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The easiest way to peel garlic cloves. February 24, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. If there’s one thing I’ve always hated, it’s peeling garlic cloves.

It’s easy to peel off the papery cover of the bulb itself, but once you get to the individual cloves, the agony begins. First, separate the cloves, no problem. Then, put a clove on your cutting board and cut off the tip and base. No problem.

Then, try to get the skin off the clove. Big problem: Those slivers of tough outer skin get under your fingernails, stab in, and hurt like hell: Suddenly you know what it must have been like to be at the mercy of a torturer working for the Spanish Inquisition. And even if you finally do manage to get them off, the slippery inner skin sticks to your fingers like white on rice. Even if you somehow manage to get the sticky garlic skin off your fingers, there’s still the lingering smell, not precisely the perfume you’d hoped to wear that night. (And just try getting that off. Yeah, yeah, stainless steel, lemon juice… Ha!)

I’ve read that the easy way to remove the skin from a garlic clove is to hold the blade of a knife over the clove and smack it with the flat of your hand. No thanks, I still have such vivid memories of my last trip to the emergency room that I’d rather not try out for another one. But you’re so sweet to suggest it.

Yes, I’ll go through the agonies of garlic-peeling to add garlic to dishes like pasta sauces, but have been in no hurry to add garlic to any dish that didn’t simply scream for its inclusion, and I don’t care how many health benefits were claimed on behalf of the “stinking rose.” Dammit, these are my fingers we’re talking about!

But you’ll be happy to know that I’ve finally learned a (literally) painless way to separate garlic cloves from their skins, thanks to my friend Huma. She had asked me during one of my visits to her house to please chop garlic and ginger for a dish she was making. Gritting my teeth and smiling sweetly, I took up a paring knife and was preparing to do battle with the first garlic clove when Huma looked around and screamed, “What are you doing?!” Seizing the pestle from a large olivewood mortar on her kitchen counter, she pounded the unfortunate garlic clove with a few good whacks. Before my disbelieving eyes, the skin split neatly off the clove, leaving the somewhat flattened flesh ready for the attentions of the paring knife.

Well. As it happens, Huma had been kind enough to bring me an olivewood mortar and pestle as a gift last time she returned from a trip to the Middle East. So the next time a recipe I was making called for garlic, I showed it no mercy: I put those cloves down on my cutting board and smashed the life out of them with the side of the wooden pestle. Three good whacks and the skin separated from the flesh and was ever-so-easy to remove and discard, with no pain to the cook, no lacerated flesh beneath the fingernails, no clinging bits of stinky garlic skin on the fingertips. Wow.

Should you not happen to have a sturdy mortar and pestle in your kitchen, and if you’re unwilling to stink up your venerable rolling pin with garlic, I have a suggestion for you: Put your garlic cloves in a Ziploc bag on your cutting board and smash them with a hammer. (Just make sure your fingers are out of the way!)

Let me close by making an argument for everyone who cooks getting a mortar and pestle: It’s a great low-tech way to pulverize herbs and spices. Huma uses hers to mash ginger and garlic for recipes instead of mincing them. You can also use one to crush seeds like sesame or mustard seeds, pulverize salt crystals, peppercorns, or clumps of sugar, or make a paste from a variety of herbs and spices to use as a rub, as a dressing, or in a dish.

And anyway, pounding things is so therapeutic.

        ‘Til next time,