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The Blonde Cucina: Celebrate National Garlic Month

by on April 20, 2016 11:47 AM

April is a pretty busy month. Did you know that April is considered National BLT Sandwich Month, National Grilled Cheese Month, National Soft Pretzel Month and, finally, National Garlic Month? Who knew all these great things were celebrated in one month?

There is always background and history to food. Recipes are not invented so much, as they evolve. The bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich essentially evolved from late Victorian-era tea sandwiches.

As for the grilled cheese sandwich, cooking bread and cheese together is said to be an ancient food, and this combination is popular across the world in many cultures. In the U.S., the modern version of the grilled cheese sandwich we know supposedly originated in the 1920s when inexpensive sliced bread and American cheese widely became available.

The history of soft pretzels is up for discussion. There are various stories and countries that have the claim to fame. One of the most common stories is that soft pretzels were created by a monk around 610 in Italy. It has been said, the monk baked strips of dough that he folded into a shape resembling a child crossing its arms in prayer and gave them to children as a reward when they learned their prayers. Also, being Pennsylvanians there are a few key years in which we can take pride, when it comes to prezels. In the 1800s, southern German and Swiss German immigrants who became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch introduced soft pretzels. In 1861, Sturgis Pretzel House in Lititz became the first commercial hard pretzel bakery in the United States. In 1889, the Anderson Pretzel Factory in Lancaster was founded. And, in 2003, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell declared April 26 National Pretzel Day to acknowledge the importance of the pretzel to the state's history.

My favorite plant, garlic, is celebrated during the month of April, too. Garlic, in the plant world, is known as Allium sativum and is part of the onion family. Its close relatives include onions, shallots, chives and leeks.

According to historians, we humans have used garlic for more than 7,000 years. It is native to Asia, and no surprise, is a staple in the Mediterranean region. Ancient Egyptians used garlic for both culinary and medicinal purposes.

Garlic is used worldwide as a seasoning. As you may or may not know, it is an absolute essential component in many or most dishes of various regions around the globe, including eastern Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, northern Africa, southern Europe and parts of South and Central America. The flavor garlic gives off defiantly varies in intensity depending on how it is cooked. Common pairings are onion, tomato or ginger.

In Korea, heads of garlic are slowly heated over several weeks. The resulting product, called black garlic, is sweet and syrupy; it can be found in high-end grocery or specialty food shops. I highly recommend trying this for those garlic lovers out there. Once you get past the color, you’ll try to find things to use with this mystical and magical ingredient.

Some other garlic facts and tips:

Garlic cloves can be pickled by simply storing them in vinegar in a refrigerator. If your garlic happens to turn blue from being pickled, don’t worry: It's a common and harmless chemical reaction.

You can mix garlic with egg yolks and olive oil and you will come up with a newly common condiment called aioli.

Tzatziki, which you you can commonly find on gyros at carnivals and fairs, is yogurt mixed with garlic and salt.

Garlic powder has a different taste from fresh garlic. If you choose to use it as a substitute for fresh garlic remember that 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder is equivalent to one clove of garlic.

As for the aforementioned black garlic? Here is a great and simple recipe you can make at home for picnics, cookouts or just to have while sitting on the deck.


Start to finish: 15 minutes

Servings: 4 to 6

3 ripe avocados

1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons minced red onion

1 to 2 Serrano chiles, stems and seeds removed, minced

4 cloves black garlic

2 ripe Roma tomatoes, seeds and pulp removed, chopped

Cut the avocados in half and remove pits. Scoop out avocado flesh. Mix with all other ingredients in a food processor until combined, keeping mixture slightly chunky.

Chill. Serve with raw vegetables or tortilla chips.

Ciara Semack is the owner of The Blonde Bistro in Bellefonte. She is the mother of one and a lifelong resident of Centre County. Her column appears every other week in the Gazette. Questions, suggestions and comments can be directed to [email protected]
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