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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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Thai chicken curry
Ginger catfish
Ginger cabbage salad
Ginger salad dressing
Braised fish, Tunisian style

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What a great way to always have ginger on hand. It can be a pest if it's not controlled (by judicious breaking off of pieces to use), so I think I am going to try this in a pot. I love ginger and put it in lots of things. It's even great in beef casseroles (Yeah - I know it sounds gross, but it's really not!)

I dig ginger too ;)

I wonder if this would grow in a pot, indoors, on the window sill.

This looks like a great summertime dish! I love the idea of using the lemongrass to secure the packages... alas, the stuff I can get seems a bit too tough and brittle for that purpose.

I just have to plant ginger, I had no idea I could grown it by myself! Thanks Lydia!

This looks yummy, and now I want to try growing ginger myself. Thanks!

I've heard of many ways to store ginger, but this is the first time I've heard of planting it! Thanks for the info, I may give this a try in a flowerpot.

I love seeing the photo of Julia digging ginger root. Since I've only ever seen it in the supermarket, it's nice to finally get a look at its actual origins. I just love ginger - the more bite, the better!

love this! Thanks. Storing the ginger in the ground is genius. I've been planting my green onions, but it's nice to see a way to make ginger stretch. Lately, it's been so humid my ginger is sending out new fingers, on my windowsill!!

The fish looks great - I've been looking for a good recipe to steam it on the grill. We love Chinese steamed fish with ginger and green onion, but in these hot months I'm kind of LOATHE to turn on the stove and make all that steam. Thanks!

Mmmm, ginger. One of my favorite ingredients. The NYTimes had an article recently about homemade ginger ale http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/20/dining/20ginger.html that mentions one of my favorite local coffeeshops in Ann Arbor, which is well-known for its Ginger Fizz drink. Yum!

What a beautiful photo. Can you use the tops too? I set some ginger in a pot about a month ago and nothing is happening (keeping the soil a little damp, but we're in the New England cold so far this "summer." Hoping for the best anyway. And curious about the onion comment. Should we be putting sprouting onions in soil -- maybe to use the tops?

I like that you grilled the fish. Too bad you didn't use the banana leaves. They impart a unique flavor to the dish. Thanks for sharing the recipe! It's nice to see that there is interest in Hmong cooking.

I love ginger! I have big plans for a "root crop" section in my garden next year (involves moving the mint into big pots, so that's not happening this year.) When I do you must remind me about planting some ginger.

Love the sound of the recipe too. Can't wait to get this book!

We always have ginger on hand too. It is one of my favourite seasonings. Your dinner looks so flavourful and healthy.

Ginger is the best for steamed fish...goes so well together. And you just reminded me that I was so mad at myself because I could not find my ginger in the refrigerator yesterday. :)

Sounds like we are all off to plant ginger. I wonder how it will do in flower pots.

Susan, great questions to which I don't have answers. But I'm going to look up about the ginger greens and get back to you on that one.

Nate, I live 20 miles from the nearest Asian market, so no banana leaves this time, but I'd love to try the recipe again with banana leaves.

I am a huge fan of anything cooked in a packet -- I love the way the ingredients come together in whisps of this and that.

And storing ginger in the ground is ingenious! I can't wait to pick up a nob and a pot and try it.

TA DA! After wondering above if my ginger would sprout, what did I see when I got home? A good inch plus of sprout, looking very green and erect... This is going to be fun!

You fish in packet must be so delicious. I've never seen fresh ginger. Just the one in stores. I love ginger. It hads such a great taste in many dishes. :)

This is fabulous! Count me in on those going off to pot some ginger!

I didn't know I could grow my own ginger. I'm going to try it. ;-)


Yep, we're all planting ginger! And I think we should plant it in Susan's garden, where there must be very fertile soil; her ginger has sprouted so quickly!

Perhaps Susan lives where the sun actually shines in the summer ;-) I've been told you can eat the green shoots, but have never tried cooking them.

I'm a huge ginger fan... this looks great! :)

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