It's one of my favourite herbs since forever, but I always have to throw away bulbs because they've gone bad or started to sprout.
That is , until I discovered tsukemono (literally : 'pickled things') : the japanese art of pickling vegetables and herbs. I'll be describing my three favourite recipes here.
Get the best dried garlic you can find : it'll be worth it in the end.! Preferably around autumn, when the harvest is, although you can buy good garlic all year round these days.
The first recipe is 'Ninniku Hachimitsu-zuke' ( Garlic in honey )
Use about 7 medium bulbs ( around 300 grams) of garlic
and about 250 grams of honey. I used Hungarian acacia, a liquid honey with a light taste.
You can try any honey you like , but a clear liquid one is easier to pour.
Don't EVER heat honey in the microwave to pour it, it will heat unevenly and start to lose its taste and flavour. Honey should be heated in hot water of about 40 degrees C , which is slow but won't affect the taste and flavour. When honey is heated to over 45 °C flavour and taste ( and the enzymes in the honey) are being damaged.
Separate the cloves, cut off the root ends and peel them completely. No need to remove the core.
Look for a glass jar that will hold all your cloves and sterilize it.
I always use an empty jar from honey (500 millilitres) like the one in the picture above and sterilize it and its plastic top at 110-120°C in the oven for 20 minutes.
Always put the jar and the screw-top in the cold oven before heating it up, so it has less of a chance to break. You can safely put a plastic top upside down in the oven too : at 120 °C it won't melt. Don't EVER screw the top on the jar : when the air in the glass jar heats up, it will push against the top and will deform it !
Take the glass jar from the oven and put it on a cloth or a wooden board so it won't break.
Pour a few litres of boiling water over your peeled cloves, to disinfect them. Make sure your hands
and all your equipment are completely clean !
Pat the cloves dry with a paper towel and put the cloves in the glass till it is full.
Pour the honey in , the cloves will start to float.
Shake the jar , so the honey flows all the way to the bottom.
Leave a little space at the top , so it doesn't overflow when you close it.
Ideally , when you screw the top on, very little air is left underneath the top.
Put the jar in a dark and cool place or in the refrigerator. It's best to put it on a little tray, because after the first weeks , the tsukemono will ferment and produce some gas, and some of the honey may drip over the edge.
Unscrew the top to let it out , once a week. I have on occasion forgotten this and only let it out after a month with no problem ,but the top was bulging and some honey had come out.
After a month, you can start using this garlic in your recipes.
It will taste a bit of honey , but still taste a lot like garlic, and it will not spoil.
The honey will become a bit darker and garlic flavoured. Mix a spoon in hot water , it's a wonderful drink on cold winter mornings.
Over time , the honey flavour of the cloves will get stronger and the garlic taste will become less strong.
Just to see what would happen, I once left a few cloves at room temperature in honey in the dark for a year.
The honey became quite dark, but was still tasty.
and the cloves had a very sweet honey taste with a hint of garlic , almost like candy.
The second recipe is 'Ninniku Shoyu-zuke' ( garlic in soy sauce )( and vinegar)
Use 7 to 8 medium bulbs ( or 10-12 smaller ones ) of the best garlic you can get and trim off the stems with a sharp knife. don't break them off : you could damage the cloves or break the bulbs.
Peel the skins off , carefully till only one skin remains. Don't worry if some final skin comes off or a bit of two layers remain ! Inspect you bulbs well and reject any that have damaged cloves.
Find a glass pot in which the bulbs will fit close together, otherwise you need too much soy sauce, and sterilize your glass jar and the jar top in the oven ( see above for the details).
This one is a perfect fit for seven bulbs with one on top.
I'll be using the leftover bulb for something else ..
Disinfect the bulbs by pouring over a few litres of boiling water.
Put the garlic in your sterilized jar , fill to the brim with rice vinegar ( about 0.4 litres , depending on how well they're packed) and screw the top on. Put it in a dark and cool place for two weeks.
After the two weeks ( this garlic will ferment as well , so open and close the top each week ),
remove about 2/3 of the vinegar and measure how much you have removed.
You can keep the vinegar to use in salads. The vinegar will smell of garlic, but surprisingly will only have a very light taste of garlic.
This vinegar will stay good for a very, very long time.
Pour the same amount of soy sauce, as of the vinegar you removed, into a bowl.
For every cup ( 250 ml ) of soy sauce, add about 1 tablespoon of sugar and mix well till the sugar dissolves. You can warm the soy up a bit to help dissolve the sugar , but don't boil it !
Pour the mixture on the garlic and close the top. Put away in a cool dark place or your refrigerator.
Now you wait for at least two months (yes! 2 months! ) before using the garlic. It will keep for a long time in a cool place : I have had some in the refrigerator for almost 2 years : the soy taste becomes stronger.
The pictures below were taken this summer and are of some I made last year.
Don't they look gorgeously mysterious in their dark marinade ? They do smell heavenly !
To use , fish out a bulb and cut it in half with a sharp knife. You can pick out separate cloves to use. The smell of the garlic cloves is a lot less than the fresh ones.
I especially like slicing one clove finely in the morning and mix it with a bit of the soy-vinegar and the raw egg in my Tamago kake gohan ( raw egg on rice ) instead of using soy sauce.
It tastes so much better than the 'ordinary' Tamago kake gohan.
To keep, you can simply put the leftover bulb back in the jar.
The ones below have been pickled for at least 4 months.
Half a bulb in the soy sauce-vinegar in a small glass jar makes for a very nice present too!
The final recipe is 'Ninniku Miso-zuke' ( garlic in miso)
Use about 6 bulbs or 250 grams of garlic.
Separate the cloves, cut off the root ends and peel them completely.
Put a pan of water ( 3 cm deep or so ) on the fire , large enough to hold all your cloves.
When the water boils , briefly cook the cloves ( about 2 minutes)
and drain them in a clean colander.
Mix 250 grams of yellow miso with 4 tablespoons of honmirin.
Sterilize a 500 ml jar and top ( as I described above )
and put a spoonful of miso mixture in the jar.
Add a spoonful of cloves and push them gently into the miso.
cloves. The jar does not have to be full but make sure no cloves are above the miso.
I have never seen this tsukemono ferment, so leave the top on till you start using it.
The cloves can be served whole or sliced together with some of the miso.
The perfect accompaniment for your sake.
If this recipe has one disadvantage , it's that it tastes irresistibly good. Because of this I cannot tell you if it keeps longer than 3 months , because it's always eaten before 3 months are over...
I hope you'll try some ( or all) of these recipes at home.
(as always, click on the pictures to get a full size view)