One of our three dogs is named Ginger. Since this is the season when ginger is often used in the foods we love, I thought I’d post an omnibus of short items about this spice. This will celebrate not only our spicy (and very active) dog but all the pies, cakes, and other foods that benefit from this Asian root.
Ginger and Its Spicy Relatives
Ginger is the most famous edible root of the Zingiberacea family. The botanical name for this group of spicy roots is a derivative of the Sanskrit word “singabera”, which means “shaped like a horn,” an apt description of the rhizomes. As the spice spread westward from India “singabera” became “zingiberi” to the Greeks and “zingiber” to the Romans. The English slurred the last two syllables to give us “ginger”.
Ginger has three lesser known edible relatives. In specialty food stores, you’ll find galangal (Alpinia galangal) next to the fresh ginger. This light colored rhizome has an even stronger flavor than ginger – think ground black pepper and fresh ginger with a hint of lemon. Turmeric (Curcuma domestica) imparts a distinct flavor and color to Asian sauces, especially curry. It’s deep red rhizome is shaped similar to ginger. Zedoary (Curcuma zedoaria) is almost unknown in the West as a food seasoning but is used in Asian seasoning mixes.
Growing Ginger in Pots
Ginger can be grown indoors from roots purchased at grocery stores. Select firm, healthy looking rhizomes. Divide the root into several pieces, each with 2-3 growth buds. To reduce risk of rotting allow the cut ends to dry for several hours before planting.
In most of the U. S. ginger is best grown in pots. Use a rich tropical potting soil. Plant rhizomes in a pot at least two feet in diameter. Space them about a foot apart with no more than half an inch of soil covering them. This exposes the root to surface heating which stimulates growth and imitates the hot soil of the tropics. Keep the soil moist but not water-logged until green shoots emerge from the soil, about ten days after planting the rhizome – more if planted too deeply.
When growing ginger indoors avoid exposure to blasts from heating vents. Mist the ginger leaves regularly to compensate for the dry indoor air. Use a “grow light” to supplement the natural light.
Because ginger is only used in small amounts in most recipes, most people find it frustrating to keep the remains of a ginger root only to see it dry out or decay. Fortunately, preserving fresh ginger is easy. Take a firm sections of ginger, peel it and slice crosswise. Put these ginger slices in a lidded glass jar and add enough white wine or vinegar to completely cover the slices. Seal the jar and store in the refrigerator for later use. The ginger will keep for several months.
Many of you probably peel ginger root just as I do, with my trusty vegetable peeler. Just to prove that there is more than one way to skin a ginger root, I am passing along this tip from a reader on how she peels her ginger and gets added flavor in the bargain!
“Fresh ginger can also be peeled using a small spoon. Just rub the cup of the spoon down (or up) the ginger root and the outer paper will come off. I often use this to infuse stock, as it adds a slight taste, although I must be careful when straining.”
Hot Ginger Lemonade For the Sniffles
Many of us drink coffee or tea as part of our morning routine. But coming down with a cold makes us want something more. Some favor the hot toddy, a mixture of brandy, hot water, sugar, and lemon. Others switch bourbon for the brandy to make a Louisville Lemonade. Beverages fortified with caffeine or alcohol may make you feel better for the moment but you’ll be better off with a hot drink that will help you get over the sniffles. Time to pull out the teapot and make some hot ginger lemonade to counteract that nasty cold virus.
To make hot ginger lemonade use only fresh ginger root. Powdered ginger just doesn’t pack the wallop you need. Grate two tablespoons of ginger into a two-cup teapot. Add boiling water and let steep for about ten minutes. Strain out the grated ginger as you pour the liquid into a mug. Add a tablespoon of honey, two tablespoons lemon juice, and a dash or two of cayenne pepper.
The ingredients in this brew help you feel better in several ways. Ginger settles the stomach and stimulates the appetite. It also aids in shrinking swollen membranes and eliminating excess mucus. Honey’s golden sweetness soothes the roughest throat and gives a quick energy boost even when you have an upset stomach. Lemon juice has anti-inflammatory properties and is a source of Vitamin C. Cayenne peppers produce the “heat” we feel on our tongue and in our sinuses when eating spicy food. Think back to the last time you had a spicy Southwestern dish. It cleaned out your sinuses, didn’t it?
I’ll conclude this post with a recipe from my cookbook “The Herb ‘n Cowgirl Bakes.”
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup molasses
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- 2 cups flour
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice or cloves
- ¾ cup chopped pecans, divided
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- Finely chop pecans and set aside. In a small bowl combine soda and buttermilk and set aside. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and molasses and beat until smooth. Add buttermilk to other ingredients.
- Mix in the flour, baking powder, ginger and allspice/cloves. Stir in ½ cup pecans. Pour mixture into greased muffin pan. Sprinkle remaining pecans on top of the batter. Bake muffins at 400 degrees for 20 to 22 minutes.