Thursday, June 20, 2024

Give classic recipes a grand entrance with warm, tangy ginger

Fresh ginger is one of those key ingredients I try to always have in the fridge. I will admit, though, the little gnarled knobs do sometimes get buried in my crisper and forgotten, only to be discovered dried up, shriveled and sometimes (ack!) moldy.

Recently, I read about two ways to freeze fresh ginger so that you always have it on hand. While I’ve yet to try it out myself, it sounded good, and I’ve included instructions below.

I’ve always used a small, sharp knife to peel ginger, but some people swear by a vegetable peeler. Always look for ginger that’s plump and fresh-looking, with no dry or shriveled parts and a taut skin.

The fresher it is, the more juice there is — and the more flavor. Stringy fibers run lengthwise through each “finger” of ginger, so you want to cut across the grain like you would with a steak.

My experience in Mazatlán is that certain vendors in the mercado will always have great-looking fresh ginger, as opposed to the chain grocery stores, where perhaps it doesn’t sell so fast. One stand here that sells dried chiles, beans and grains, piloncillo and honeys also has turmeric root and fresh ginger.

ginger barbecue sauce
Basting with a ginger-infused barbecue sauce is a great way to add flavor excitement to just about anything you might grill.

In fact, turmeric and ginger are all in the same family — and also quite easy to grow. Like potatoes, fresh, plump pieces of ginger can be planted. Bright-green sprouts grow out of each eye (again, like a potato); the plant looks like bamboo.

The rhizomes form clumps underground and take seven to nine months until they’re ready for harvest. Pull up the whole plant, shake off the dirt, keep what you want, then separate the eyes and replant the rest.

In Mexico, fresh ginger is used mostly for medicinal teas and in some molés, birrias and enchilada sauces. Cochinitos, those cute pig cookies, have powdered ginger to give them their distinctive taste. The warm, spicy flavor of fresh ginger is essential in things like Asian stirfries and sauces, a host of desserts and pastries and a veritable smorgasbord of hot and cold drinks.

To freeze fresh ginger: Choose the freshest, plumpest ginger root you can find with no shriveled ends.

Method #1: Purée

No need to peel! Thinly slice it against the grain. In a blender, process with just enough water that it can blend into a thick, smooth-ish paste. Scoop into a zip-top bag and freeze it in a thin, flat square. To use, simply break off a piece.

Method #2: Whole

Keep ginger in as big a knob as possible but peel it well. Wrap tightly in plastic and keep in freezer. Use a grater or microplane to grate flakes for using in your recipe.

Ginger Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar (any kind)
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 cup sliced fresh ginger root, peeled

In a saucepan on medium heat, combine sugar and water. Stir constantly until sugar dissolves, add ginger and bring syrup to a light boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Steep in the covered pan for 1 hour or until it reaches your preferred taste. Strain out ginger; store in a tightly sealed bottle.

Options: Add 1 tsp. vanilla extract or a whole vanilla bean. Or add a jalapeño or serrano pepper to the simmering syrup for a few minutes, being careful to remove it before it gets too spicy.

Pineapple Ginger Margarita

  • ¾ oz. fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz. Ginger Simple Syrup (see above)
  • 1 ½ oz. tequila
  • 1 oz. pineapple juice
  • Garnish: Lime wedge

In a cocktail shaker, muddle lime juice and simple syrup. Add tequila and pineapple juice; fill shaker with ice. Shake well. Pour into glass filled with ice. Garnish with lime wedge.

Beer, Lemongrass and Ginger Marinade for Steak

  • 1 (12-oz.) bottle lager beer
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 (6-inch) length fresh lemongrass, lightly bruised with the blunt side of a knife
  • 2-inch strip fresh lime zest
  • 1-inch knob peeled fresh ginger, sliced
  • 1 tsp. toasted coriander seed
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme, if available
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2-3 pounds steak of your choice

In a large zip-top bag, combine beer, oil, lemongrass, zest, ginger, coriander, thyme and salt. Swish until salt dissolves. Add steak, press out air and seal. Refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours. When ready to cook, remove steak from marinade, blot dry with paper towels and grill as desired.

Ginger vinaigrette
Dress salad up with an Asian flair with this Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette and add some flavor accents such as edamame and sesame seeds.

Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette

  • 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 3½ Tbsp. honey
  • ¼ cup sesame oil
  • 1/3 cup peanut or mild vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, minced
  • 2 tsp. sesame seeds

Mix everything together, shake well.

Pumpkin Spice Blend

Who needs Starbucks when you can make your own?!

  • 2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp. ground ginger
  • 1½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves

Mix all ingredients together and store in a well-sealed jar for up to 2 weeks.

Ginger Banana Smoothie

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 8 oz plain yogurt
  • 2 pitted dates
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
  • ¼ cup milk, coconut water or plain water
  • ¼ tsp. ground cardamom
  • Pinch salt

In blender, process everything until completely smooth.

Asian BBQ Sauce

Great on grilled chicken, steak or veggies.

  • 2 cups ketchup
  • ½ cup Dijon mustard
  • ½ cup brown sugar or grated piloncillo
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh, minced ginger
  • ½ cup minced green onions
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil

Whisk together all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally; remove from heat. Let cool.

Use as a basting sauce towards the end of cooking or brush on after barbecuing.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006.

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