As I write this article at the kitchen table, I am sipping my favorite cold weather concoction: a mug of hot water steeped with a slice of fresh ginger root and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice, stirred with a spoonful of honey. It’s zesty, warming and soothing.
Many consumers are familiar with ginger as the featured flavor in the carbonated soft drink ginger ale, or as the spicy ingredient in grandma’s gingerbread cookies. Fans of Japanese sushi relish the translucent slices of pickled ginger tucked alongside a dab of pale green wasabi. It is a major ingredient in a wide variety of curry spice blends. A bottle of non-alcoholic ginger beer in an Indian or Caribbean restaurant is the perfect accompaniment to a spicy meal. Get your taste buds ready for a walloping gingery punch.
Although fresh ginger is labeled and sold as ginger root, botanically speaking, it is a rhizome, an underground stem from which roots develop. Another culinary rhizome that’s been getting a fair amount of recent press is turmeric. Its sharp, peppery flavor is contained in the perishable oil compounds of the rhizome. These flavorful oils are released when the ginger root is peeled and grated, sliced, chopped or minced.
Ginger is considered one of the most commonly consumed dietary condiments in the world, according to Bode and Dong, Herbal Medicine, The Amazing and Mighty Ginger. It has been in use for thousands of years as a medicinal tonic and aromatic ingredient in Indian and Chinese cultures and was a highly valuable commodity in the spice trade.
You can find dried, ground ginger root readily available in the spice section in most supermarkets. Try adding finely chopped crystallized or candied ginger to muffins, pumpkin, sweet potato or apple pie and banana bread.
According to the USDA Seasonal Produce Guide, ginger root is in season in the fall, when you’re most likely to find the freshest crop with tender skin and flesh that ranges from yellow to pale beige in color. In my years of culinary exploration, I’ve usually been able to find ginger root year round. Look for it in the supermarket produce section, near other aromatics such as fresh garlic or next to Asian-style ingredients such as green onions and tofu.
Choose pieces of ginger root that have shiny, bright skin. Avoid those that have a dried or shriveled appearance or show any signs of mold. Purchase the amount you want by simply breaking off a section of ginger. It is usually sold by weight. Fresh ginger will keep about 2 weeks in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. For longer storage, wrap unpeeled pieces of ginger root in plastic wrap, seal in a plastic bag and keep in the freezer.
This is one of my favorite and easy ways to enjoy a variety of dark leafy greens:
Ethiopian-Style Collard Greens
Makes 6 servings
- 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 pound collard greens, washed, drained and chopped finely (about 4 cups)
- 2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock or water
- 1/2 green or red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (or less, to taste)
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in garlic and ginger. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add collard greens and stock or water. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until collards are tender, 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add bell pepper. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes to reduce liquid.
- Just before serving, season with salt and lemon juice.
Recipe source: Eatfresh
And finally, to rev up your pot of homemade chicken stock, try adding a few thin slices of fresh ginger root as it simmers. It will warm you up in no time and ward off the winter chills.