Uses of Garlic to Add Flavour and Depth to Dishes

 whole garlic

Photo by John Haslam

Garlic has been used as a seasoning for thousands of years, and with good cause! This versatile bulb can add flavour and depth to dishes in many different ways. Raw, it imparts a spicy bite, and in its roasted state, it’s so sweet and nutty that it’s difficult to stop oneself from devouring it with a spoon before it ever meets the dish it was intended for.

If you haven’t yet acquainted yourself with the different ways you can incorporate garlic into your culinary adventures, set aside a day or two to explore its many uses, and which varieties and preparations you like best.

How to Sautee Garlic Without Burning It:

If you plan to add garlic to a dish you’re cooking, it’s vital that you don’t burn t: that makes it acrid and unpleasant to taste, and you’ll want to avoid that at all costs.

The best way to cook it is to sautee it with onions, but not at the same time! Sautee your onions on medium heat until they’re golden and translucent, and then add your chopped/minced garlic. Keep the heat on medium and stir frequently for half a minute or so until it just begins to soften, and releases its aroma. When you can smell the garlic while standing at arm’s length from the pan, you’re done.

Roasting Garlic

whole roasted garlic bulb

Photo by Mary Helen Leonard

Roasted garlic can be used in countless ways, but spreading it on crusty French or Italian bread is a personal favourite. You can use this buttery, smooth garlic instead of tomato sauce or pesto on pizza dough as a base layer for toppings, and it’s also great spread on a pie crust and then topped with layers of tomatoes, basil, and cheese for an open-faced tart.

To roast garlic, preheat your oven to 350°F, and peel off the outer, papery skin from a full bulb. Use a sharp knife to cut off the upper portion of the bulb so that the tips of each clove are visible, place the bulb on aluminum foil, and then drizzle the entire thing with olive oil. Wrap the foil tightly around the bulb, and roast it for an hour to an hour and a half (depending on how large it is) until the cloves are soft, and can be easily mashed into paste with the back of a spoon. They’ll be sweet, fragrant, and utterly gorgeous to work with.

In addition to using these roasted cloves as spreads, you can add them into sauces, blend them into mashed potatoes or turnips, or even add them to hummus.


Have you ever tried or worked with aioli before? If you haven’t yet, it’s recommended that you try it.

Aioli is a fragrant, pungent mayonnaise made with egg yolks, olive oil, and raw garlic. It’s often used as a dipping sauce for frites or asparagus, but it’s also excellent with burgers, seafood (especially in crepes), and even as a dressing for potato salad.


basil pesto

Photo by Michael Verhoef

Most people think of pesto as a basic basil-raw garlic-pine nut sauce that can be tossed over pasta or gnocchi, but pesto (or pistou, in French cooking) can be made with a variety of different greens and nuts, and you can use it in far more ways than than just tossing it over spaghetti, such as:

  • Extra flavour in meatballs or burgers
  • Sandwich spread
  • Dressing for grilled vegetables, or steamed green beans
  • Spread over roasted corn on the cob

…and many more.

My favourite way to use pesto is as a final flavouring agent for soups, especially vegetable-based dishes like minestrone or Provencal bean soup. Though garlic is cooked in the preparatory stage of the soup itself, its flavour will have mellowed as the soup simmered and become far less noticeable. To bring it back into the spotlight, a bit of pesto is stirred into the soup just before it’s served: the heat will mellow the garlic’s raw bite a little bit, but its fragrance and strong flavour add a high note of dimension to an otherwise earthy dish.

Remember that you can make pesto with a variety of greens; not just basil! I’ve made it with garlic mustard, arugula and almonds, sorrel and walnuts, and even pumpkin seeds and cilantro. Experiment!

Raw Garlic As a Final Touch

Much like its use in pesto form as mentioned above, a bit of raw garlic can brighten up flavours when added later in the cooking process. The heat and acidity of fresh garlic is quite different from the sweeter, softer flavours that come out when it’s cooked, so try adding a bit of it in raw, minced form a few minutes before a dish is ready to be served. Remember to just use a tiny bit, though: garlic is powerful stuff, and you don’t want to overwhelm anyone’s palate with it.


- Lana Winter-Hébert

Lana Winter-Hébert fell in love with cooking while still in primary school. The various dietary needs of her extended family (i.e. gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, and paleo diets) have helped her to learn a fair bit about substitutions and meal plan modifications, and though her first love will always be the Scandinavian/Eastern European cuisine she grew up with, she has a penchant for Mexican food and can be bribed heartily with the offer of good huevos rancheros.

Lana currently resides in rural Quebec with her husband and family, where she divides her time between writing, editing, design, and tending her permaculture garden. She cans and preserves whatever’s in season, and is having some fantastic adventures with home cheese-making and mead-brewing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *