If you sometimes wonder how to use best herbs, spices and garlic in recipes and whether fresh or dried is best then read on.
Garlic – everything you need to know
It is commonly available as instant ground garlic powder/granules, garlic salt, bottled, minced Garlic, and Fresh Garlic.
Garlic powder is useful when preparing dry rubs for barbecued and cured meats.
Garlic salt is generally not a useful ingredient as the amount of Garlic to salt is difficult to adjust.
Bottled, the minced version does not store well and is an unnecessary expense. By far, the best choice is fresh bulbs from the produce stand.
How to prepare fresh garlic
Many people have trouble peeling fresh Garlic. However, there is a technique that will permit you to peel the cloves effortlessly.
First, to separate the cloves from the head, place the flat of a chef’s knife blade over the garlic head. While holding the knife handle with one hand, hit the flat of the blade with the palm of your other hand once, lightly. If the head doesn’t separate, hit it again somewhat harder. Repeat this, gradually increasing the force of the blow on the knife, until the cloves separate. This takes only seconds. Afterwards, remove the loose, paper-like skin and discard it.
To peel each clove, use the same procedure. The idea is to just slightly crush the clove, which loosens the skin and allows it to slip off easily.
Recipes that need garlic
Recipes often call for very finely minced or even mashed Garlic. The chef’s knife can be used to do this as well. Place the peeled clove on the cutting board under the knife blade as before. This time strikes the flat of the blade with your fist using considerable force. The Garlic will be mashed flat. You can then use the two-handed see-saw cutting technique, first in one direction, then at ninety degrees. Now use the knife to scrape it off the board and add it to your recipe.
When recipes call for frying Garlic, it is often best to add the Garlic to other frying ingredients rather than frying it first as it burns easily. Burnt Garlic will acquire a bitter, unpleasant taste.
It can be roasted, which changes the flavour. Roasted Garlic loses its harshness and becomes very soft in texture with a mild, pleasant flavour. It can actually be used as a spread on crackers or toast and served as a fat-free and delicious canapé as well as an ingredient in sauces and other recipes.
To roast a head of Garlic, slice off the top of the head so that the end of the cloves are exposed. Then seal it in aluminium foil and roast it for about forty minutes in a closed barbecue or an oven set at 180°c/350°F.
After the garlic head has cooled, you can simply squeeze the softened garlic meat out of the head with your hand. Individual cloves can be roasted by placing them in a pan un-peeled.
Let them brown over a low heat turning them from time to time. When the skins are browned all over, they are done. When cool, they will peel easily for immediate use.
Removing the garlic smell from skin
The strong smell is difficult to remove from the hands with conventional washing. Strange as it seems, the smell can be removed by rubbing your hands with a piece of conventional stainless steel.
Use a stainless steel mixing bowl or pan after washing your hands with soap and water. Alternatively buy a cheap garlic soap which is basically a chunk of stainless steel and shaped like soap and works perfectly, such as the one below.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs are usually planted leaves like basil or parsley. Spices are usually derived from plant seeds like black pepper or cumin. The taste of fresh herbs is usually superior to dried. Unfortunately, fresh herbs are not always available. Buy only small quantities of dried herbs as they have only a limited shelf life and lose flavour fairly quickly. Keep them in tightly closed glass jars rather than tins.
Try to buy whole spices as they will keep much longer. By grinding them yourself, their flavour will be much more intense.
The flavour of seeds, nuts, and spices is often improved by roasting before grinding. Put the spices to be ground into a small skillet on a medium fire. Heat them, frequently mixing until the first wisp of smoke comes out. Let them cool, then grinds them. You will find the flavour much more intense and pleasing.
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