Ginger (Recipe: Thai chicken curry)
- The edible part of the ginger is often called ginger root, but it's actually the horizontal subterranean stem, or rhizome, of the Zingiber officinale plant. If you grow irises in your garden, you'll recognize this type of stem, which must be exposed to the surface or the plant won't flower. (Ask me how many gardening seasons it took to learn that.)
- China leads the world in ginger production -- almost 25% -- followed by India, Nepal and Indonesia (Jamaica produces lots of ginger, too). According to Jill Norman's Herbs & Spices, it was a staple in the diet of Confucius, but he never mentioned it to me.
- The word ginger comes from the Sanskrit for horn root, though I've seen more ginger rhizomes that look like Richard Nixon's nose than the animal antlers for which it was named.
- The Chinese and Japanese consider ginger a yang (hot) food, which balances ying foods to create harmony. Some ying foods: asparagus, tofu, broccoli, eels, pineapple, strawberries, honey, mussels, grapes, oranges. (Eels???)
- Choose rhizomes that have a firm, unwrinkled skin, with a slight sheen. More mature tubers, harvested later in the season, will have a stronger, sharper flavor. They should feel heavy for their size.
- Size doesn't matter, really. The length of a "hand" of ginger depends on where, and how, it was grown, but it's not an indication of quality. I like to buy ones that are larger than my own hand, but just because it's fun to measure them against my hand in the market. And I have small hands.
- Ginger isn't pink; it's a lovely tan on the outside, and the color of Bailey's Irish Cream on the inside. Grenadine gives pickled ginger its scary neon Bazooka bubble gum color.
- Long considered one of the world's healthiest foods, ginger is a good source of potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese and vitamin B6. It also contains protease, an enzyme that tenderizes meats, and antioxidants that retard food spoilage. Medicinally, ginger helps combat nausea, gastrointestinal distress, morning sickness, motion sickness, and high cholesterol.
- Store unpeeled ginger in the refrigerator, wrapped in paper towels and plastic, or in a brown paper bag, for two or three weeks. You can freeze ginger for up to six months. I admit that I never remember to freeze the excess, and some percentage of my ginger ends up in the compost pile.
- The longer you cook ginger, the more mellow it becomes. Like we used to say in school, compare and contrast; use a single large hand of ginger to make pork and broccoli stir fry, ginger salmon tartare, meatballs with ginger and radish greens, tofu in coconut sauce with ginger and lemongrass, white chili, ginger-and-cardamom poached pears, and white chocolate and ginger ice cream.
Thai chicken curry
Another great recipe adapted from Fine Cooking Annual, Volume 2. Cooks up quickly, and tastes great served with jasmine rice. Serves 4.
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1-1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-1/2 inch chunks
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots (approx. 2 medium)
1/4 cup peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger root
1-2 tsp Thai red curry paste
2 cups chicken broth
1 13.5-oz can unsweetened coconut milk
1 Tbsp fish sauce (I use Three Crabs brand)
1-1/2 cups sugar snap peas (fresh or frozen)
1 large lime, zest finely grated and fruit cut into wedges
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Heat the oil in a 10-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and sear the meat in batches until lightly browned all over. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium. Add the shallots to the pan and cook until just tender and lightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Add the ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in 1/4 of the broth, scraping up any browned bits that are stuck to the pan. Add 1/3 cup of the coconut milk, stirring to blend in the curry paste. Add remaining coconut milk, broth and fish sauce. Increase the heat to medium high, and return the chicken to the pan (along with any juices on the plate). Stir and simmer until the chicken is just cooked through, 7-8 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the peas and cover the pan. Let sit for 1-2 minutes, then stir in the lime zest. If necessary, return the pan to medium heat to cook the peas. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with lime wedges, over rice.