What’s the one item in your kitchen you can’t possibly cook without? A spice, your grandma’s measuring cup, instant ramen — what’s your magic ingredient, and why?

Garlic. We love garlic and I use it in almost every dish I make. I like the fact that it’s good for you, too. I remember my brother-in-law, who is a vitamin enthusiast, once touted the good effects of garlic capsules for health. I asked him if he ever uses it in cooking (he lives alone), and he said he didn’t. Hmmm. Why take tablets for something that tastes so good?

It’s been in use for up to 7,000 years, and originates from Central Asia, but people probably associate it most with food from the Mediterranean region. It’s also a frequent seasoning in Asia, Africa, and Europe. The ancient Egyptians used it medicinally. And of course it was a popular method of warding of evil spirits in both ancient times and the middle ages.

I was amazed to learn that perhaps 60-65% of the garlic produced in the world comes from China. Then again, I think it was in a Chinese cooking class when I was in my twenties that first attracted me to real garlic and Chinese food. My mother used garlic powder instead of the real thing, but now I don’t even have that in my cupboard. Only the real thing will do, and of course, real garlic produces a less bitter and more authentic flavor.

I enjoy cooking, and especially like to use a lot of vegetables cooking them until they’re just done — or still slightly crispy.

I’ve also enjoyed the proliferation of recipes on the internet. Sometimes I’ll have a couple of fresh ingredients that have to be used, and I simply search for a recipe that contains 2-3 ingredients I have to use up, and bingo, I find a whole host of ways to use up my selection of foods — and sometimes some really interesting combinations.