Secret ingredient: Ginger
Ginger comes in many forms - the ground spice that adds zing to biscuits and cakes, the knobbly tuberous rhizome found in Asian and Indian cooking and the pale pink slices accompanying your sushi. Here's how to get the most out of it at home.
WHAT IS GINGER?
Ginger is the rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale and is closely related to turmeric and galangal. Used both fresh and in dried form in a great number of ways across many cuisines since Roman times, it's actually of Asian origin.
All ginger is imported - please don't confuse it with the wild ginger that is a pest in New Zealand and which threatens to smother our native forests.
WHAT DOES IT LOOK AND TASTE LIKE?
There are two types of fresh ginger available at different times of the year. Spring or young ginger is pale and tender while mature ginger is darker in colour. The latter is stronger and hotter in flavour; it has a thick skin and the flesh is fibrous, making it more suited to grating than slicing. Young ginger is easily sliced and produces more juice - use it for preserving, candying or pickling. Then there's dried ginger - do not substitute dried for fresh in your recipes, or vice versa. The ginger taste is hard to describe - perhaps sweet and peppery is the best way to describe it.
HOW DO I KEEP IT FRESH?
Avoid ginger that is shrivelled, wrinkled or bendy as it is past its best. As fresh ginger is always available it is easy to buy small amounts frequently. However, if you have more than you need, keep it in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, where it should last for several weeks. It can also be wrapped tightly and frozen - simply cut off what you need and return the remainder to the freezer. Dried ground ginger is best bought frequently in small amounts from a store that has fast turnover of stock. Keep it in an airtight jar.
HOW DO I USE IT?
Dried ground ginger can be used as a spice in baking and as an ingredient in many dried spice mixes, such as Indian curry powders, five spice powder and more. Raw fresh ginger is used in most Asian cuisines - usually chopped, grated, sliced or squeezed of its juices. Fresh ginger goes with poultry dishes, pork and fish. Dried ginger goes with nuts, dried fruit, cinnamon and cloves, honey and golden syrup and lemon.
GOT ANY GOOD RECIPES USING IT?
At this time of year you can use ginger in the ham glaze, in Christmas fruit cake or mincemeat, in gingerbread houses, stars and trees for gifts and in Christmas treats. Ginger ale or ginger beer are important
components of a good Christmas punch.
Catherine Bell is a member of the New Zealand Guild of Food Writers. She is a cook, food writer, co-founder of Dish Magazine and founder of Garden to Table, a programme for children where they learn to grow, harvest, prepare and share good food.
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