Whiff of garlic has stayed with us since the Exodus

Probably no other food is identified as strongly with the Jews as garlic. Beginning with their Exodus from Egypt, the Chosen People have made it clear that they choose garlic.

Garlic eating was so associated with Jews that the Talmud refers to Jews as “garlic eaters,” a term that was also used as an anti-Semitic slur by the Romans.

Besides being remembered fondly as the Israelites wandered in the desert in the Torah, there are mentions in the Talmud about how eating garlic on Friday night promotes the enjoyment of Shabbat and increases marital fertility. Garlic was also associated with health benefits (due to its anti-bacterial properties) and warding off the evil eye.

But it is the punch, zip and flavor boost that the easily available and inexpensive garlic gives food that is probably key to its widespread use in Jewish cuisine (although it was in disfavor with Maimonides and with some Sephardim who settled in areas with a disdain for the bulb).

The recipes below are for garlic lovers only. For convenience, try the fresh, whole, peeled garlic cloves available in the refrigerated produce section in many stores. The garlic bread recipe is from my husband, who says vigilance in watching the bread under the broiler is the key to success.

Garlic Potato Sausage Soup

Serves 6

  • 11/2 lbs. Yukon gold or new potatoes
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup peeled, fresh whole garlic cloves
  • 1 cup roughly chopped carrots
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1-2 tsp. minced serrano or jalapeño peppers
  • 8 cups chopped kale, packed
  • 2 cups sliced, cooked sausage, cut into
  • 1/4-inch slices

Quarter potatoes. Cook in large pot of simmering, salted water until soft. Drain and cool. Peel off and discard skins.

Bring broth to simmer in large pot. Add garlic and carrots and simmer, covered, until soft. Let cool. Add potatoes. Puree with immersion blender or in batches in a blender or food processor. Return to simmer. Stir in salt, pepper, nutmeg, peppers and kale. Cover. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in sausage. Cover. Simmer until kale is cooked and soup and sausage are heated through. Taste and correct seasonings as needed.

Garlic Breath Sauce

Makes about 3/4 cup

  • 1/3 cup peeled, fresh whole garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • red pepper flakes, optional

Place garlic, juice and oil in blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. Transfer to storage container. If desired, stir in red pepper flakes to taste. Store for up to a few weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

To use, drizzle over cooked meats, grains or vegetables. For salads or a less potent sauce, mix equal quantities of sauce and plain dairy (or non-dairy) yogurt before serving.

Dad’s Garlic Bread

Serves 8

  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup peeled, fresh whole garlic cloves
  • 1 lb. loaf ciabatta or other artisan-style
  • crusty Italian bread, unsliced
  • 1/2 cup melted butter or olive oil

Put garlic through garlic press or mince very finely. Move oven rack to top third of oven. Preheat broiler. Slice bread in half horizontally. Combine melted, liquid butter or oil with garlic. Using a pastry brush, spread garlic mixture on each half, making sure there are no bare areas.

Place bread halves, garlic side up, on baking tray and place under broiler. Watch through oven door window or hold broiler door ajar to view. Watch carefully as bread begins to color and goes to golden to bronzed and starts to brown. (Adjust bread’s position under broiler if needed so the halves color evenly.) Remove from oven immediately, slice and serve.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is faithkramer.com. Contact her at [email protected].