Part of the lily, or alium, family, of which onions are also a member, garlic is one of the most indispensible ingredients around, and plays a central role in Mediterranean and Asian cookery. A bulb composed of many individual cloves enclosed in a thin white, mauve or purple skin, it’s quite fiery, pungent and crunchy when raw. As it cooks it becomes more mellow and creamy.
It’s mainly available dried, but fresh (also known as ‘wet’ or ‘green’) garlic, which has a mild flavour, can also be found in some stores in season.
Dried garlic is sold either loose, in bunches or plaited into strings; generally speaking, the smaller the bulb, the stronger the flavour. Solo garlic (just one large clove) and the large-bulbed elephant garlic are also available, though the latter is, in fact, more closely related to the leek, and has a very mild flavour and soft texture.