The Stinking Rose. Garlic. What would we do without it? Most of Mediterranean cuisine as well as
Korean cuisine would not be possible without it. Pesto would simply be an olive oil and basil
sauce. Kal Bi and Bul Go Gi would simply be plain teriyaki. And most pasta dishes would be
reduced to plain macaroni and cheese. Plus California geography wouldn’t exist as we know it.
Gilroy would simply be a barren wasteland in Northern California.
What Makes Garlic, Garlic?
That special something that sets garlic apart from onions, shallots and scallions is allicin. It's a
compound that sits dormant in individual garlic cells as alliin. When the cell membrane is broken
by mincing, crushing, slicing or macerating, an enzyme called alliinase converts alliin to allicin
which gives garlic that special fragrant essence that keeps the vampires at bay and most
importantly, flavors food like only garlic does. Both allicin and alliin are broken down by heat so
if you cook whole cloves, they are milder and sweeter than minced garlic.
A Kinder, Milder Rose
Whenever I use my oven for baking savory dishes that take at least 45 minutes, I always roast a
head or two or garlic in my little ceramic garlic roaster. Wrapping the heads in aluminum foil
serves the same purpose if you’re not into kitchen gadgetry like I am. Simply slice about ½ to ¾
inch off the top of the head of garlic so that most of the individual cloves are exposed and drizzle
with a teaspoon or so of olive oil. Place in a garlic roaster (or aluminum foil) and cover. After 45
minutes to 1 hour, the cloves will soften enough that they can be squeezed from the “paper”
wrapping of the garlic head to flavor whatever creation you decide upon. Because the cloves are
cooked intact, the garlic develops a savory sweetness and is much milder than raw garlic or cooked
minced garlic. I add this garlic “paste” to mashed potatoes, stews, bean dips, pizzas and actually
any dish that garlic normally flavors. The only reason I mention baking it along with savory dishes
is that you probably wouldn’t want to flavor your sponge cake or soufflé with the “eau de garlic”
… unless your neighbors sported pronounced widow’s peaks, wore black capes and had a habit of
only being active at night.
What About the Health Benefits?
The bulb of Allium sativum has purported benefits ranging from antimicrobial/antifungal effects
to cardiovascular disease prevention to anti-inflammatory benefits. However, it’s still not known
exactly what compound may be causing these purported health benefits. There’s one side that
claims “if it doesn’t make you stinky, it doesn’t work” to the other side that claims the health
benefits are derived from less “odiferous” allyl and methyl cysteine sulfoxides. What is certain is
that commercially available supplements vary in their allicin, allyl or methyl cysteine sulfoxide
content and that even if they were standardized, their actual pharmacological effects (how they
work) may vary. My bottom line is: Be CAREFUL taking any garlic supplement if you’re also
taking medications that affect bleeding (warfarin, Plavixticlopidine, Pletal or aspirin).
Garlic supplements can prolong bleeding time by interfering with blood clot formation and
platelet aggregation so notify your health care provider before starting any garlic supplement. My
recommendation is to use garlic for its flavor and not for its medicinal qualities.
There’s a restaurant in Hawaii that specializes in garlic cuisine. Not unlike the Stinking Rose in the
North Beach of San Francisco that flavors it’s “garlic with food”, Ninnikuya includes garlic in
every dish – including desert. It’s tucked into a quaint refurbished residence on Waialae Avenue.
In some dishes the garlic is added as a normal seasoning ingredient like their sizzling steak or the
seared garlic ahi, in other dishes garlic is the star such as the baked eggplant. And then there are
the outright unusual dishes such as sorbet with creamy garlic sauce. The Hawaii Ninnikuya is
actually inspired by a restaurant of the same name in Japan where again, every menu item
A Rose for All Seasons
So whether you enjoy garlic in an Italian marinara sauce, stir fried with black bean paste, ginger
and prawns or simply like how it kicks up your teriyaki sauce a notch, use it frequently and use a
“heavier hand” when seasoning your food. Along with enhancing the taste of your culinary
creations, garlic just may bring along unintentional health benefits and if everyone eats your dish,
you’ll all reek of garlic so no one will be the wiser. And it just may keep away those nocturnal
blood seekers that appear at the end of October.
A side dish for those just a little squeamish of garlic’s pungency. I originally featured this dish on
Hawaiian Electric’s Electric Kitchen in November 1997.
Gochiso’s Roasted Garlic Mashers
1 head of garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil
6 baking potatoes
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 to 1 & ½ cup reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup Parmesan cheese
Keeping cloves intact, slice ½ to ¾ inch across the top of head of garlic. Sprinkle olive oil over
top of cut surface of garlic head. Wrap head in aluminum foil (or place in garlic roaster and cover)
and seal foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Squeeze cloves from skins and
discard skins. Cook potatoes in water until fork tender (about 20 minutes), drain and peel. Mash
potatoes while still hot. Add butter and garlic and mix until butter melts. Add rosemary, salt and
pepper. Add broth, a little at a time until potatoes smooth and fluffy adding more broth as
needed. Stir in Parmesan cheese. Serves about 8.
A Rose by Any Other Name