Ginger, native to S.E. Asia, but now cultivated in China, India, the Caribbean and West Africa, is one of the oldest oriental spices known in the west. It was particularly popular in Medieval and Tudor England where it was valued as a medicinal and a culinary spice.
Indeed, Ginger developed the reputation of being a panacea for everything including the plague. It was used in pomanders and potpourris to counteract unpleasant odors and was even used as an aphrodisiac. The medieval treat of Gingerbread is still popular in England. It is often stamped with a design and a gold leaf.
Although a tropical spice, Ginger is quite easy to grow in a pot. It makes an attractive houseplant with long grass-like leaves. Unfortunately, it rarely flowers in cultivation, but if you’re lucky, you’ll get a bloom of dense, cone-shaped spikes, yellow and green with a purple lip, about three inches long at the end of a foot-long stalk. Plant a rhizome or root from a grocery store or nursery in a roomy pot with a good mix of peat moss, sand and potting soil. The plant likes high temperatures, high humidity and moist soil, but also needs shade, so at the height of summer move the pot outside to a warm, but semi-shaded position.
To harvest, pull the roots from the pot eight to 12 months after planting, slice off the leafstalks and fibrous root sections, cut off some root for culinary use and replant the rest. Whether homegrown or store-bought, ginger root can quickly become unpleasantly fibrous and difficult to slice or mince. One tip is to peel and slice the root while fresh, and then freeze it in plastic bags. This way you’ll always have some fresh ginger on hand. Although it turns mushy when thawed, it retains its flavor and nutritional qualities.
Ginger is a warming herb. It is used as a digestive aid to relieve nausea and to stimulate circulation. It is effective in the early stages of colds and flu to induce sweating and help the body eliminate waste. Ginger tea has long been popular with women for dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation).
In China, Ginger is used as an agent for communication with the gods. It is also valued as a protector of the newborn. At the birth of a child, a piece of ginger root is traditionally placed in the entryway of the home to absorb the harmful character traits of any visitors.
Ginger has always been popular in Asia as a savory spice added to meat, poultry and fish dishes. It is the perfect seasoning for spicy food, for it is piquant on the tongue, yet soothing to the stomach. In the west it is more frequently used as a dried powder in baking and dessert dishes, although I see no reason why the fresh root cannot be used in this application also.
Following are two recipes using Ginger in both fashions.
4 chicken breasts, skin on
1 bottle of beer
6 green onions, chopped
½ cup of soy sauce
¼ cup of fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. fresh Ginger, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsp. garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. Asian chili oil.
Combine all the ingredients and marinate the chicken in the mix for at least one hour, but preferably overnight. Arrange the chicken breasts in a shallow pan, skin up, with enough marinade to not quite cover the chicken. Bake at 350ºF for up to one hour (chicken should always be well cooked), basting frequently, adding reserved marinade as required.
Transfer the chicken to a plate and keep warm. Spoon off excess fat from the marinade. Combine with any still reserved marinade and boil over high heat until it is reduced to about one cup. Serve chicken with sauce and rice and vegetable of your choice.
Orange Ginger Loaf
½ cup of milk (or milk substitute such as nut or coconut milk), lukewarm
1 tsp. baking soda
3 cups unbleached white four
1 tsp. cream of tartar
½ cup butter, melted
½ cup molasses
½ cup honey
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. fresh, minced Ginger
Pinch of cayenne
3 eggs, beaten
Grated rind and juice of one orange.
Thoroughly mix the dry and wet ingredients separately and then blend the two together before pouring into a well-greased bread pan. Bake for one hour at 350ºF. Test for doneness with toothpick before removing from oven. Chickpea flour makes a nutritious and tasty alternative to wheat, especially for those with a wheat allergy or intolerance. The following flatbread recipe makes a spicy carbohydrate accompaniment to almost any meal.
Spicy Chickpea Flatbread
1 cup of chickpea flour
1 tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. hot red pepper flakes
¾ cup of water
½ cup garlic chives, chopped fine
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped fine
1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
½ cup seeded, peeled and diced tomatoes
1 tsp. sea salt
Mix the chickpea flour with the cumin, salt, red pepper and water in a large bowl. Stir in the garlic chives, cilantro, ginger and tomato. If the mix is too thin – it should be slightly thicker than pancake batter – add a little more chickpea flour. Lightly oil a large non-stick pan or griddle and place on a medium-high heat. Spoon about two Tbsp. of batter into the pan for each flatbread. Cook for one to two minutes each side, turning more than once if necessary. When done, the flatbread should show dark spots.