Cooking without garlic
There was a time when I regarded it as a personal failure to run out of garlic. When mum and I would laugh when describing our cooking to each other, at the predictability of starting the meal by sauteeing onions and garlic together. Then I realised garlic was a seasonal crop and there was a period each year, when the garlic in the shops travelled from overseas, usually South America or China.
Wherever possible I eat in-season and choose locally grown fruit and veg, which means there’s a period of the year when I shouldn’t be buying garlic. However it was a foundation ingredient for me, garlic went everywhere in my cooking. Forget giving up out of season cherries, asparagus or mangoes, doing without garlic has been the biggest eating-in-season dilemma for me.
However, I now spend the winter and early spring without garlic. In getting over my garlic reliance, it’s helped to look upon cooking without garlic as a challenge, an opportunity to expand my skills and find new ways of flavouring food. Over the last couple of years I’ve found I no longer miss garlic during winter – although I’m always excited when the new Australian crop starts appearing at the end of Spring.
Here are my tips for cooking without garlic:
1. There’s no good substitute for garlic
While there are many other ways to get flavour into food, there’s no really good garlic replacement. Asafoetida works okay in some dishes, but if you are planning on making garlic bread, roast lamb with garlic, garlic mushrooms or that French chicken dish which uses 40 cloves of garlic, then wait. There’s no good sub you can make, nothing which will replace the lack of garlic in the meal. So leave those dishes for when garlic comes back into season.
2. Get the most flavour out of your vegies
In the past when making winter soups and casseroles I would have added garlic. However I now realise there are lots of other vegetables which can be used to add flavour. My favourites include carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, fennel, parsnips and swede. I treat them gently and sweat out as much of their flavour as possible in the initial cooking.
To do this, I tend to use a mixture of vegetables and chop them up reasonably small. I pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a pan placed over a medium-low heat. Once the olive oil has warmed up, I add the vegetables with a pinch of salt. I then stir the salt through, place a lid on the pan and leave it to cook slowly and gently for 7 – 10 minute, stirring occasionally. During this time the combination of salt and slow cooking pulls a whole lot of flavour out of the vegetables. You can actually see it when you take the lid off, there will be a thin layer of juice at the bottom of the pan.
3. Find other ways to flavour your meals
Garlic is used to flavour food. So, if you’re not using garlic, you need other ingredients which are going to add plenty of flavour. At this time of year I use lots of spices, dried herbs, bay leaves, preserved lemons, shoyu, miso – all of which add layers of flavour and deliciousness to the foods I’m cooking. No garlic required.
4. Preserve some garlic when they are in season
At some point during the latter stages of garlic season I’ll buy extra and preserve it. I’ve been doing this by peeling the cloves, packing them into a jar and then covering with olive oil. This seems to keep them for a couple of months at least. You also end up with a really garlicky-flavoured olive oil which you can use, once the garlic has gone.
This is just a method I made up myself, so I’d be interested to know if any of you have tried preserving garlic?
Do you cook without garlic?
Photograph by Ian-S.