Herb Gains Popularity in Food and Health
(ARA) - Some yearn for its robust aroma and savory, often creamy taste; others look to it as a cure for ailments. Garlic has long been shrouded in mystery. Whether it is used for medicinal purposes, to lure love interests or as an enhancement to any dish, it plays a significant role in dining, cooking and culture. Appropriately, the world's largest Chinese restaurant chain, Panda Express, is offering a special garlic menu promotion this summer.
The earliest documentation of garlic's use was in 3,000 B.C.; it was mentioned in the Bible and Chinese Sanskrit writings. The Egyptians fed it to workers building the Great Pyramid of Gaza; its robustness was thought to increase the efficiency and endurance of men. More recently, garlic production tripled during the 1990s, positioning China as the top garlic producer in the world.
Many cultures have used garlic for its health benefits as a cure for the common cold, high blood pressure, rheumatism, tuberculosis and cancer. It has also been thought to increase energy and endurance.
In garlic-growing regions throughout the world, experts have linked life longevity to garlic consumption. Chef Andy Kao of Panda Express believes in the healing properties of garlic. His father used to tell stories of the Chinese soldiers during World War II who drank river water after running out of fresh water and food. The soldiers chewed on garlic to kill the bacteria and give them strength after drinking from the river. Chef Kao continues the practice of eating garlic regularly to kill germs and strengthen his immune system.
In addition to its curing properties, the herb is beneficial to the body's overall maintenance. It is rich in protein; vitamins A, B-1 and C; and essential minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and selenium. It also contains 17 different amino acids.
Chinese culture has been particularly influenced by garlic. A compilation of poems by Confucius -- Shi-ching, the book of songs -- even mentions garlic and its importance to China 's development. The herb is believed to have originated in Asia and is probably one of the oldest cultivated plants.
In China , ancient medical books say garlic bulbs can scare off chills, reduce swelling and increase the efficiency of the spleen and stomach. The Chinese include it in many everyday dishes and because of the herb's ability to improve the body's circulation it is also thought to act as an aphrodisiac.
Selecting, preparing and storing the perfect clove
Garlic's intoxicating fragrance and flavor is a prominent characteristic in Szechwan and northern-style Chinese cooking. Not only in China, but across the world, this kitchen staple adds a wonderful aroma and creates a delicious entrée. The first step to incorporating it into meals is selecting the perfect bulb. Chef Kao has been using garlic to enhance his cooking since his childhood in China, and makes the following recommendations:
- Perfect cloves are plump, firm and have a dry skin. Each bulb should have eight to 12 pieces.
- Garlic should not be refrigerated or stored in a moist environment. If properly stored, garlic can be kept for about six months. If the bulb sprouts it has not gone bad, but the sprouts should be removed before cooking.
- To enjoy garlic's flavor to the fullest, don't buy garlic that has been pre-minced, chopped or diced. These varieties have been bred for a long shelf life and can have a diluted taste.
Cooking with garlic
Garlic is classified as both an herb and a vegetable. It can be found in products ranging from ice cream to dry rubs; the versatility of this herb is seemingly endless. Chef Kao adds garlic to everything from hot meat sauces to cold vegetable dishes. He learned the culture and traditions behind Chinese cuisine while cooking for his family as a young boy. He suggests these tips for cooking with garlic:
- Before cooking, remove the exterior skin of the clove. There are many ways to do this: strike the bulb with the broad side of a kitchen knife, use a rubber garlic rolling tube, soak the garlic in lukewarm water for 30 minutes or dip the cloves into boiling water for 30 seconds.
- After skinning the garlic, select a cooking method that will result in the appropriate flavor. It can be sautéed to create a nutty, savory taste; poached to create a mild flavor; oven-roasted to bring out the nutty flavor with a caramelized quality; fried to create a crisp exterior; or grilled to create a soft, smoky flavor.
- Garlic is very sensitive to heat and will burn easily, especially when sautéing. Expose the garlic to heat just until the oil sizzles and then remove it. When cooking garlic with onions, start the onions first. They will take longer to cook.
If you would rather leave it to the pros, Panda Express is paying tribute to garlic with a summer promotion called "Panda Chefs Celebrate Garlic." From July 11 through Sept. 18 Panda Express offers four tasty garlic entrées featuring shrimp, chicken, beef and vegetables. Chef Kao has experimented with many ingredients to create his favorite garlic entrées this summer: Chicken Breast with Asparagus in Garlic Sauce; Spicy Shrimp with Cashews in Garlic Sauce; Beef with Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce; and Spicy Chicken Breast with String Beans in Garlic Black Bean Sauce.
These dishes can be found at more than 650 Panda Express restaurant locations nationwide. During the promotion these dishes are also available on the restaurant's catering menu -- the perfect way to make summer get-togethers unforgettable (and fast and easy)!
People all over the world recognize garlic as a source of health and good flavor. Whether at Panda Express or in your own kitchen, take some time to enjoy it this summer!
Courtesy of ARA Content
Chinese recipes Featuring Garlic:
1) Shrimp in Garlic Sauce
2) Spicy Beef with Tofu in Garlic Sauce
3) Sliced Chicken Breast with Chinese Eggplant in Garlic Sauce
4) Garlic Chicken
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