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Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: We're escaping winter and taking a tropical staycation in our kitchen. Join us and get to know ginger.
The next time someone mentions ginger root, casually mention that ginger is actually a rhizome -- like lotus root -- and not a root. They’ll either be wowed with their newfound knowledge, or you’ll get a full body eyeroll. We think either response is gratifying in its own way.
Most of the ginger you’ll come across is mature ginger: It’s harvested when the plant is around 7 to 10 months old, and it has light brown skin (2, below) and creamy yellow flesh (1, below). If you slice into your ginger and see blue streaking through it, don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong. This just means you’ve stumbled upon Hawaiian blue-ring ginger. It’s available between December and April, and it is especially juicy and aromatic.
One other type of fresh ginger to keep on your radar is young ginger (also called spring or baby ginger). Since it’s harvested earlier, it has thinner skin, and doesn’t need to be peeled. The texture of young ginger is less fibrous, and is frequently sliced and turned into pickles (this is where the pink pile that comes with your sushi comes from). Young ginger doesn’t travel well, but you don’t have to live in a tropical locale to try it -- it’s starting to be grown in colder locations too.
When selecting ginger at the store, look for firm, heavy hands -- that’s what the rhizomes are called -- and pass on any that look wrinkled or show signs of mold. If you only need a small amount for your recipe, Diane Morgan assures us: “When ginger is sold loose, it is perfectly acceptable to break off a small portion from the hand.” We say go ahead and buy the whole hand -- we'll help you put it to good use.
Ginger will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator (wrap it in a dry cloth or paper towel and then place it in an open plastic bag or container), and you have other storage options too: You can freeze the whole hand, with the skin on. While frozen, you can go ahead and grate it -- skin and all -- on a microplane. Another option is to store it in the refrigerator in a jar filled with sherry. Diana B explains why this is her favorite storage method: “It retains its texture for quite a while, and you have lovely ginger-flavored sherry to put in soups.”
To peel ginger, grab a spoon with a thin edge (3), and scrape away the skin (Need a visual?) -- you’ll waste the least amount of ginger. If you find this tedious, it’s fine to use a small knife, but note that ginger’s most tender portion is right below the peel, so you’re more likely to slice that off when you’re using a knife. From there, slice, mince, or grate the ginger. If your recipe calls for ginger juice, grab your box grater and read these tips. Once you have that ginger juice, Amanda reminds us that it can be used as a flavor brightener -- the ginger flavor won’t even necessarily be detectable.
More: Here are 4 other dish-brighteners that you should keep on call.
Ginger shines in gingerbread and ginger ale, and it is frequently called upon to help settle upset stomachs and ease nausea, but don’t stop there. Here’s how to work ginger into every meal:
Spread some honey ginger almond butter on toast, sip a banana chai ginger smoothie, or grab a pear ginger walnut muffin as you head out the door. Not in a rush? Get a healthy start to your day: Break out your juicer for carrot apple Ginger Juice or enjoy whole-grain, butter-free honey orange ginger waffles. Ginger can be downright indulgent too -- if you're in the mood to splurge, go for a Cranberry-Ginger Jam Donut.
Ginger can put a little zip into your lunchtime soup and salad combo. Try a citrus ginger tofu salad with soba noodles, a cabbage salad with miso ginger dressing, or ginger miso vinaigrette on butter lettuce. Boost your salad with quinoa, mango, avocado, and a lemony ginger dressing, and warm up with a bowl of creamy carrot ginger bisque, a roasted beet, blood orange, and ginger soup, or mushroom ginger soup with barley.
Drinks and Hors d'Oeuvre
Ginger in your drink doesn’t just mean ginger ale -- although you can make that too. For your next cocktail hour, try ginger sangria, gingered lemon punch, or an apple ginger hot toddy. While you sip, snack on mashed pea guacamole with cilantro, ginger, and lime and gingered beer pickles.
Ginger and rice are made for each other: Try lemongrass ginger patties, onigiri with ginger Kewpie mayo, or put an egg on it with genius ginger fried rice. If your vegetables want to play along, make ginger shallot broccoli. Or go for ramen stir-fry, spicy ginger-orange tofu, or a tuna burger with wasabi ginger mayo.
Take standard ginger snaps up a notch with whole wheat and triple the ginger (go the extra mile and make your own candied ginger), and boost gingerbread with chocolate in a spicy chocolate ginger cake. Bake up a gingered cranberry-pear pie or a ginger apple torte. Or grab a spoon and tuck into a bowl of ginger ice cream or ginger poached pears.
Let us know your favorite ways to use ginger in the comments!
Photos by James Ransom
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