Love it or, dare we say, despise it, garlic is a common denominator in a variety of cuisines. Known in ancient times as “the stinking rose,” the pungent cloves from this bulbous plant are used in baked goods, stews, soups, sauces, dressings, oils, meats and supplements. Regularly munching on raw cloves can also help boost cardiovascular health.
Garlic’s amino acid derivative — allicin — is responsible for many of its health benefits, including its antioxidant, anti-microbial, cholesterol-lowering, blood-thinning and cancer-fighting properties, according to The Herb Society of America.
So when it comes to garlic, there really is no such thing as the kind of over-abundant harvests that befalls some of its home-garden brethren (proliferate cherry tomatoes and mint come to mind).
“As a family of four, we eat about two heads of garlic a week,” says Spice’s Ben Bebenroth.
Fall is an ideal time to plant garlic, which goes into the ground as individual cloves and emerges the following summer as rotund bulbs. There are more than 600 sub-varieties from which to choose. Soft-neck varieties have a longer shelf life and are best suited for warmer climes, while hard-neck varieties have a shorter shelf life but are well-equipped to handle cold winters.
Spice Acres’ varieties include spicy Khabar and Ben’s grandfather’s Italian red (some of which I’ll be transplanting into my Southern garden in the spring.)
Garlic is easy to plant, so long as you have a space with ample sun exposure. “The front yard is a great spot because garlic helps keep away deer,” Ben says.
He offers some tips for planting and harvesting:
- The soil should be loamy, well-drained and rich with organic matter. “Garlic likes a good bit of phosphorus,” Ben says. “I also incorporate blood meal and some heavy mulch.” Nitrogen-rich blood meal helps retain moisture and keeps weeds under control.
- Industrious DIY-ers can build a garlic gig to ensure uniformity of the bulbs. Ben’s gig is made with bamboo and zip ties, and is about 6 squares in length and 6 feet long. “Or you could use a piece of wire fence,” he says. Make sure each the center of each square is 6 inches apart.
- Dig a hole 2 to 3 inches deep. Keep the papery husk on each clove. Plant an individual clove, with head down. Cover with soil and a thick layer of mulch or straw to protect the garlic during winter.
- The first shoots will emerge in spring as temperatures warm. Harvest when the tops begin to yellow or brown, before they are dry, which in Ohio is around mid-July. Carefully lift the bulbs with a spade. That single clove will have multiplied into a bulb with five to 10 cloves.
- Let the garlic dry for a couple weeks. Cut off the leaves about an inch above the bulb, or braid the dry tops and hang the garlic braid in the kitchen.
Chef Ben’s Garlic Hummus
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
1 can rinsed chickpeas
1/4 cup tahini
Juice of half a lemon
Cholula Hot Sauce
Hungarian paprika, to taste
Olive oil, to taste
Fresh herbs, to taste
Chop garlic, deposit into a food processor, along with a quarter of the can of chickpeas, and blend.
Add 1 to 2 teaspoons salt and tahini, and blend.
Pour in the rest of the chickpeas, lemon juice and blend, adding two shakes of hot sauce and just enough water to get the hummus moving. You should be able to see the blade in the center. Continue blending about 5 minutes, or until hummus is creamy.
Add smoked Hungarian paprika, olive oil and fresh herbs to taste when you’re ready to serve.