Mention ginger and most people immediately think Asian cooking. It's true that a little ginger added to a stir fry or in a Vietnamese soup will help to make the meal. But while it has its roots in Asian cuisine and there may be a multitude of Far East recipes that rely on this delicious rhizome, don't limit yourself exclusively to these. Ginger is one of those ingredients that can transform bland foods into aromatic and fragrant delicacies. The variety of its uses in the kitchen is only limited by your imagination.
A bit of history
Ginger is believed to have originated in India, which might explain why it is such a fundamental staple from Mumbai to Delhi. It has also been grown since ancient times in South Eastern Asia, where this aromatic, pungent rhizome is still prized today for its culinary and medicinal properties. Back then (2500 years ago) it already had a strong reputation to help maintain sexual vitality, to prevent cold and flu and to relieve stomach discomfort. Then, two thousand years ago, the Romans began to import ginger from China. In the Middle Ages, when the spice route was discovered, it became a prized and very expensive cooking delicacy in Europe. Looking for a way to cut costs, Spanish explorers introduced ginger to the West Indies and the Americas in the 16th century. As a result, today Jamaica has a large ginger harvest.
The ginger plant's botanical name is Zingiber officinale, which is derived from Sanskrit and means horn shaped. Although it is commonly referred to as ginger root, the spice comes from the underground rhizome of the ginger plant, and looks a lot like an animal horn.
Did someone say miracle food?
There are a few foods that go beyond simple nutritional benefits and provide real health bonuses as well: green tea, blueberries and broccoli are among them. But many scientists would add ginger to that list. It helps prevent symptoms of motion sickness, especially seasickness. Ginger is also extremely effective at reducing the severity of nausea that many women face during pregnancy. It also contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols and is believed to help reduce the pain felt by people who suffer from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Scientists are also hopeful that ginger might help protect against colorectal and ovarian cancers.
Choosing and storing fresh ginger
Whenever you can, choose fresh ginger over the dried form, which is usually used for baking. Not only is the flavour superior, but it also contains higher levels of the elements that provide real health benefits. You can almost always find fresh ginger root in the produce section of your local supermarket. Look for smooth skin with tubers that are firm and have a heavy feel. Ginger root with wrinkled skin has passed its prime and should be avoided. A common mistake is to store ginger root in the fridge. That only dries out the rhizome and reduces its flavour. Instead, keep fresh ginger root at room temperature tightly wrapped in aluminum foil; it will keep for a couple of weeks, making it an ideal spice to take along with you on a paddling trip.
Ground or powdered ginger is also available in most stores. As a spice, it is quite different than fresh ginger, and is used more for baking or in a curry mixture. If you want to get powdered ginger, try your local spice store; the quality and freshness is usually superior to that found in a supermarket. You can also make your own powdered ginger, by grating fresh ginger root with a fine grater onto a piece of parchment paper placed on a cookie sheet. Transfer the cookie sheet to a cool, dry place for three to four days or until the grated ginger dries completely. Then, store in an airtight container where it will stay at its best for up to a year. Personally, I much prefer using fresh ginger since it's so easy to store and carry along.
Crystallized or candied ginger Commonly used in desserts, it can easily be made at home.
Peel a pound of fresh ginger root and slice it very thinly. Place in a saucepan, cover with water and cook until tender for about 30 minutes. Drain the ginger, weigh it, then place in saucepan with an equal amount of sugar and 3 tablespoons of water. Bring to a boil and stir often until ginger becomes translucent and the liquid is almost evaporated. Reduce heat and keep cooking, stirring constantly, until almost dried. Toss ginger in sugar to coat, and store in an airtight jar for up to 3 months.
It is also delicious in granola, added to your favourite cookie or muffin recipe; it is also extremely good in brownies or to add a bit of zest to an otherwise too bland energy bar. Try it coated with melted chocolate and rolled in crushed nuts for a quick treat.
Maple ginger glaze * Since I really don't like currants or maraschino cherries, I created a recipe where they do not star. But you can replace any dried fruit you wish in this recipe with them.
Heat the glaze briefly on the stovetop or in microwave. This glaze is great served on roasted vegetables: ie: carrots, parsnips, turnips, squash cut into thin sticks or wedges. Roast in the oven or on the grill over a camp fire for about 30 minutes. Add about 2 tablespoons of the maple-ginger glaze and roast for another five minutes.
I sometimes add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard to my maple ginger glaze, then I use it on a salmon fillet or on chicken breasts, either roasted or barbequed.
Ginger cookies Yield: 4 dozen cookies
Using an electric mixer beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add molasses, egg and vanilla extract and beat until incorporated. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Add to the butter mixture and mix until well combined. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 to 60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll into 1 in. (2.5 cm) balls and place on baking sheets, making sure that the cookies are 2 in. (5 cm) apart. Flatten each cookie with the bottom of a glass. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until cookies are dry and firm to touch. The more you bake the cookies, the crisper they will become. Transfer on a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes.
For a bit of glitter (like during the Holiday Season) you can chose to sprinkle the cookies with granulated sugar when they come out of the oven.
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