remedies approximately 5,000 years ago, while the Chinese have been using it for at least 3,000 years.” 

Why? To just get us started: it’s an excellent source of vitamin B6, manganese, selenium and vitamin C, along with minerals including phosphorous, calcium, potassium, iron and copper. It’s antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial. 

The potent smell of garlic has an equally potent effect on numerous body systems. As a member of the genus Allium, garlic contains a number of sulphur compounds, including allicin, which is anti-cancer and helps prevent free radical damage to the linings of blood vessels. This limits inflammation, which may ward off heart attacks and stroke. 

Talk about a longevity food! Plus, garlic boosts cognitive function and memory. Perhaps most fascinating, garlic intake helps boost the body’s iron metabolism, making it easy for that vital mineral get to the places in the body where it needs to be. One of those places is the brain, as iron deficiencies are strongly linked with weaker cognitive performance. 

Go, garlic!

What Israeli food chemists found

If you’re using garlic in a meal, the first thing that you should do when you walk into your kitchen is take the back of your knife and smash or chop it. Then let it sit for 10 minutes. That’s how the compound allicin develops, and where all that anti-cancer action comes from.

Bear with this excellent explanation in Jo Robinson’s fascinating book, Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health. It’s worth it!

In 2001, a group of Israeli food chemists discovered that conventional ways of preparing garlic can destroy most of its health benefits... Allicin is created when two substances within garlic come into contact with each other. One is a protein fragment called alliin and the other is a heat-sensitive enzyme called alliinase. In an intact clove of garlic, these compounds are isolated in separate compartments. They do not commingle until you slice, press or chew the garlic and rupture the barriers between them. Then the combustion begins. 

The Israelis discovered that heating the garlic right after crushing it or slicing it destroys the heat-sensitive enzyme that triggers the reaction. As a result, no allicin is created. It takes only two minutes in a frying pan to reduce garlic to little more than a flavoring ingredient…

Chopping then letting the garlic rest for 10 minutes allows for the maximum amount of allicin to be created. Then the heat-sensitive enzyme is no longer needed, and you can cook away!

Two stories and a recipe

I have 2 favorites about garlic. 

The first involves a roly-poly chef with a big mustache I met in a small beautiful Italian coastal town near the Cinque Terra. He had a unique approach to cooking with garlic. He’d peel a whole head of garlic, put the cloves into a pot of cold water, and bring to a boil. As soon as the water boiled, he’d strain out the garlic and discard the water — and he did this 7 times! Then he cooked very delicate seafood in the water with just a whisper of garlic. This is the ONLY time I’ve ever seen any chef do this. He said, “Who wants to kiss someone with garlic breath?” 

When I was working at the Chopra Center, we were not allowed to cook with garlic or onions at all, because in Southern Indian cooking it’s thought that they interrupt the ability to meditate deeply. The head chef, a fabulous and rather formidable woman, announced this in a meeting soon after I had arrived in the kitchen. My mouth fell open. As a professionally trained chef, I literally couldn’t IMAGINE cooking without them. I opened my mouth and said, “YOU’RE KIDDING!!!” She was not kidding. Of course, it proved to be a valuable culinary lesson, and I now know spices better than most as a result.

A couple of great culinary tricks with garlic

  1. To avoid burning garlic: heat your pan. Once warm, add olive oil. Take your pan off the heat, saute garlic for 20 seconds. Proceed with your recipe.
  2. To prepare ahead: chop or crush garlic. Rest 10 minutes (so maximum allicin develops!). Place in a jar and cover with olive oil. Your garlic is ready when you are.

Vampire Slayer’s Soup

Garlic lovers will gravitate toward this soup, but I want to convince those of you who say, “Garlic? Eww!’ to try it. Those overwhelmed by garlic’s natural pungency will savor how roasting transforms the garlic into a caramelized, sweet-smelling delight. In this recipe, roasted garlic is simmered in the broth, adding to the gentle mellowing. Further fortified with Yukon gold potatoes, thyme, pepper, onion, and a spritz of lemon, this nutritious soup will arm you to the teeth . . . so to speak.