Mexico Life
garlic In Mexican cuisine, garlic — ajo in Spanish — is found in a wide variety of dishes. deposit photos

Garlic steals the show

It's the pungent bulb most of us can’t live without

It was a surprise to realize that after three years of weekly columns (!), I hadn’t written about garlic. But as I researched and prepared this story, the reason became clear: garlic is a part of so many recipes, it felt like I had already written about it.

That’s true of just about every type of cuisine, and in Mexico, it’s no different. Perhaps the most classic example is in cacahuates oaxaqueños, an irresistible, spicy garlic-and-peanut snack mix, but garlic (ajo) appears in everything from marinades to salsas.

What’s important to know about garlic is that freshness counts. I can’t bring myself to buy already peeled garlic cloves in a jar or other kinds of prepackaged garlic; I prefer whole heads. What you want to look for are firm heads with no sign of mold or fungus, the biggest issues. Not firm? Look elsewhere.

Although there is a specific growing season for garlic, once dried, it can be stored almost indefinitely in a cool, dry place. (Commercial growers keep it in nitrogen-rich cold storage.) The fridge isn’t the best place, however, unless you live in as humid a climate as I do here in Mazatlán, in which case it’s kind of like damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The cold temperature of the fridge causes garlic to sprout pretty quickly, so do your best to use it up quickly and be ready to replenish when the cloves get soft or you see the germ begin to sprout.

garlic flan
For true garlic lovers, this garlic flan makes quite the savory side dish.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? The germ is that pale green center “piece” in a clove of garlic. It’s what will sprout and grow into a garlic plant. If your cloves are sprouting, they’re really too old to cook with. My farm-girl mother always taught me to remove the germ; she said it was bitter and harsh, and she was right — it is. Using garlic that’s sprouted, even if you remove the germ, will change the flavor of whatever dish you use it in, so resist the urge and, again, keep fresh garlic on hand.

Garlic Flan

  • 2 big heads (not cloves!) garlic
  • 1½ cups heavy cream
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground white/black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Wrap garlic in foil; place on baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour. Cool.

Lower oven temperature to 375 F (190 C). Cut garlic heads in half, exposing cloves. Squeeze pulp from skins.

Place in food processor; puree to a smooth paste. Add cream, eggs, salt and pepper. Process again just until smooth, being careful not to overprocess and solidify the cream.

Ladle custard into 6 custard cups or ramekins. Place cups in a deep baking pan. Carefully pour boiling water into the pan two-thirds of the way up sides of cups. Bake until custard is set, 35–40 minutes; do not overcook.

Remove cups from the water bath; allow to sit for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Garlic shrimp
This shrimp dish marinated in garlic and chile will be the dish your BBQ guests remember.

Garlic-Chile-Mayo Shrimp

The secret to plump shrimp with a browned crust: stir a little baking soda into the mayonnaise.

  • 6 garlic cloves, minced or grated
  • ½-1 jalapeño or serrano chile
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1½ tsp. salt
  • Heaping ¼ tsp. baking soda
  • 1½ lbs. large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on, patted dry
  • Optional: Old Bay seasoning

Prepare charcoal or gas grill for high heat. (If you don’t have a grill, you can cook the shrimp in a cast-iron skillet over high heat with the vent on, following the same timing.) Mix garlic and chile into medium bowl; stir in mayonnaise, salt and baking soda. Add shrimp; stir to combine. Refrigerate 15–30 minutes.

Grill shrimp until well-browned, 2–4 minutes. Flip and cook until opaque throughout, 1–2 minutes more. Sprinkle with Old Bay, if using. Serve immediately.

Provençal Garlic Soup

  • 7 cups water, chicken or vegetable stock
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • A bouquet garni (a bay leaf and a few sprigs each parsley and thyme, tied together)
  • Salt and black pepper
  • ¾ lb. Yukon gold or white potatoes, peeled, in ½ -inch dice
  • ½ lb. broccoli florets, broken up into small flowers
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2-3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan

Bring water or stock to a simmer in large saucepan. Add garlic, bouquet garni, salt and pepper, and potatoes. Cover and simmer 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender and broth fragrant.

Provençal-style garlic soup
Bring a bit of the French countryside into your home with Provençal-style garlic soup.

Add broccoli. Simmer uncovered another 5–8 minutes, until broccoli is tender. Then taste soup; adjust seasonings.

Beat eggs in a bowl. Remove a ladleful of soup and whisk it into the eggs to temper them. Turn heat off under the soup and stir in the egg mixture. The eggs should cloud the soup but shouldn’t scramble.

Stir in parsley and serve, topping with Parmesan.

Garlicky Potato Salad

  • 2 eggs, hard-boiled, diced small
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon/lime juice
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • ½ cup finely chopped celery
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  • 2 lbs. small white or yellow potatoes
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. minced chives

Pulse garlic, salt and lemon juice in a blender. Add egg yolk. With motor running, drizzle in olive oil until completely incorporated and thick (like making mayonnaise).

Scrape into a bowl; fold in sour cream, celery and onion.

Cook whole unpeeled potatoes until just tender.

garlic potato salad
Just a couple of garlic cloves take potato salad from ho-hum to a hit!

Drain and cut potatoes into 1½-inch chunks as soon as you can handle them. Transfer still-warm potatoes to large bowl; toss with eggs and two-thirds of the dressing.

Cool or refrigerate. Just before serving, toss with some of the remaining dressing and sprinkle with salt, pepper and chives.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expatsfeatured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.

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