Kitchen Basics: Garlic

September 12, 2011

Join us in welcoming our newest Cooking contributor, Susan Pachikara of Cardamom Kitchen! In her bi-weekly column, Kitchen Basics, Susan will demystify essential cooking skills with step-by-step instructions and her own handsome photos. Whether she's showing us how much brown sugar we're meant to "pack"(or is it cram?) into measuring cups or how to detect when our onions are properly caramelized, Susan is the nonna we never had -- until now. Now, go on and get cozy under her wing.

For the inaugural post, Susan whacks and chops her way to perfectly prepped garlic.

garlic bulb cloves susan cardamom kitchen

- Susan

As a child, I loved to watch my mother seamlessly recreate the flavors of South India. She would invariably disrobe a few cloves of garlic and, thanks to her, I began a love affair with the spunky bulb at a young age. When I branched out on my own, I sought recipes that called for garlic, raw and punchy or tamed with a little heat. Thankfully, they were never hard to find as home cooks across the globe use the versatile aromatic to woo loved ones to the table. 

Since then, garlic has been an indispensable ingredient in my kitchen. The versatile plant offers a range of flavors, depending on how it’s prepared. Raw garlic that’s been crushed, sliced, or finely chopped (minced) has an eye-popping intensity. In hummus, its sharp taste balances out the timidity of chickpeas and tahini. Briefly sautéing or stir-frying garlic mellows it, leaving it with enough flair to envelope other ingredients. Just think of Pad Thai. Cooking garlic longer warms and sweetens its flavor. It becomes as comforting in baked lasagna as cinnamon is in apple pie. 

Garlic is also cheaper than many other flavor boosters from saffron to citrus. Heck, a whole bulb costs half as much as a can of soda, and because of its far-reaching flavor, lasts through weeks of cooking. 

Availability & Storage

Garlic is easy to find and available year-round. When I go looking for it, I can be sure to find it in the produce section, shoulder-to-shoulder with a mound of onions. Low-maintenance and long-lasting, all it requires is a dry, cool corner and room to breathe. I store my stash in a small bowl on the kitchen counter.

How to Prepare

Not surprisingly, garlic is easy to prepare. Grab your chef’s knife and cutting board and follow these simple steps:

First, select plumb bulbs with smooth, unblemished skin. Run from any that are rooting.

selecting garlic susan cardamom kitchen

Dig your fingers into the tissue-papery skin covering the bulb and pull out as many cloves as you need.

garlic

Hold the knife, pinching the base and cut off the root end of the clove.

garlic

Place the flat end of the knife over the clove and whack it to split and loosen the skin. 

garlic whack knife

Again, hold the knife in one hand, pinching the base with your finger. Hold the root end of the clove with the other and thinly slice the clove.

how to slice clove garlic

To chop the clove, hold the knife over the slices with one hand. Place the other hand on the back of the knife. Rock the knife back and forth over the slices. 

how to chop garlic

To mince it, continue the rocking motion until the clove is very finely chopped.

how to mince garlic

All photos by Susan Pachikara.

Are you new to cooking? Tell Susan what skills you'd like to learn and your idea could be featured in an upcoming post!

Do you have tips for prepping garlic? Share them with your fellow cooks in the comments section below.

Susan writes the blog Cardamom Kitchen to share her culinary experiences as an Indian-American rooted in the Midwest. 

susan cardamom kitchen

34 Comments Add a Comment
  • Elm

    adamben says: the basics are sooo overlooked. it's great that you are starting at that important veg, fruit? gourd? flower? thanks!!!!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    Alba Perez says: Susan - thanks for teaching us how to choose the right garlic and steps for cutting them. Love the pics!!! I've tended to use powder or jar garlic in my cooking b/c I was unsure on how to choose the right kind of garlic. Your tips are certainly welcomed! Will certainly use fresh garlic from now on. :)

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    Alba Perez says: Susan - thank you for your step by step details and imagery in picking and cutting garlic. I love using garlic in my meals but usually I opt for powdered or already cut "jar garlic" b/c I have a hard time choosing the right fresh bunch. Your tips for picking the fresher ones and cutting them are certainly welcomed.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    IvyM says: Hi Susan, great tips and wonderful pictures, thanks for sharing. Would love to see some info related to Indian spices, such as turmeric and fenugreek and their health benefits.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: Thank you, Ivy. I'll be talking about spices in the coming weeks. Cheers, Susan

    over 2 years ago
  • Dsc06352

    cardarf says: Susan, thanks for including the great illustrations with your instructions. Smashing the garlic with the flat knife has always been one of my favorite things to do. For an interesting garlic variety with a mild taste, I also like hunting at the farmer's market for the giant Elephant garlic. Sliced onto a salad, it gives off just the right "hint of garlic".

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    mjax says: Susan, I usually buy garlic that is a beautiful creamy white color, but occasionally I come across another variety which has purple stripes. Is there a difference in flavour or healing properties ?

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: This is a great question. I don't have a lot of experience using it. Based on a quick Internet search, it appears that there are many varieties of purple stripe garlic. Some are strong and some are mild.

    over 2 years ago
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    metrogal says: I store it in little clay pot with holes in especially made for this purpose.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    rpplsrpplsr says: Susan, This information is very good for me who uses garlic in everything. Please advise what is the best way to store garlic. Waiting to see your future topics.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: Glad it's helpful. Garlic should be stored in a cool, dark place. Also, it needs to breath. That's why it's often sold in bags made of netting. I keep mine in a bowl on my kitchen counter top.

    over 2 years ago
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    chutney says: I love the idea of this column. I have a lot to learn! You've inspired me to take time out and eat well AT HOME! But knowing how to be strategic about it in terms of time and flavor is something I am looking forward to from the whole series. Glad there's a link to your blog too. Your writing AND photography are as yummy to my eyes as the food will be to my mouth. Such a pleasure. I'm hooked.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    metrogal says: This is great............love...love!!!! Thank you

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    davidmuglia says: you may want to store more than just a small portion of minced garlic, and is also a time saver. Proceed with all steps above and then take it all (if you have a large quantity of freshly minced garlic) and store it in a resealable glass container and add olive oil to it as well before storing in the refrigerator. Saves alot of time and is easy to just spoon out a small amount to use whenever. Lasts a long time and is preserved well in the olive oil with no change in taste.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Maddy-macau-robuchon

    Maddy is the senior editor of Whole Foods Market Cooking.

    Maddy, Editor says: What a great idea, davidmuglia -- thanks for sharing!

    over 2 years ago
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    veena says: susan! what a great column with fantastic pictures. can't wait for your next article :)

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    Mary C says: Enjoyed your column. I am impressed that you are showing how to cut, chop and mince, all with one knife. It makes cleaning after cooking easier. It is the cleaning part that makes many people hesitant to start cooking in the first place. I am looking forward to many more interesting articles. So, keep writing!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    Anupam says: Thank you for the easy-to-follow steps and the pictures that go along perfectly Susan!! I will look foward to more help around the kitchen. Please share some easy pasta recipes too that are vegetarian. thanks! :)

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    maria_sf says: Hi Susan, What are your thought on garlic paste? And whats a good conversion to use when between fresh garlic and garlic paste, I have garlic paste at home but am never sure how much to use.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    Susan_P says: I prefer to use fresh garlic whenever possible, Maria. You can make a paste (which is finer than minced garlic) by chopping garlic into little bits using the method above and then breaking up the small pieces even further by holding the flat of the knife over them and dragging the knife against a cutting board. The more you rupture the cells of a garlic clove, the more intense the flavor becomes. For that reason, garlic paste is more potent than chopped or minced garlic so use a little less than the recipe calls for. Hope that answers you question. Cheers, Susan

    over 2 years ago
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    AnnMc says: I'd ove to have you write about how to make a curry. The garlic would be perfect for the curry!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: That's so true! On most evenings, my mom would start dinner by sauteing garlic, ginger and onions! One of my instructors in culinary school called the combo the "Holy Trinity" of Indian cooking. Will plan to share a South Indian recipe.

    over 2 years ago
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    Na6 says: the pictures are beautiful! thanks for the tips

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    Annette says: Good tips! Even when a recipe calls for garlic powder, I mince the real thing and use that instead. 1 minced clove can be substituted for 1/4 tsp garlic powder.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: Ditto, Annette

    over 2 years ago
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    Em7 says: Great post and pictures!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    Nathaniel02 says: This probably sounds pathetic, but I never knew how to properly use a knife to cut garlic or about any other vegetable, spice, etc. Thanks.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    KenC says: Very helpful! This is coming from someone that is just venturing into the culinary world. Easy to understand and the pictures really help!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    Maria42 says: The pictures are really great.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Roine_pic_1980_big_hair

    roine says: For garlic there are a few really nifty gadgets that I own that I can no long live without. All three are from the pampered chef company. If you need a referral for a great sales representative this is the link. http://www.pamperedchef.biz/babettesfeast You can also view the gadgets I'm writing about at that web site.(no it's not mine) The first gadget is the pampered chef food chopper. You can toss in a few or a couple dozen peeled cloves, pump the plunger 6 to 10 times, the result is perfectly minced garlic in seconds. My 4 year old grand daughter loves to mince the garlic with that chopper when she helps me cook her favorite Greek egg lemon soup. The next garlic gadget I love is the pampered chef garlic press. For this press you don't need to even peel the garlic. Just press the entire clove peel and all. This press is great because it has a little plastic do-hickey that cleans the press so you don't get stinky fingers. Last but not least is the pampered chef garlic peeler & slicer. The peeler is a silicone tube that you place a couple garlic cloves into, just roll it & rub it against the counter top and it removes the peels instantly. The slicer reminds me of a pencil sharpener. you place up to 2 cloves in the container and twist away. You get perfectly sliced garlic in seconds. I love garlic and use it to make open face raw garlic sandwiches (add salt or sliced banana to cut the heat), I saute it as a base in many soups and other dishes and I love to roast whole bulbs in the oven. Scoop out the cloves and smear the soft garlic buttery paste over a nice crisp bread. Garlic is a great medicinal food. Garlic is good to help control blood pressure, cholesterol and can even be used as an antibacterial. Because it is a natural food your body doesn't grow resistant to the antibacterial effects of the garlic like it does to antibiotic drugs. Garlic & onions are the base for most chicken soups. Why do you think chicken soup is the all time cure for the common cold??? Could it be GARLIC

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    christiane says: Very inspiring. I could smell the garlic! I'll try the suggestions next time I am in the kitchen. Thanks!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    seamars43@earthlink.net says: great illustrations and entertaining text. Look forward to more helpful hints from Susan

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • S2

    Susan_P says: You're welcome! There are so many myths about home cooking. It's too expensive, it's too hard, it takes too much time. I want to help address them. As far as I'm concerned, cooking is one of life's great pleasures. Let me know if there are any topics you'd like us to write about. Cheers, Susan

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
  • Luaumcintosh3-w_1_

    mykbstyle says: Love this wondeful and helpfu how-to. Welcome, Susan! And thanks for your piece.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »

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