The spices and condiments that form the basis of Indian cuisine have their origins in the world’s oldest medical system, Ayurveda. You use them every day in your food without a thought about the real reason why they’re there. They’re there because your body needs them and because, in many cases, Ayurveda says so. Our traditional recipes are so old that their real origins are completely unknown to today’s homemakers.
Stinker in your kitchen
Meet this pungent little bulb, lovingly known in the West as the Stinking Rose. It’s not called that for nothing. The distinctive smell of Allium sativum will assail your nostrils anywhere you go in India. Love it or hate it, you just can’t ignore it.
It’s a spice, herb, vegetable, medicine, patentable cash-cow, and it stinks, depending on your point of view – and which side of the table you’re on. Garlic is one odoriferous package of surprises.
Garlic has been in our kitchens since five thousand years. From its origins in China around 3000 BC, garlic has spread its tantalizing odor all across the planet. From the Med to the Atlantic, from one Pole to the other, you’ll find garlic bulbs adorning the kitchens of every country on earth. In India too, this potent member of the Lily family can be found in virtually every kitchen.
There are two sound reasons for this. Ayurveda prescribes garlic for multiple ailments. Traditional Indian tribal medicine has been using garlic since generations and many of these recipes have found their way into our kitchens today.
According to Ayurveda, garlic is a promoter of agni, the body’s digestive fire, and is used as a carminative (appetite stimulant) and for gastric distress in general. Ayurveda recommends garlic for respiratory ailments in particular, like tuberculosis, pneumonia and asthma. That it is a rejuvenator and body tonic is a fact long known to Ayurveda. Regular consumption of garlic is believed to improve circulation and revitalize the body. For the same reason, garlic is believed to be a potent aphrodisiac. That’s why since Vedic times, the scriptures forbid its use by students, Brahmins and anyone engaged in spiritual pursuits, lest they get aroused by base passions and naughty ideas.
The French, on the other hand, take large amounts of it, for exactly the same reason. No wonder they also make the world’s best perfumes. The Russians use it a lot in their cuisine, mainly for rheumatism and joint pains. Garlic’s ability to increase blood circulation is another useful reason to consume it in cold countries.
Believe it or not, garlic makes a good face pack. It is effective against skin disorders like acne and pimples. That’s because garlic is a fairly strong antibacterial agent. Raw garlic paste directly applied on to the affected area will drive acne and worms away – and have the same effect on the general public.
The science behind the stink.
Garlic’s health benefits and its smell are both caused by a group of sulfur-containing chemicals. Chief among them is allicin. This sulfurous phytochemical is responsible for many of garlic’s effects. There are so many scientific studies on garlic and allicin that confirm Ayurveda’s claims that one can merely mention a handful of them here.
Blood pressure: Garlic is a vasodilator, that is, it dilates small blood vessels, and increases blood circulation. It brings down blood pressure as a result, and both Ayurveda and modern medicine recommend the moderate consumption of garlic by hypertension patients.
Cholesterol: The latest clinical studies on garlic show that it can potentially reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of a sudden heart attack in patients with atherosclerosis.
Antioxidant: Allicin has been studied as an antioxidant and for its effects on tumors. The results are encouraging indeed. Allicin has been shown to inhibit a process called apoptosis or cell death. It can inhibit aging, in other words. So, an allium a day, keeps old age at bay, and everyone else away.
Garlic is known to interact with several drugs. Eating large amounts of garlic when you’re on blood pressure medication can be a genuine health risk. Garlic can decrease blood pressure by itself. In combination with anti-hypertensives, it can have a nasty synergistic effect and reduce blood pressure to alarming levels.
Garlic can increase blood clotting time and cause bleeding when used in combination with blood thinning drugs that are commonly prescribed to heart patients today. Garlic can react adversely with herbal formulations and other nutritional supplements, so be careful if you’re the type who falls for nutraceutical TV ads hosted by nubile nymphets.
If you want to use garlic for its health benefits, the golden rule is: First ask your doctor. More so if you want to take garlic capsules for their claimed benefits. No matter how you use garlic, please do so in moderation, under medical advice, and reap its benefits without any worries.
Size does matter. Large bulbs stink less. The extra-large variety has a mild, nutty flavor and can be cooked as a vegetable by itself. Slice the cloves fine and lightly sauté in butter to bring out the delicate flavor, before you use it in your dish. The tiny variety, on the other hand, will definitely make its presence felt on your palate and in your breath, so use it as a spice. Peel and lightly crush two or three cloves, fry gently along with a few slices of onion. Garlic cloves can get charred quickly, so always fry them on a gentle flame, along with onion or ginger, never alone.
There’s no point in gargling desperately with mouthwash after a garlicky meal. Garlic breath happens because garlic’s breakdown products are partly eliminated by the lungs. Even if you swallow a garlic bulb whole without chewing it or gulp a garlic capsule, you’ll still get garlic breath an hour later. Try chewing a few coriander leaves and keep one clove (lavang) in your mouth for a few minutes, and hope for the best. If you’re a heavy eater of garlic, one would strongly recommend a regular sauna to flush your skin of garlic by-products. Or else, your body will exude garlicky fumes all day long.
A recipe for you – Belluli Rasam (garlic rasam)
Blanch and peel ten medium-size garlic cloves. Gently heat two tablespoons of pure ghee or butter, sauté a diced onion till light brown, add the garlic cloves, and sauté gently, very gently. Add a pinch of freshly ground pepper, a dash of cinnamon powder, one finely chopped green chilli and one thinly sliced finger-size piece of ginger. Fry for a minute and add a roughly chopped, blanched medium-size tomato, sauté till the tomato turns dry. Then add a teaspoon of commercial rasam powder, sauté for a minute more or until the aroma fills the entire building, add four cups of warm water, bring to a gentle boil. Simmer for ten minutes.
At the end, add half a teaspoon of salt, simmer for one minute. Then drive out your salivating neighbours, lock the door, and, as we say in Bengaluru, enjoy like anything only. Serves three, but who cares?
Cheers … Srini.