Part of the lily, or alium, family, of which onions are also a member, garlic is one of the most indispensible ingredients around, and plays a central role in Mediterranean and Asian cookery. A bulb composed of many individual cloves enclosed in a thin white, mauve or purple skin, it's quite fiery, pungent and crunchy when raw. As it cooks it becomes more mellow and creamy.
It's mainly available dried, but fresh (also known as 'wet' or 'green') garlic, which has a mild flavour, can also be found in some stores in season.
Dried garlic is sold either loose, in bunches or plaited into strings; generally speaking, the smaller the bulb, the stronger the flavour. Solo garlic (just one large clove) and the large-bulbed elephant garlic are also available, though the latter is, in fact, more closely related to the leek, and has a very mild flavour and soft texture.
Using your fingers, divide the whole bulb into individual cloves (if you don't want to use the whole bulb, just pull away the number of cloves you need and leave the rest of the bulb intact, as it will last longer that way). Remove any green shoots, as they taste bitter.
For crushed garlic, either use a garlic press (you don't have to remove the skin) or lay the blade of a large knife on top of the clove and press it down hard with the heel of your hand. Then remove the skin. If you'd like to break it down even further, sprinkle with some salt and crush it again.
For chopped garlic, peel the skin off, then slice. You can then remove the skin. If any of the cloves have small green shoots, remove them before chopping, as they taste bitter.
Kept in an open container in a cool, dry place, dried, unbroken garlic bulbs will last for a couple of weeks. Separated cloves will keep for up to 10 days. Wet garlic should be kept in a cool, dark place and will last up to a week.
Use dried garlic raw in dressings, salsas and butters; roast whole bulbs (25 minutes) or individual cloves (20 minutes) to serve with roast meat; fry (slowly, for just a couple of minutes) to use as the base for sauces, casseroles, soups. Roast fresh garlic (25 minutes).
For more information on garlic see ingredient focus... garlic