There was a time when garlic made people nervous.
I remember serving a couple in my restaurant in the old days who insisted they couldn’t eat anything from the Allium family, “especially garlic” because it was “too hot”.
I had just pushed myself over to them on their first walk: palms down, thumbs together like you would over a camping stove on Everest, “extracting negative energy” from what I assured you was a free-range egg.
The gentleman of the couple used the moment to explain the healing powers of Reiki with a jealous grin and great detail. They “channeled” the energy of the cosmos through its upper chakra and transformed it into “useful forms”.
That seemed contradictory at the time. If they could Iron Man the power of the cosmos through their X-ray hands; surely could they contain the yang of a clove of garlic?
Lately the internet has had no such qualms. On the contrary: “Too much garlic is hardly enough”.
TikTok loves having 40 clove garlic breads and 60 clove soup for the niche audience riding this delicious line between garlic lover and pimple popper extraction porn. As cookbook author and influencer Jake Cohen puts it: “Pressing roasted garlic is my kink”. “It will never be enough,” explains another video that uses enough finely chopped garlic to propel a Bezos rocket baguette well past the Kármán line.
There are people who have snacked whole cloves with sriracha or pickled them in honey, all with millions of views. Some even put garlic up their noses against all reasonable medical advice.
But as any boomer will tell you, monster garlic recipes are not new. Doyennes of the kitchen who don’t need a surname have always increased the stakes – like Allium superpowers pushing us closer and closer to the midnight snack Doomsday Clock.
Nigella’s 40 clove chook has them “wrapped in their skin and grows sweet and caramelized while they cook like savory candies in their sticky shells”; Not to be outdone, Martha’s has 60 carnations.
Personally, I love the garlic that is garnished with chicken recipes, but it can become a social issue if your taste for fragrant leeks exceeds the olfactory limits of your group.
But in the interests of mutual disarmament, I offer my version of Ajo Blanco as an alternative. Sometimes called “white gazpacho”, it is traditionally made from garlic (just two cloves), bread, almonds, olive oil and a dash of sherry vinegar.
With the Australian garlic of the new season you will find it subtly perfumed, slightly sour, slightly creamy and very calming. Usually topped with green grapes – with skin on if you are an animal – I suggest small pieces of golden kiwi are better.
200g sourdough bread, Crusts removed and diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled off
750ml almond milk, Barista’s choice
100ml dry vermouth
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
I use my Thermomix for this recipe. I am not sponsored and I have never joined the cult. Once you’ve cleared out all of the clutter, you will find a very high quality blender.
Of course, any blender or food processor will do, but an upright hand blender works best for liquids. If you’re crushing the lockdown pounds or just want to get your fitness tracker out of your pocket, be sure to use a mortar and pestle.
At the beginning I soak the bread in half of the almond milk. This takes about five minutes, which gives enough time to test the wormwood (on ice with a piece of lemon peel) and mash the garlic with a small press or mortar and pestle.
Put the garlic in the soaked bread and puree to a fine, silky paste. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well again.
At this point, you can ride the unicorns by straining them through a very fine sieve or simply refrigerating until needed. If you need more agency adjust the salt. Serve your guests as a letter of intent.
Mark Best is an award-winning chef and cookbook author from Sydney, Australia, you can find him on Instagram @markbest