Ginger

Ginger

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667678
Photographer
William Meppem

Times and fashions change in the kitchen as surely as they do everywhere else. These days if you ask a shop assistant which aisle the ginger is in, they will almost certainly direct you to the fresh produce section, where fresh root ginger is to be found cuddling up next to the garlic. This gnarled, knobbly root certainly seems to have ousted the dried powdered spice in the popularity stakes in recent years. Those little bottles of sandy ginger powder, most commonly used in puddings, cakes and cookies, have been pushed firmly to the back of the kitchen cupboard.

It seems that speedy stir-fried dishes from China and South East Asia are better suited to our fast-paced lifestyles. Fresh root ginger combined with garlic and chilli forms the unmistakable fragrant and spicy basis for numerous dishes from this region. In traditional Chinese medicine ginger is also still used as a tonic, particularly for digestive disorders and for the female reproductive system. Ginger is eaten to boost the immune system and used for its general antibacterial properties – in fact ginger has always been widely used in many civilisations for its medicinal qualities as well as the clean, invigorating flavour it adds to food.

Botanically, ginger, like turmeric and galangal, is a rhizome – the tuberous root of an attractive flowering plant which probably originated in India or tropical Asia. It has been consumed in the Far East for many thousands of years, and was one of the first spices to be introduced to the Mediterranean, probably by the sea-loving Phoenicians. It was certainly known in the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Persia and Greece and was particularly loved in Rome, where it was used as lavishly as black pepper.

In medieval Europe powdered ginger was one of the most popular spices. It was used in baking, to make all kinds of biscuits, cakes and desserts, and was a popular flavouring in many savoury dishes too, often used very liberally to mask the smell and taste of bad meat. With the gradual evolution from one-pot cooking, the distinction between sweet and savoury dishes became more marked, and the use of ginger, like cinnamon, shifted to sweet dishes. This tradition remains in northern European and North American cooking today, in a wide repertoire of ginger biscuits, ginger cakes and puddings, gingerbreads and even ginger wines and cordials.

Dried ground ginger, rather than the fresh root, is used in Middle Eastern cookery and even more so in North African cookery. The Arabs transported ginger all around their empire from the eighth century onwards, introducing it to North Africa, where it became a key spice in savoury dishes, and where it remains one of the primary ingredients in spice mixes such as the Moroccan ras el hanout, which is used in all sorts of soups and tagines. As a result of the Arabic enthusiasm for spices, the Spanish too learned to love and value them. From the sixteenth century, both the Spanish and Portuguese introduced ginger to their colonies in the West Indies, West Africa and South America, where it is an important flavouring in local dishes.

The Arabs were also responsible for introducing Europeans to crystallised ginger. Once they invaded and conquered Persia they discovered sugar cane and, more importantly, the techniques for extracting and refining sugar. Preserved and candied ginger became a real delicacy – although perhaps its success was due less to its sweet flavour as to its reputation as an aphrodisiac.

Selecting, storing and using ginger

When choosing ginger, try to buy the freshest, youngest looking rhizomes. As ginger ages it becomes woody and dry, and its flavour becomes hotter and more peppery. Certainly avoid ginger which is shrivelled and wizened. Store fresh ginger in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, where it will last for a couple of weeks.

To prepare fresh ginger, slice off a knob or section of the ginger and carefully peel it with a sharp paring knife. Cut it into thin slices across the grain. These can be used as they are, or sliced into batons and very finely diced. To grate ginger, use the shredding side of a grater, and then dice it more finely by hand. Large quantities of ginger can be whizzed to a paste in a food processor.

Ground ginger is available in little plastic packets or glass bottles from all supermarkets. Store it in a tightly sealed container in a dark, cool cupboard.

Recipes in this Chapter

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