When I was young, I thought that everything I learned about food – the techniques, the ingredients, the flavors, and the rules of eating – was tied to Asian culture, in particular the Taiwanese culture. I feel like it’s a common issue facing young second generation children growing up in the US. Well, I’m at least going to believe that to make me feel less awkward about my lack of awareness as a kid.
I recall one lunch specifically in the third grade: I spied a couple of my non-Taiwanese friends placing napkins over their laps. I was quick to let them know of their error in doing something that I had, up until that point in time, assumed was exclusively a Taiwanese custom. They looked at me confused, but I persisted to try to educate them. As a seven-year-old, I felt that it was my duty to be a cultural soldier of all traditions sacred to Taiwan, in order to ensure that customs like placing napkins on laps, eating chicken feet, and drinking hot tea during a meal were kept in all of their authenticity. I later realized (albeit way too late in my development) how wrong I actually was.
Garlic powder was also one of those things that I believed to be deeply rooted in Taiwanese culinary history – I imagined a Taiwanese grandmother, rich with culinary stories and secrets tucked within the wrinkles of her face, experimenting with garlic in her kitchen and accidentally stumbling upon a new creation. Alas, I could only wish that garlic powder had such a romantic history.
My parents often used garlic powder in their cooking: My dad’s turkey recipe called for a healthy slathering and my mom always used it in a marinade with soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch, and sesame oil for her stir fries. It’s no wonder why I thought garlic powder was an Asian ingredient. Especially because I thought that the ingredients that filled our refrigerator, pantry, and spice closets only contained items that were native to my parents. It took me until I was a young teenager to come to find out otherwise.
It was when my mom used garlic powder for cooking non-Taiwanese cuisine that my mind was blown! She used it to make garlic bread that was unlike the bread that I had at Olive Garden, which in my mind I thought was authentic as it gets. So, by that standard, my Mom had just created an Italian dish with Asian influences. I thought my mom was a genius, a trailblazer in fusion cooking, and a creative culinary matchmaker. It was all happening in front of me and I was honored to be present as history was taking place. Or, so I thought.
Eventually, my knowledge of ingredients and their origins grew as I began to do my own research through recipes, blogs, and online resources. I do miss my mom’s garlic bread, though. She would take a loaf of French bread and, without cutting all the way though, slice it into half inch sections. Next, a paste of garlic powder and salted margarine was spread onto each slit, then wrapped and baked. Eventually, what you get is a deliciously garlicky, butter-soaked slice of bread. What isn’t there to like?
In terms of the history of garlic powder. It’s shrouded in mystery, but until someone tells me the history (and if you know it, please share in the comments below), I’m going to believe that the Taiwanese grandmother discovered it. Enjoy.
Note on the recipe: I updated the recipe to add roasted garlic to give a subtle sweetness to the spread. I also added parsley to give it the green color that you see in garlic powder with dried parsley. This is mainly an homage to the recipe that my Mom used to do. You don’t need to put it in if you don’t like the flavor profile. I like it because it looks like the garlic powder my parents have at home.
1 head of garlic
1 tsp olive oil
1 loaf crusty bread, Italian or French, halved lengthwise
1 stick of butter, about ½ cup softened
1 tbs. parsley, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp salt
preheat oven to 400°f
slice head of garlic in half exposing cloves and place on roasting pan
drizzle olive oil over garlic and roast for 25 to 30 min, until garlic is soft.
Remove roasted cloves from the garlic paper once the garlic is cool enough to touch and set aside
mix in another bowl the butter, parsley, minced garlic, and salt
blend garlic into butter mixture until well mixed
spread mixture onto cut side of the bread
wrap bread, cut side together, in foil and set aside for at least an hour
bake bread in 325°f oven for 10 minutes in foil and then remove from foil and brown the cut side for the last 2 minutes. Or until mixture has melted well into the bread and the top is toasted. Keep in foil if you want softer bread.