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Garlic: A Common Chinese Ingredient

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Sauces, Seasonings, and Spices

Fall Volume: 2009 Issue: 16(3) page(s): 20, 21, and 22

This herbal and culinary ingredient the Chinese call suan, ho, ho suan, and other names. It is a member of an Allium family, one of more than five hundred species among them. Thought to have originated in Asia, specifically in the China-Japan region, the one commonly known as garlic has many tastes and more health benefits than many others. Its origins offer disagreements to some on several counts, but most popular is that garlic has been everywhere since antiquity, has been used as an oil for centuries, is a bulb for good and bad and, that not everyone likes to eat it The notion that people do not appreciate this bulb fascinates. In China, there is considerable anti-Allium sentiment, no doubt thanks to Buddhists clergy who say it is one among five vegetables of strong odor forbidden to them. Why? Because they believe it stirs sexual passions and reduces their chances of attaining nirvana.

Many folk have consumed garlic and its relatives for century upon century, maybe millennia; they love it be they rich or poor. For the Chinese, records indicate this bulbous plant has been used by almost everyone since pre-Han times. Nowadays, except for Buddhist Chinese world-wide, and some Chinese minority populations influenced by them, it still is. It is deemed healthy to do so. Interest in garlic is widespread as a healer, its medicinal properties recognized in several parts of the world not just in China. Records worldwide show it in use at least as early as 3000 BCE, msany reasons why are for health reasons.

Garlic is a liliaceous plant noted for its strong aroma. Five types are most common. These so-called 'famous five' include garlic, Chinese leek, scallion, shallot, and the rocambole, a variety no longer commonplace. In China, the relatives of garlic and the extended family have many names including: jiu or jiu cong, qing cong, da cong, feng cong, xiao cong, also xiao suan, and hu suan, da suan, and suan qing. The latter four are primarily used for the full grown garlic bulb.

The Chinese believe garlic affects the spleen, stomach, and the lungs. In the past, many thought it a bulb whose consumption warded off vampires or the like. If food scientists believed this today, it would be explained with thanks to its biologically reactive thioallyl compounds. This organic group is said to alter metabolic activities whether consumed fresh and raw, dry, cooked, as an oil, or as older vegetable. For centuries, Chinese herbal practitioners used aged garlic, that is bulbs stored for two or three years in vinegar or in wine, to treat those with a heart condition. They and other medical practitioners said, and they still say that fresh or dried, garlic can lower cholesterol, reduce blood triglycerides, slow platelet clumping, protect against cancer, help those with AIDs, be a valuable anti-oxidant, a food to detoxify heavy metals, and one that is immune enhancing.

While not everyone believes every one of these uses, and people no longer tout that 'a clove a day keeps heart disease at bay' and that garlic 'wards off vampires.' Attention now is paid to the roles garlic plays in Chinese and other Asian populations. This lily-family-relative, whose English name means 'pungent' and whose botanical name is Allium sativum, is one of many varieties that grow in many colors, many sizes, and in many parts of the world. It is a plant touted to do many health-related things.

Eaten raw, cooked, dried, pickled, and/or fried, this perennial herb and its flat leaves are components of many Chinese dishes and sauces including black bean garlic sauce. This versatile plant that hardly ever produces fertile seeds, grows when its cloves are planted in or at soil level, or when planted entirely below the surface of the soil.

When cooking with garlic, it can be crushed or pounded, sliced, or used as a whole clove with or without its paper-like covering. It can be mixed with other ingredients, and used when made into a paste. Garlic is loaded with sulphur and volatile components, has a fair amount of minerals, some vitamin C, and several other vitamins, and for these and other reasons, it is considered healthy.

The sprouts of the garlic clove are better known as garlic chives; they are edible, also have a strong aroma, and they have a strong taste. Many plant the cloves in their garden or at the edges of it to ward off pests. They know the stalks grow to thirty inches in height, like full sun, and can be thinned when and as necessary. They also know to pick off the flower heads as they mature and before they drop their seeds and these pack lots of flavor and are great garnishes. A small amount of one can make an ordinary dish pretty.

Farmers and back-yard tillers know this plant benefits from heavy dividing and lots of pruning, so plant and hack away, use the garlic as it grows because this perennial benefits when cut down to an inch above its soil level or any other way.

Chinese medicinal suggestions are numerous. They include that garlic warms the spleen, invigorates the stomach, promotes qi, improves digestion, neutralizes poisons, and eliminates worms. They recommend it when someone faints due to the heat. Those nearby should crush a clove of raw garlic, dilute its juice with cold water and carefully drip some of this liquid into each nostril. For diarrhea or bacterial dysentery, the recommendation is to crush a raw clove of garlic, mix it with a glass of hot water and drink this glass of liquid two or three times a day.

If food poisoning is the problem; practitioners say to chew three to five raw cloves of garlic, and empty the stomach to begin healing. When someone has big mosquito bites, the recommendation is to chop garlic finely and apply it as a paste to the bites. Another recommendation, when consuming raw garlic, chew green tea leaves with or without mint at the same time; it reduces mouth aroma and relieves stomach distress.

The recipes below show off culinary aspects of this popular bulb. Try them all, invent others, and enjoy. If the aroma and taste in the mouth disturbs, chew tea leaves or mint leaves, or chew gum or coriander seeds.
Ribs and Beans
1 pound pork or veal ribs, their bones chopped into two-inch pieces
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 yellow or red pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
1/2 pound green beans, their ends removed
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine or mao tai
1. Mix meat with soy sauce, sugar, black pepper, and cornstarch and let rest for half an hour.
2. Heat wok or fry pan, add oil, then the garlic and stir-fry for half minute, then add the veal ribs and stir-fry for two minutes or until the meat is no longer pink.
3. Add the strips of pepper and the green beans and stir-fry for two minutes more before adding the powdered bouillon and the alcohol. Stir-fry one minute, then serve.
Dou Miao with Garlic
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
6 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and slivered
1 pound dou miao
1/2 teaspoon mixed salt and sugar
1. In a large wok or saucepan, heat oil, and when it ripples, add the garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, less than one minute.
2. Add dou miao and the salt and sugar mixture and when it wilts, three tablespoons water and stir for one minute or until the water evaporates. Then serve.
Chicken with Garlic and Chili
1 whole chicken
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons chili paste with garlic
1 dried chili, seeded and minced1 scallion, slivered
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
2 Tablespoons fresh garlic, peeled and smashed
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon chicken bouillon powder
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1. Bring four cups of water to the boil, add the chicken, cover the pot and simmer for twenty minutes. Remove and allow the chicken to cool for twenty minutes.
2. Chop the chicken, bones and all, into bite-sized pieces and put these on a serving platter.
3. Heat a wok, add the oil, then the chili paste, chili, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, rice wine, and the bouillon powder, and stir for one minute, add the sesame oil and then pour this mixture over the chicken. Serve.
Pork Loin with Garlic Sauce
3 pounds pork loin with its bone
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
5 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1. In large pot, bring three quarts water to the boil, then gently put pork loin in, partially cover, and simmer for ninety minutes., remove the pork and allow it to cool before slicing it into thin slices, and put on a deep serving platter.
2. Make sauce mixing the garlic, sesame oil, and the soy sauce, serve on the side as a dip or pour it over the sliced pork.
Lotus-leaf-wrapped Fish
1 dried scallop (also called conpoy)
1 dried lotus leaf
1 pound fillet of fresh fish (flounder works well)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
3 Tablespoons peeled and minced fresh garlic
1 scallion, slivered
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1. In a small glass bowl, cover the scallop with two inches of water. Put this in the microwave on high for three minutes. Remove, cool, then shred and set aside.
2 Line steamer basket with a lotus leaf, and put the fillet of fish on it.
3. Mix salt, the one tablespoon of vegetable oil, the cornstarch, the garlic, and the shredded scallop. Pour this over the fish fillet, turning it twice so all the fish is coated with this mixture, then cover the fish with the lotus leaf.
4. Steam over rapidly boiling water for five minutes, uncover and transfer the lotus leaf and fish to a bowl. Scatter the scallion pieces over it.
5. Heat sesame oil, and pour it over the fish, then serve.
Beef Tripe with Mustard Sauce
1/2 pound tripe, beef preferred
1 Tablespoon mustard oil or deli mustard
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder
1 Tablespoon black vinegar
I Tablespoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
3 stalks Chinese celery, cut in two-inch lengths, then cut in thin strips
1 red hot chili pepper, seeded and cut in thin strips
2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh coriander
1. Blanch tripe for one minute, then put into cold water for three minutes, and drain. Cut into two-inch ling thin strips and set aside.
2. Mix bouillon powder, black vinegar, sesame oil, and sugar.
3. Heat wok or fry pan, add oil, then the garlic and stir-fry for one minute. Add the tripe, celery, and the chili pepper strips and cook for one more minute before adding the bouillon mix. Stir-fry for another minute, add the coriander, and serve.
Manchu Potato Shreds
1/2 pound potato, peeled and shredded
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 each, red and green peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
1/4 cup wood ear fungus, soaked for twenty minutes in warm water, then drained and cut into thin strips
2 teaspoons hot chili oil
1 teaspoon bouillon powder
2 Tablespoons minced fresh garlic
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1. Blanch potato strips in boiling water for one minute, drain and set aside.
2. Heat wok or fry pan, add oil, and stir-fry the potato and pepper strips and the wood ear fungus for two minutes.
3. Mix then add chili oil, bouillon powder, and minced garlic and stir-fry for another two or three minutes before adding the sesame oil, then serve.
Rice and Sausage in Claypot
2 cups rice
2 Chinese sausages (can be one duck and one liver sausage), cut into thin slices 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
3 fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1. Put rice in claypot with two cups of water, cover, and simmer on low heat for ten minutes.
2. In a separate small pan, heat oil, add garlic, and stir-fry for one minute. Mix it into the cooked rice, add the sausages on top, cover, and simmer for another ten to fifteen minutes, until the rice is thoroughly cooked. Mix all claypot ingredients, and serve.
Many Mushrooms
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
8 fresh Chinese mushrooms, cut in thin slices
1 fresh oyster mushroom, cut in thin strips
1 package (one ounce) fresh button mushrooms, ends removed
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1 small carrot, peeled and sliced thin on an angle
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash ground white pepper
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon ABC or sa cha sauce
1/4 cup snow peas, ends trimmed, each cut in half on an angle
1. Heat wok or frypan, add vegetable and sesame oils and all the mushrooms. Stir-fry for two minutes.
2. Add garlic, carrot slices, sugar, salt, and pepper and stir-fry another minute, then add both sauces and the snow peas and stir for one minute, then serve.
Garlic Sauce II
1/4 cup minced garlic
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon sugar
1. Mix all the ingredients, stirring them for one minute.
2. Pour boiling water into a glass jar, then drain, and fill with the mixture, and refrigerate.
3. Serve after two hours with any meat, fish, or vegetable dish desired.

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