15 Pounds of Garlic Later…

I’ve been a delinquent blogger. I haven’t quite managed to get back on track since returning from our Central European vacation. There was catching up to do, articles to write, an apartment to clean, holidays to celebrate, and a slight malaise to top it all off. Evan has had off this week which means all we want to do is play. The beach was calling. Even now I am coated in sunscreen, ready to hit the shores of Ashkelon despite a looming deadline.

And so this post is weeks late. All the Israeli bloggers have already posted their odes to our beautiful garlic season and have since turned their attention to the peaches that just started to turn up, or fresh chickpeas spotted at Mahane Yehuda. But I can’t just let my first Israeli garlic season go by without comment. So here we are, late on the bandwagon.

The first signs of spring also bring mounds of fresh garlic to the markets in Israel. They arrive by the truckload, long green stalks and all, and the scent pervades the entire market and surrounding area. The fresh garlic is at first sweeter, subtler than the imported variety we’ve become accustomed to. The usually thick outer skin is soft and you can practically eat them raw and unpeeled. The large bulbs have a purplish hue, an indicator that they are something special.

As a naive olah hadasha (new immigrant), I felt like this season would last forever. I went into a state of panic when I learned just how fleeting it is.

Miriam, the talented writer behind Israeli Kitchen, made aliyah 34 years ago and so has seen her share of garlic seasons. I wrote to her back in April before we left for vacation, wondering if I would miss the last of the garlic and if there was a way to preserve it.

“Definitely, buy your stash now,” Miriam advised. “The supply dwindles and fades away soon after Pesach. To dry it, tie four or five stalks together with kitchen twine or a rubber band, about three fingers up from the bulbs. Try to line the bulbs up so that they’re not rubbing against each other. Make another tie closer to the top and hang the bunch up in a cool, airy place that’s not in the sun. The smell of drying garlic is strong for a few days, then calms down as the bulbs start drying out. I just keep them hanging till the greens dry out and start falling. Then I cut the dried greens off and keep the bulbs spread out as much as possible in a big, shallow straw basket. Layers of paper towels spread inside a box also work – cardboard is best. Anything to keep the bulbs in air circulation. Or buy a couple of braided ropes. OR buy the bulbs sans greens and spread them out to dry in the shade, on paper. It takes about three weeks for the bulbs to dry thoroughly.”

With these thorough instructions, my friend Beth and I set out before leaving for vacation to stock up on garlic. Other people worry about packing their toothbrush the day before a trip; I bought 15 pounds of garlic.

Already the garlic was slightly past its peak, and we realized too late that the stalks were seemingly covered in manure. Whatever it was, it quickly made my house smell like shit (excuse my French), quite literally. Evan came home horrified and hurried the whole kaboodle out to the stairwell where he cut off every stalk. I wiped all the garlic clean with a paper towel and followed Miriam’s third suggestion, to lay them out on paper sans greens.

When we returned from vacation, the apartment smelled of garlic. Not too overpowering, just a pleasant odor. Well, I find it pleasant anyway. And it kept the vampires away while we were gone. After eating heavy goulashes, sausages, beer and stuffed cabbage for two weeks, we were craving something lighter. I remembered Miriam’s post on garlic confit, and that sounded perfect.

Miriam flavors her confit with thyme, bay leaves, and mustard seeds and allows it to cook slowly in the oven, which sounds delightful. I try to avoid using my oven at all costs and opted to go with a simple, stove top garlic confit. The result is the perfect snack, tender pieces of garlic to spread on crusty bread. We served it with a delicious hard goat cheese from Naot dairy in the Negev and a simple salad and called it dinner. The leftover oil is transformed into garlic oil, which we dipped bread in, cooked eggs in, and altogether enjoyed immensely.

Garlic Confit

Adapted from Bon Appetit
Yield: 35 to 40 cloves

1 cup olive oil
35-40 cloves fresh garlic (about 1½ heads)
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add garlic; cook over very low heat until soft, about 1 hour, being careful not to brown. If you manage to have leftovers, they can be kept covered in oil in a clean, covered jar in the fridge for up to 1 month. Always use clean spoon to remove garlic.

Note: the recipe is easily scaled up or down and depends in part on the size of your pot. You basically want enough oil to just cover the garlic cloves.

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