Considering that the vegetable’s strongest flavour characteristic is that of thrice-worn 100%-lambswool socks, it’s ironic that dishes which foreground garlic are invariably as bland as socks for Christmas. The most obvious instances being garlic bread and ajo blanco, i.e. garlic and almond soup. Bread is the most staple of staple carbohydrates and almonds are the bread of the nut world, so really garlic is a bit player. At its most glamorous, garlic is part of a flavour trio with the more dominant (and irritating) chilli and ginger. What I’m saying is that garlic is the Richard Hammond of the spice world. But I always liked Total Wipeout more than The Grand Tour.
I imagine Mr and Mrs Allium looking over at their culinary progeny and assessing them for their future potential. It’s hard bringing culinary vegetables into the world and they could only afford to send so many to college. Chive clearly wasn’t going anyway, swaying in the breeze and trying to pass himself off as grass in order not to be cooked. Leek was busy rolling around in the mud to the point of getting it in all their orifices – clearly a little bit dim, that one. The twins, Red Onion and White Onion, were continually trying to outdo each other in the sharpness stakes, throwing acid retorts and making each other cry. Shallot had rolled underneath the kitchen cabinets and was nowhere to be found. This left Garlic: small and unassuming in her starchy white dress with the multitudinous layers which wouldn't invariably fall apart under pressure. So they packed up her suitcase and sent her off to the most prestigious university for food in the world: French cuisine. The rest is history.
Garlic’s biggest problem is, in contrast with chilli and ginger, its dryness. Whereas chilli inflames your mouth and ginger licks it with heat, garlic irradiates moisture from your mouth unless pulverised into submission and in unfortunate cases, will leave you with that sulphurous sock tang in your mouth for fourteen hours, even if you brush your teeth. I once made a cannellini mash for dipping crudités and bread soldiers, but accidentally used so much garlic that it was completely inedible, no matter how much yoghurt I added.
How to rescue a garlicky mash gone wrong. When life gives you garlic, make falafels
- Mash a 400g tin of cannellini or butter beans, drained and rinsed in a bowl with 5 large cloves of minced garlic, 1 tbsp dried or chopped fresh parsley or rosemary, 3 tbsp olive oil and a splash of your favourite vinegar, to make a pulpy mash. Taste it and conclude that it is TOO GARLICKY TO BE EDIBLE.
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Stir 4 tbsp flour (any kind) and 3 tbsp chopped chives and/or spring onions (optional) into the mash until it becomes a sort of dough. You may need more flour, or even to add a splash of water.
- Wet your own hands with water, then roll walnut-sized balls of the mash and place them on the baking tray. Brush or drizzle each ball with a little olive oil and bake them for 20-30 minutes until crisp on the outside.
- Serve with lashings of yoghurt or, better, tzatziki-style dipping, made by mixing together 150ml vegan yoghurt, 1 tsp dried mint, 6cm cucumber, chopped and, if you haven’t learnt your lesson already, 1 minced garlic clove.
Notes: If your too-garlicky mash is potato, then use it to top a tomato-based, protein-filled sauce like chilli con carne, ragù or (what the Brits call) bolognese in an oven dish, dot with vegan butter and roast at 200ºC for 30 minutes until piping hot throughout. I think cottage pie of this style is disgusting, but I hate mashed potato too, so that’s really on you.