Ginger ale and ginger beer might be non-alcoholic today, but it began in the 19th century as a sprinkling of ground ginger root in the real thing. It was thought to help “settle” the stomach. In fact, it does. The Chinese have used ginger root for this purpose for centuries and it appears in the writing of Confucius. It can also be found in the Koran, where it is referred to as a spiritual and a heavenly herb. And you can actually buy a ginger antinauseant made by Gravol.
From the 9th Century, it was used widely in Europe as a spice and in the Middle Ages, it was thought to prevent the plague. Believe it or not, in England, it was actually applied to the backside of a lazy horse to ‘gee it up”.
Ginger is taken from the root of the ginger plant and its strength and flavor dissipate rapidly with age. You can buy the dry powder but fresh ginger is best. Buy a large root, cut it into one inch segments and freeze them in a bag for occasions when you haven’t any fresh on hand. When needed, remove a piece and scrape off the skin (you can scrape it easily with a spoon). You can also scrape and preserve ginger the Australian way – in jar of sherry.
Good supermarkets make sure the ginger is as fresh as the other produce, but many don’t. Asian supermarkets often have the best fresh ginger – perhaps because it sells faster and doesn’t have time to dry out. Avoid wrinkled, dry ginger. Look for fat, tender knobs with a thin, almost translucent skin. A knob should break with a snap and have a lovely tangy fragrance.
Here are some interesting ways to incorporate delicious ginger into your menus:
My Chinese friend, Jeanne, taught me to make ginger tea; it’s a wonderful soothing drink.
Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a covered saucepan, and add a 1-inch piece of peeled ginger, finely sliced. Simmer for 15 minutes, strain and drink. Add honey to sweeten if you like.
Gingered Sweet Potatoes
These taste so good, you’ll never go back to the bland version again. When your sweet potatoes are ready to mash, add your butter plus 2 tsp. honey and ½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger for each pound of potatoes. Mash and blend really well. You can garnish with some candied ginger but be careful, this can make the flavor very strong.
Ginger Glaze for Salmon
Try brushing salmon with this glaze before baking or grilling.
Combine 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 teaspoons each of honey, Dijon mustard and grated ginger. Brush this on the salmon. If grilling, brush on only for the last three minutes as the honey will burn.
Ginger Stir Fries
Chop finely a one or 2-inch piece of ginger and add to the hot oil along with sliced onion and garlic when stir frying. It will add real zing to chicken, beef or even a plain vegetable stir fry.
Gingered Shortbread or cookies
This has become a family recipe and no Christmas plate of goodies is complete without it. Crystallized ginger can add a zing to many different cookies.
Simply add about 2 tbsp. finely chopped crystallized ginger to your favourite shortbread or sugar cookie recipe. Bake as usual.