Cooking Up Garlic's Health Benefits
By Ying Chang Compestine

Photography by Jeff Padrick

If you think garlic is just for seasoning, think again! Research suggests that garlic (Allium sativum) can help lower cholesterol, reduce blood clotting, curb high blood pressure and even prevent cancer. Garlic can also be a powerful treatment for infections. A part of the onion family, garlic contains allicin, which has strong antibacterial effects.


There are two basic types of garlic:
Hardneck: This has a little stick in the middle (hence the name). It is more difficult to grow and also more perishable. However, hardneck varieties of garlic offer a wider range of flavor, and their skin is more colorful.
Softneck: Widely available in supermarkets, softneck varieties contain no hard stick in the center. They are easier to grow and offer the longest shelf life. Their skin is usually white or silvery.

When buying fresh heads of garlic, look for ones that are firm when you press them. Avoid heads that have sprouted, which indicates that the garlic is old. (Garlic sprouts can cause indigestion.) Store in a cool, dark place. Don't refrigerate or freeze garlic—which causes it to lose its flavor. Minced garlic only holds its fresh flavor for a few hours, so it's best to prepare it right before cooking.

It's easy to include fresh garlic in your daily diet. The following simple recipes will show you how.

Flavored Tofu, Shiitake Mushroom & Cherry Tomato Kabobs

Makes 6 kabobs / This dish goes well with salad and pasta. There are typically two types of skewers to use for kabobs: bamboo or metal. Bamboo skewers are safer and easier to handle hot off the grill, but should be soaked in cold water for 30 minutes before grilling to prevent them from burning.

GARLIC-CHILE SAUCE
1 teaspoon cooking oil
1 small red chile, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup green tea
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 1/2 pounds flavored tofu, cut into chunks
1/2 pound medium fresh shiitake mushrooms (remove stems)
2 medium oranges, peeled and cut into chunks
12 cherry tomatoes
1 large yellow zucchini, cut into chunks
1 tablespoon minced chives, to garnish

1. Heat small saucepan coated with cooking oil over medium-high heat. Sauté chile and garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add green tea, honey, vinegar and fish sauce. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

3. Alternately thread tofu, mushrooms, oranges, tomatoes and zucchini onto six 12-inch skewers. Brush with sauce.

4. Oil and preheat grill. Grill kabobs until vegetables are golden and mushrooms are lightly browned. Turn and brush often with sauce, about 5 minutes each side.

5. Garnish with chives. Serve remaining sauce for dipping.

Tip: Alternatively, you can cook this dish in your oven. Set oven to broil and place skewers on middle rack on top of a sheet of foil that has been sprayed with cooking oil.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 307 calories Fat: 13g % fat calories: 37% Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 21g Protein: 29g

Garlic-Sautéed Shrimp

Serves 4 / I always keep some shrimp in my freezer—they are ideal for last-minute meals. Even better, shrimp, like other shellfish, are low in saturated fat. Most shrimp sold in stores have been "flash-frozen." If a shrimp is pink, it's been cooked, so it probably has lost most of its flavor. Look for gray or white raw shrimp. Serve this dish with noodles, steamed rice or as filling for roll-ups.

MARINADE
2 tablespoons ginger tamari
1/2 tablespoon cooking wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil

SHRIMP
1 pound medium raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
2-1/2 tablespoons cooking oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup thinly shredded leeks, white part only
1 medium red bell pepper, julienned
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons toasted black sesame seeds

1. Combine marinade ingredients in medium bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

2. Heat 1-1/2 tablespoons oil in nonstick wok or cooking pan over medium-high heat. Swirl to coat pan. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add shrimp. Stir-fry until pink, about 1-2 minutes. Remove shrimp and place in medium bowl.

3. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in wok. Add leeks and bell peppers. Stir-fry until peppers soften, about 1 minute. Return shrimp to wok and stir-fry until heated through.

4. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with black sesame seeds. Serve hot.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 263 calories Fat: 14g % fat calories: 49% Cholesterol: 173mg Carbohydrate: 8g Protein: 25g

Roasted Potato Salad with Olives and Feta Cheese

Serves 4 / This recipe is hearty enough to make a meatless main dish. It's also a treat for the senses: The roasted garlic potatoes are crisp, and the fresh tomatoes and watercress are colorful. If you like spicy food, toss in some minced chile pepper along with the garlic.

10 small red potatoes (about 1 pound), halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium lemon
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar with roasted garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 medium tomatoes, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 cup young pea greens or sunflower greens
1/2 cup coarsely chopped watercress
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. In 9"x9" metal baking pan, toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and minced garlic. Roast potatoes until golden, about 25 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, from lemon, grate 1/2 tablespoon peel and squeeze out 1 tablespoon juice. In salad bowl, mix lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, seasoned vinegar, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper.

3. Add roasted potatoes, tomatoes, pea greens, watercress and olives to bowl. Coat well. Season with salt and pepper.

4. To serve, arrange salad on platter. Spoon feta cheese on top.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 290 calories Fat: 12g % fat calories: 36% Cholesterol: 12mg Carbohydrate: 40g Protein: 8g

Scallion, Garlic and Egg Fried Rice

Serves 4-6 / This dish is my family's favorite weeknight dinner. Leftover rice works best here, since warm rice tends to stick together and to the pan.

2 scallions (green onions)
2 eggs, beaten thoroughly
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons cooking oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/2 cups mixed fresh or frozen vegetables
3 cups cooked rice
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (optional)

1. Divide white and green parts of scallions. Mince white part for egg mixture. Mince green part separately and set aside for garnish.

2. Mix white part of scallions with eggs. Beat well. Season egg mixture with salt and freshly ground pepper. Mix thoroughly.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons cooking oil in nonstick cooking pan or wok over medium-high heat. Swirl to coat pan. Pour in egg mixture. If oil is hot enough, the egg should puff up. Let cook until firm and browned, about 30 seconds. Flip the egg and brown the other side. Break egg into small pieces with spatula. Remove and set aside.

4. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon cooking oil in cooking pan. Sauté garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add mixed vegetables and stir-fry for 1 minute. Mix in rice and stir-fry until rice is heated through. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in eggs and sesame oil. Garnish with reserved green part of scallions and with pine nuts if desired. Serve hot.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 418 calories Fat: 18g % fat calories: 39% Cholesterol: 106mg Carbohydrate: 54g Protein: 11g

Cucumber Salad with Yogurt-Garlic-Basil Sauce

Serves 6 / Growing up in China, I loved cucumber salad. It is one of the few vegetables that the Chinese eat raw. Through the years I have tried many versions of cucumber salad. This is one of my favorites. The sauce also makes a good marinade for fish or tofu, and it can also be used as a dipping sauce.

YOGURT-GARLIC-BASIL SAUCE
1-1/2 cups nonfat plain yogurt
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon honey
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon Anaheim chile, seeded and chopped (or Asian chile sauce)
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves

CUCUMBER SALAD
1-1/2 pounds English cucumber (or about 3 small young cucumbers)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 kiwi fruit, peeled

1. Place all of the sauce ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. Store in refrigerator.

2. Peel and thinly slice cucumbers. Add salt. Cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

3. Pour sauce over sliced cucumbers. Mix well.

4. When ready to serve, cut kiwi fruit into wedges and stir gently into cucumber mixture.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 95 calories Fat: 4g % fat calories: 34% Cholesterol: 1mg Carbohydrate: 13g Protein: 3g Ying Chang Compestine is the author of Cooking With Green Tea(Avery Penguin Putnam, 2000) and Secrets of Fat-Free Chinese Cooking(Avery Penguin Putnam, 1997).