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Published July 31, 2012, 11:30 PM

Doeden: Peel away garlic’s mysteries

I’ve been to wine tasting parties, cheese tastings and olive oil tastings, but a garlic tasting party? Never.

I’ve been to wine tasting parties, cheese tastings and olive oil tastings, but a garlic tasting party?

Never.

When veteran gardener Carol Schmidt invited me to her farm near Pelican Rapids, Minn., to sample some of the 20 varieties of garlic she grows, I immediately said yes.

A small basket of plump garlic bulbs sits on my kitchen counter at all times. I find the small nutritionally rich vegetable indispensable, and I use at least a couple of cloves a day in my cooking. A member of the Allium family, which includes onions and leeks, garlic turns any meal into an aromatically bold and healthful culinary delight. It’s a cooking ingredient I can’t live without.

I was anxious to taste some of the several varieties of garlic Schmidt has been growing this season. I packed some mints into my purse and headed to Pelican Rapids with a couple of garlic-loving friends.

Metal hangers heavy with garlic in its curing stage are suspended from the ceiling in Carol Schmidt’s front porch, an indication of her obsession with the stinking rose. Next steps led us to her dining room where she had prepared a table of garlic. Six plates held six different varieties of unmarked garlic. The tasters did not know what kind we were eating as we sampled each variety roasted, toasted on bread, minced and mixed with olive oil and raw cloves cut into slices. We examined each bulb, noticing differences in color and size and the number of cloves per bulb. And then we began tasting.

It was our job to jot down our thoughts regarding texture, first taste and finish as we moved around the table, continuously cleansing our palates with fresh apple slices, jicama sticks and celery.

We learned all garlic is not created alike. Some were buttery. Some were so hot they made our eyes water and our ears burn. Others were starchy and bland. One variety might be better for roasting, another best for making garlic crostini. Our favorite: a Rocambole that Schmidt brought from the Iron Range. She calls it Iron Range Rocambole. She gave each of us a hanger full of that variety to enjoy at home.

With my body diffusing the aroma of garlic through my house the next day (the mints didn’t work), I decided to make garlic sauce reminiscent of the mixture I used to buy years ago at Morgan’s, a Mexican and Lebanese food store in St. Paul. Made with just olive oil, salt, lemon juice and lots of garlic, this spread is not for the faint of heart.

Make this creamy sauce when you can spend 15 minutes on blending the mixture together with no distractions. Then start spreading it on your burger buns, on tortillas for fajitas, grilled vegetables and crostini. Use it as a dip for chicken and beef kabobs, chunks of chewy bread or fresh vegetables. And then, make another batch. It will disappear fast.

Schmidt says she will continue to experiment with new varieties of garlic as she strives to find the prettiest and tastiest of them all. She’ll more than likely find some new varieties at the seventh annual Minnesota Garlic Festival Aug. 11 at the McLeod County Fairgrounds in Hutchinson.

You will find Schmidt heading up the first garlic growing contest ever held at the festival – The Big, The Small and The Ugly. Any garlic grown in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa is eligible. You will find details of the festival and the contest at http://sfa-mn.org/garlicfest. The festival is the perfect place to stock up on garlic that will keep your supply of Garlic Sauce always handy in the refrigerator. Don’t bother with the mints.

Sue Doeden is a food writer and photographer from Bemidji, Minn., and a former Fargo resident. Her columns are published in 10 Forum Communications newspapers.

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