Culinary Epiphanies: Garlic Powder

| February 18, 2009 | 5 Comments
  • 5 Comments

Garlic PowderFor a few years, I have been trying to emulate my grandmother’s cooking. I’m lucky because she is still alive and I talk to her nearly every day. So when I have questions about how to make her albondigas or Mexican rice, I can call her and see what I’ve done wrong. About two years ago, I went to Southern California for ten days with the sole plan of learning several of her recipes. Each day we’d pick one or two things to cook, and I would photograph and take notes and voice record the process.

I cherish those voice recordings because her spirit and her personality come through. Though the recipe learning was purely for selfish reasons, she acknowledged through her questions that there may be a larger audience. “What do I tell them,” she asked “about salt? It’s such a personal thing.” I said, “Oh, we can just say ‘to taste’.” After that, and throughout the recording, any time she adds salt, then pauses for a beat, and then she says “to taste.”

Though I am getting some of the recipes straight — I can make a mean cocido and my albondigas are coming close — my every day cooking tastes very different than grandma’s. Until I had a revelation recently. For most any dish that I make, I cut up fresh garlic and use it along with any fresh herbs, alliums and other flavor builders. The other day, I was completely exhausted so I made a very fast pork stew by tossing the pork with salt, pepper, and something I never use: garlic powder. I had a small container that I had purchased from Penzey’s for a particular recipe or two, and that sits in my cupboard mostly ignored.

I’ll be darned if that stew didn’t come out tasting exactly like it was from grandma’s kitchen. I’m not saying that I know everything about cooking, but it amazes me that, being in my mid-thirties and cooking pretty much every day, I can still have culinary epiphanies that completely change my point of view. I don’t think that I will be using garlic powder in everything I cook, and I treat it like a totally different flavor than fresh garlic, but it’s nice to have another Silva family secret in my back pocket to use in the kitchen.

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About the Author ()

"My passion for food began young." I am the editor of the influential website www.EatLocalChallenge.com which encourages readers to support local farmers and producers. I began my personal website, Life Begins at 30, in 2003. I have been published in Edible San Francisco and Fine Cooking, write regularly for Bay Area Bites, Serious Eats, and have been quoted in many nationwide publications. Photography is a passion, and I have had photos printed in National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure. I contributed to a Williams-Sonoma cookbook: Cooking from the Farmers' Market, which was released in February 2010. I live in San Francisco, California and can often be found at local farmers markets seeking out the best of what's in season and chatting with farmers.
  • http://www.gastronomie-sf.com Fatemeh

    Garlic powder is an amazing thing. It has a different essence entirely than fresh garlic, and behaves much like dried herbs in long- or moist-cooked foods. That is to say, BETTER than their fresh counterparts. :-)

  • http://www.grubreport.com Stephanie

    Jen & Fatemeh, I feel the same way about powdered ginger and dried chili flakes.

    Also, as Fatemeh says, for long-cooked or moist foods, there is really no substitute for the dried stuff. The fresh stuff loses it’s potency when I make something as quick as lentil salad — which needs dried herbs de Provence — or as long as a chili.

  • Bill McCann

    Thank you so much, Jennifer. This was a revelation for me and I’m a sixty-seven year old retired guy with a passion for good food and good cooking.

  • http://www.ambrosiaquest.com Paula Maack

    Hi Jennifer,

    I use garlic powder frequently as a rub on meats. Fresh garlic will burn when roasting meat, but garlic powder infuses with the flesh, along with the salt and herbs, and makes it wonderful.

    I often get compliments on how flavorful my steaks are. Garlic powder is the secret ingredient. That, plenty of salt and cracked pepper, and olive oil to seal it all in.

    I’m glad you discovered the unsung beauty of granulated garlic, and posted about. Well done!!

    Cheers,

    ~ Paula

  • http://www.thegarlicguy.com Don Womack

    Jennifer,

    I am not a cook but five years ago I started growing garlic in my garden at the urging of a neighbor of mine. It has become such a passion of mine to grow garlic every year now and I can hardly wait for each year’s harvest. A couple of years ago I had some bulbs that I did not know what do do with and so I dehydrated them and made my own garlic powder from stiffneck varieties. What a hit it has become! I’d be glad to send you a sample. It simply does not compare to anything you buy in the supermarket or even at specialty spice stores.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

    Don