Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ginger root! Uses and ideas

I love ginger root (it's actually a rhizome, not a root, but this isn't that kind of blog). It's got to be one of my very favorite spices. I use it almost indiscriminately... well, okay, that's not true. It goes in an awful lot of my soups, stews, teas, and desserts, though. Why? Because it makes them all better!

I get the impression from folks that a lot of people don't know what to do with ginger root, but it doesn't have to be a mysterious ingredient. It's basic character is that it's spicy with a distinctive flavor that might be described by some as being a bit soapy. I don't think soapy is quite right, but spicy is. It's hot but not like peppers.

Actually, ginger is splendidly spicy, and its characteristic flavor can be great in teas, desserts, and many dishes. Plus, it is quite good for you. As an added benefit, Chinese medicine says that ginger root is warming (good for winter) and excellent for digestion. In fact, it is also an effective aid in reducing motion sickness, it's stomach-calming effects are so potent!

Although the rhizome looks a little alien, don't be afraid of ginger! Here are some ideas on how to use this wonderful spice, fresh or dried:

  • Gingerbread is a holiday favorite. If you don't just buy some ready-made and want to make your own, check out this popular recipe from The Food Network. Making gingerbread and designing gingerbread houses is a wonderfully fun thing to do with the kids around the holidays.
  • Ginger can go a long way to making tea a more warming and satisfying drink, particularly when it's cold outside. Slice fresh ginger root thinly into "coins" and drop one to three of them, according to your tastes, into the bottom of your teacup or teapot before adding the water to infuse your tea. If you use tea bags, that's fine too. You can eat the ginger if you want, but it's quite spicy!
  • Adding ginger to teas isn't just tasty, it's healthful too. Ginger is very warming, and adding some to tea, particularly black tea, in the fall and winter, it can help keep you warmer and healthier. I have it on good authority that a cup of black tea a day during the fall and winter is a very good idea to "keep out the cold." Adding ginger can help even more. Also, even though Chinese medicine labels green tea as "cooling," a few coins of ginger can really counteract that. It also is a great aid to digestion during this season of overindulging at the table.
  • Add fresh ginger, either in thinly sliced coins, matchsticks, or by mincing it to your beef stews. It's surprisingly good. Usually about "an inch" of the root for a large stew is appropriate, but use this seasoning to your tastes.
  • Any Asian fried dishes or soups will call for ginger. These are great with your homemade pasta, particularly the shaved pasta, which is very common in Chinese home cooking.
  • Add a little dried ginger to the filling mixture for cinnamon rolls, which are absolutely delightful this time of year. You can find a popular recipe for cinnamon rolls here, from The Food Network.
  • A small amount of finely minced fresh ginger is absolutely delicious in peach or berry pies and cobblers. Shh... that's a major secret of mine. Actually, in July when it's the right time, make your blueberry pies but add one peach, sliced very thinly and a half an inch of finely minced or grated fresh ginger. It will blow your mind!
  • Add several coins of fresh ginger to your stocks or some matchsticks, grated, or minced fresh ginger to your soups (like this one and this one) for a nice depth of flavor and a bit of indistinct, pleasant spiciness.
  • For the bold, flavor-loving, experience-seeking types, slice fresh ginger into very thin coins and enjoy them raw. It's quite spicy with a distinctive, interesting flavor.
  • Make very small matchsticks with fresh ginger and add them to salads. This is particularly good if a very light touch of sesame oil is added to the dressing.
  • Add half an inch or an inch of ginger to your fresh juice recipes if you are a fresh juicer. In fact, this much ginger with several apples and half a lemon, mixed evenly with club soda, makes a quick and easy drink similar to ginger ale. Several apples and a whole lemon (peel and all) with this much ginger makes a wonderful ginger-lemonade that can't be beat!

To make ginger "coins," slice the ginger in thin cross-sections to obtain a nearly round coin shape. To make matchsticks, stack up several coins and cut them into thin strips, all in one direction. To obtain a fine dice or mince on your ginger, take the matchsticks, and cut them into tiny pieces cross-sectionally.

Thanks go to the Knoxville Gourmet Food Examiner (that's me, haha!) for this article, which can be found on Examiner.com in a slightly different version.

Oh, and if you've missed it, here's another article I wrote on Examiner.com highlighting some of what was best in food last week from other food Examiners around the region and country. Check it out for some great ideas, particularly for holiday recipes!

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