This last week I made two cheesecakes, decadent baker that I am, one to celebrate the arrival of a Kenyan farmer, the other for my brother’s birthday. I substituted ginger snaps and pieces of candied ginger for the predictable graham crackers. It gave the cakes a nice sweet bite, both in the crust and then with small pieces of ginger on the top. I doubt I’ll use graham crackers ever again!
Although we Americans and Europeans use ginger mainly in baking, it’s been a culinary mainstay in Asia for at least 5000 years. Apparently it was popular in ancient Rome and then was forgotten about until Marco Polo brought it home to Europe after one of his world-changing expeditions.
Queen Elizabeth I is credited with inventing the gingerbread man. No surprise — she was known for her passion for sweets and, as queen she could afford sugar and spice and everything nice that otherwise cost a ransom.
I don’t remember ever seeing fresh ginger in our home growing up. I have no idea if it was in our local market but I doubt it. Probably had to go to the ethnic markets in San Francisco in those days to find it. My Central European grandmother used dried ginger mixed with Hungarian paprika, salt and pepper, which she rubbed all over ducks and turkey before roasting them. And we always had Canada Dry ginger ale, especially when we were sick.
Ginger’s medicinal value is well documented. It’s used in all Asian and even in allopathic medical traditions, to warm the body, break up congestion, calm upset stomachs and help with morning sickness. As even the FDA acknowledges it as medicine it must work!
Actually, I have a medicinal use for ginger combined with vanilla that is awesome for morning sickness, nausea caused by chemotherapy, food poisoning, you name it. Vanilla is also a stomach sedative. Combining ginger and vanilla is amazing and it does the job.
Ideally you want to use ginger beer, which you can get at natural food and specialty food stores. If you can’t find it there but you can get Vernor’s Ginger Ale, use that. Canada Dry works in a pinch. Tahitian vanilla extract works best, but you can use other pure vanilla extracts.
Really cold beverages aren’t good for nausea, so have the ginger beer or ginger ale cold but don’t add ice. To an 8-ounce glass of ginger beer, add 1 – 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract, and sip slowly. It will help whomever is sick stay hydrated as well as soothe the stomach.
If cold sounds a little extreme to your stomach or you are congested, steep in a teapot or a saucepan four or more cups of water, several pieces of fresh ginger, a vanilla bean, split in two and sliced open and honey or agave nectar to taste. Drink it as warm as possible. You can reuse the ginger and vanilla several times. This is also good if you’ve been outside in very cold weather and are chilled.
If you’re adventurous, here’s a terrific recipe for making your own ginger ale. Again, I personally recommend Tahitian vanilla beans, but as they’re expensive, any fresh vanilla beans will do just fine.
The biggest issue I’ve had with fresh ginger is that I’d buy it to put in a stir fry or tea or an Asian recipe and then forget it, only to find a pathetic shriveled knob in the produce bin two months later.
I finally resorted to freezing it, which works perfectly! You’d think that a tropical root would go mushy in the freezer, but it doesn’t. Even better, when it’s still frozen, it’s easier to peel and shred. As much of the world’s ginger is now grown in the Caribbean, it’s easy to find in stores these days. And it’s worlds better than the dried, especially when you’re cooking.
Crystallized ginger is great in baking. While the powdered gives a good base flavor, chopped crystallized takes it up a notch. When the weather is blustery, there’s nothing nicer than a piece of warm gingerbread with whipped cream. I really like it oven toasted with butter for breakfast or spread with lemon curd. (I’m making myself hungry.)
How do you use ginger? Any brilliant recipes to share?
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