Ginger (Zingiber Officianalis)
Ginger is an erect plant with thickened, fleshy and aromatic rhizomes. Used in different forms as a food, flavouring and spice, it is related to turmeric and galangal, and is one of the most ancient culinary and medicinal spices around.
An Ancient Indian Proverb states that everything good is found in ginger. In fact 50% of the world’s harvest of ginger is produced in India. It is also found in Central Asia, Brazil, China, Mexico, Jamaica and Nigeria.
The pale creamy yellow root (actually a rhizome) is widely (and indispensably) used in Asian and Indian cooking, and is great in fresh fruit juices. It has a sharp, pungent and cleansing taste, sometimes described as peppery, lemon like and slightly sweet, and is a digestive as well. It is great when cut into slivers and stirfried with potatoes, green beans, spinach and other vegetables. It is great in spice and curry pastes.
Fresh ginger should be firm and glossy skinned, without wrinkles or fibrousness where the knobs have been broken.
Usually, but not always, it is peeled before use. Store the root wrapped in kitchen paper and in plastic bags in the fridge. It will keep for up to 3 weeks and can be frozen for up to 6 months. Alternatively, peel a large piece of ginger and cover with dry sherry; cover and refrigerate for up to 3 months, using as needed. You can add the sherry in Chinese recipes.
Ginger can also be minced in the food processor, a large portion at a time, then covered and refrigerated for up to a week. Add it to salad dressings and spicy sauces, relishes and chutneys. Or ginger can be stored in a dry cool place. Many people like to bury it in a dryish sandy soil. This way they can break off and retrieve small portions as they need while the rest generously keeps growing.
Baby, green, spring or young ginger is very excellent. Young ginger has a pale thin skin, is very tender and has a milder flavour than the mature form. It is great sliced as it is into salads and stir fried dishes, soups and broths and doesn’t have to be peeled before use. Mature ginger has a tougher skin. Look for a smooth skin, even in the mature form, as wrinkled skin indicates that the root is dry and past its prime.
Ginger is so good for you – have some every day in fresh fruit juices such as orange, apple, carrot, beetroot, watermelon etc, or in herbal teas. A straight ginger tea or ginger with lemon grass is excellent and very fine. You can make ginger juice either by putting straight through a juicer, or blending with a little water in a food processor and then straining through a fine sieve or through muslin. It will keep a couple of days stored in the fridge.
Don’t substitute powdered ginger for fresh ginger – it is a completely different taste. Powdered ginger is great in baking gingerbread cakes and biscuits, or adding to Middle Eastern and African spice mixes – e.g. Ras el Hanout. Some Indian variations of garam masala also use it.
Ginger’s rhizomes contain a 1 – 2% volatile oil. Its therapeutic uses reportedly include carminative, anti nauseant and anti-flatulence agents. Traditional Chinese medicine has recommended ginger for over 2,500 years for abdominal bloating, coughing, vomiting, diarrhoea and rheumatism, and is used in the Ayurvedic and Tibb systems for the treatment of inflammatory joint diseases such as arthritis. It is reportedly supports a healthy cardiovascular system, and is a classic tonic for the digestive tract, aiding digestion and keeping the intestinal muscles toned. It eases the transport of substances through the digestive tract, lessening irritation to the intestinal walls.
Pickling ginger prolongs the pleasure of good fresh young ginger which in normal circumstances is available for only 4 months of the year. Pickled ginger is pink! It is a delight on its own; savour it. Nibble it while pouring the wine after work or whilst cooking dinner. Use as a relish for curries. Accompany any grilled or fried dishes. Serve next to some naked and solitary fried tofu for a stunning effect.
While pickled ginger can be eaten within a couple of weeks of preparation, it matures kindly and agreeably, obtaining a depth and dimension with age. A scintillating dish for all seasons. Thanks David of Darley St Thai.