Ginger root (Recipe: steamed fish in packets)
One horribly hot and humid day last summer, I visited my friend Julia's tiny urban garden.
I didn't go for the copious quantities of iced coffee that we both love, nor for her especially good egg salad, nor even for the effortless conversation we always enjoy.
No, what I really wanted was to dig ginger.
Julia, a chef and restaurant consultant, stores her ginger in the garden during the summer months. She digs it up when she needs a bit for cooking, breaks off a piece, then plants it back in the garden, where it continues to grow.
In the photo above, that's Julia's hand holding a "hand" of ginger, which has sent out new roots. In the front are three "fingers" of new ginger growth, brighter white than the old part, and with new green shoots coming out the top.
You can plant ginger at any time, as long as the ground is warm and not too soggy. Buy a large "hand" of ginger at the supermarket -- look for one that's fresh, not one that is already completely dessicated and shriveled -- and bury it in your garden (or flower pot) in a sunny location. Eventually it will send down roots, and where there's a new "finger" forming, you'll start to see thin green shoots above the surface (a big help if you've forgotten where you planted the ginger).
Whenever you want to use some ginger in your cooking, dig up the whole clump, break off as much as you need (old rhizome or new growth -- the taste of the new is slightly milder and sweeter than the original part), and bury the rest back in the garden.
One of the world's healthiest foods, ginger is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, prized for its curative properties for everything from the common cold to indigestion to morning sickness.
For people who love to cook, ginger -- tangy, biting, spicy, fragrant -- plays a starring role in the cuisines of Southeast Asia, and in particular China, which still produces more than one-fourth of the world supply.
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.
And if your garden ginger really takes off, don't forget to make your own ginger ale. It's a refreshing way to beat the heat.
Steamed fish in packets
When the publisher of Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America, by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang, offered to send me a copy of the book, I leapt at the chance to learn about this Laotian cuisine. This recipe, slightly adapted from the book, is the first of two recipes I've tried, and I'm looking forward to more exploration of the food and culture of the Hmong. Serves 4; can be doubled.
1-1/2 lbs fresh cod steaks, cut into 4 pieces (I used cod loin, which is thicker)
3-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and finely slivered
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp peanut or canola oil
1 Tbsp sesame oil
6 large garlic cloves, finely slivered
3 Tbsp soy sauce (I used reduced-sodium)
4 large squares of parchment paper (I used aluminum foil)
1 stalk lemongrass, 8 leaves removed and washed (or kitchen twine, to tie the packets)
1/4 cup sesame seeds, for garnish
Preheat your grill to medium heat.
Wash and dry the fish and set aside. In a small bowl, marinate the ginger in the lemon juice.
Heat the peanut and sesame oils in a small nonstick frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic. Cook 1-2 minutes, until the garlic is aromatic and light golden. Add the garlic and oils to the bowl with the ginger, and add the soy sauce. Mix well.
Wipe out the frying pan and toast the sesame seeds in the dry pan over medium heat, 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan frequently, until the seeds are golden brown but not burned. When you can smell the sesame, the seeds are done. Remove from the pan into a small bowl and set aside.
Lay one large square of aluminum foil (at least 10-12 inches) on the counter. Put one piece of fish in the center. Top with 1/4 of the ginger-garlic sauce, and 1/4 of the sesame seeds. Bring all edges of the foil to the center, and seal tightly. Repeat with the remaining fish. Place the packets on the grill and cook, with the grill covered, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and open the packets carefully -- the steam will be hot! Place the fish on a serving platter, and pour some of the sauce around it; the sauce will be a thin liquid, so you'll have more than you need. Garnish with chopped scallions or chives, if you wish.
Note: if you're steaming the fish, wrap in banana leaves or parchment paper, and tie the packets with strings of lemongrass or kitchen twine. Steam on the stovetop in a bamboo steamer or stock pot with a steamer insert for 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish.