Until about a year ago, I thought that adding garlic to a recipe was as simple as dashing with garlic salt or adding a few tsps of the minced variety.

Fresh garlic is just a pain, right? Garlic smell on the fingers, garlic breath, and time spent peeling and chopping are deal-breakers when there are so many convenient ways to get your garlic.

But while staying with my parents during our move last year, my mom kept insisting that I use the ‘real thing’. I found that severely annoying. She really should outgrow the whole ‘hippy’ thing. Woodstock is now available on DVD, and garlic comes in a jar.

But she kept making me taste ‘the difference’. And I could smell it too. But as any self-respecting daughter does when faced with being wrong, I acted unimpressed. Whatever, Mom!

But in the next few weeks, whenever I added my jar-garlic to the skillet, I was disappointed. It was not the same. I knew ‘the difference’, and I missed it. So I bought some bulbs at the grocery and gave it a whirl. But the smell of garlic lingering on my hands for days and the dread of spending an additional fifteen minutes on dinner prep made the whole process less appealing. No fresh garlic for me.

But the memory of the aroma and the flavor stuck in my craw. Surely people who cook with garlic aren’t plagued with stinky fingers and lost productivity. There had to be a way.

So I did what any self-defeated-daughter does when faced with being wrong. I called my mom and pleaded for help. And she whispered in my ear the wisdom of the ages. That was a year ago, and I’ve never been tempted to buy anything but fresh, organic cloves. Chopping garlic has become a stress-relieving and fun way to begin every meal, and opening a bottle of wine to breathe while you work takes the experience to a whole new stratosphere.

Chopping garlic is not just for the culinary professionals. It’s easy, and it’s all in the technique. All you need is a sense of adventure, a good knife and less than 60 seconds.

Watch.

Only one bit of advice. Be sure to point the blade down.

Fresh garlic is actually very good for you. It is a natural antibiotic, and has been shown to relax blood vessels, increase blood flow and decrease risk for various cancers. Benefits show up starting with about 2 medium cloves per day. But once you start using the real thing, you’ll want to add it to everything, all three meals included. Two cloves per day is basic and boring.

When purchasing garlic, go organic to avoid pesticides and fertilizer residue, and choose large, firm and plump cloves that sit tightly in place. Store it outside of the refrigerator, and use a good knife to finely chop each clove, as opposed to a garlic press, which smashes the herb, releasing the natural oils and reducing the flavor.  Remove all of the paper casings. After chopping, let it rest for 15 minutes before cooking, maximizing flavor, nutrient levels and aroma.

Why can’t you just buy prepared variety? Because the garlic in the glass containers has often been bleached to retain color, packed in low-quality oil, and there is no way to know how it was processed or where it was grown.

To counteract garlic breath, dine with other garlic lovers. Also, chewing a piece of parsley, adding fennel or cardamon to the meal, and drinking a soy or almond milk can neutralize odor. Brushing your teeth and using a tongue scraper after the meal can eliminate the bacteria that causes halitosis, and is a good idea whether you consume garlic or not.

Add whole cloves to roasted vegetables, boiling potatoes and your favorite oils. Experiment with cooking as minimally as possible, which will maximize the nutrients, enzymes and health benefits.

Thanks Mom, you were right. :p