Cold weather is drifting in and it is the season for colds and sniffles. Back home the remedy for most ailments had food or drinks involved, particularly those that had ginger. We made arroz caldo, porridge made of rice, cooked in chicken broth with discs of fresh ginger -it is said to strengthen weak constitutions (the topping of fried garlic I believe was to drive any and all spirits).
For sore throats we made salabat, or ginger tea. A knob of ginger was peeled, sliced into discs and then steeped in boiling water; we added honey or sugar to temper the biting ginger. The aroma of tea had a calming effect on one’s nerves and that zing of ginger grated soothingly the back of an itchy throat.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) often referred to as ginger root is not botanically speaking the root of the plant but a rhizome, an underground stem that grows horizontally beneath the ground.
Next to Japan, the United States is one of the largest importers of ginger in the world, with China supplying 78% of the demand. There are a great variety of ginger worldwide, each differ in size, pungency, aroma, color and fiber content. On a commercial scale ginger is identified by the place of origin: India, Jamaica, Brazil or Hawaii. Ginger I see labeled from Brazil are huge- with clusters resembling deer antlers (truer to the Sanskrit name of ginger- shringavera, or “shaped like deer’s antlers”).
I can only surmise that most of the unlabeled fresh ginger we find in the supermarkets here in the US are from China , these variety of ginger have fairly smooth and pale skins, with fat knobs that form a cluster of branches. When cut they reveal a light-yellow flesh and are not very pungent.
The ginger found in the Philippines,or at least the one I was familiar with growing up, is similar to Indian ginger, with hints of lemon, a dark yellow flesh with a greyish tinge. Generally the ginger used was a mature ginger which was fibrous, had a headier aroma and was more biting. When I cook recipes (specially Asian recipes) that require ginger, I often double the amount indicated.
For the recipes I feature in my Southeast Asian Street Food class, ginger is an ubiquitous ingredient. We use it to stuff the cavity of the chicken for the Hainanese Chicken Rice, it infuses both the chicken and rice, it is also used in the dipping sauces. Ginger adds spice to the Indonesian Beef Rendang and boosts the heat to the Sambal Chili Prawns. The different flavor characteristics of ginger lends complexities to the dish that few herbs can.
Fresh ginger is prepared in different ways: minced, cut into discs or cut into small matchsticks. I love the flavor of ginger but do not like the jolt on my tongue when I bite into it -and ginger is hard to spot when they are finely minced and melded into sauces. To get around this problem, I make ginger juice and teach the students to do the same.
To make ginger juice: Peel a 2-inch knob of ginger and grate this on a fine grater (or a Microplane). Set the grater over a dish as the ginger pulp immediately exudes juice – specially if it is young ginger. Grate till you have an ample amount of pulp. Squeeze juice into plate and discard the pulp. As the ginger juice sits, you will notice starch settling on the bottom of the container , stir the juice just before using it (the powder contains the bite).
A note on substitutions for fresh ginger. A student asks, “Can we substitute fresh ginger with ginger powder?” No, ginger powder imparts a different flavor than fresh, it lacks the distinctive ginger aroma and is less biting. Ginger powder or dried ginger is used for curry blends or spice blends (like quatre epices) it is commonly used in cookies or breads. Ginger powder has more floral notes; though not distinctly “ginger-like” it imparts a flavor of spice and warmth.
Choosing and storing ginger: Choose ginger that is not shriveled and feels heavy for its size. Avoid ginger that has greenish sprouts growing, a sign that they have been sitting there too long and growing restless.
Fresh ginger keeps well frozen. Store unpeeled in a ziplock bag in the freezer for a maximum of 2 months.Thaw before using.