Talk about leading a spicy life and getting around: Ginger does it all.
Making the scene from main dish to dessert, from Singapore to Seattle, ginger is always hot stuff.
Hardly high fashion in the looks department, ginger is a knobby, brown root, or more accurately, a rhizome. You can buy it that way, or as a ground spice, or even in a candied or crystallized form.
But if ginger's appearance is plain, its personality is not. Add ginger's spicy-hot flavor to a dish, and your taste buds will sit up and take notice.
Cooks have been doing just that for a few thousand years in southern Asia, where ginger got its start. Ginger turns up in Indian curries, chutneys and meat seasonings, Chinese stir-fries, Japanese marinades and many other incarnations.
Ginger was a hit in medieval Europe. And Queen Elizabeth I supposedly invented the gingerbread man by ordering ginger-flavored cakes baked in the shape of her friends.
Since then, in Europe and America, ginger has been a popular spice in treats from cookies to puddings to pumpkin pie.
All of which points up this spice's talent for traveling easily from entree to dessert, as the following recipes illustrate. Among them you'll find plum-orange glazed chicken; stir-fried vegetables in black-bean sauce; and spiced ginger cake with candied ginger cream -- all brightened with ginger's lively taste.
After peeling fresh ginger root, you can mince, slice or grate it, depending on the recipe. If you don't need the entire root for a recipe, slice off and peel the amount you need.
Store unpeeled ginger root in sherry. You can experiment with freezing ginger root, wrapped in foil, but success may depend on conditions in your refrigerator's freezing compartment. In some, the ginger stays firm, but in others it turns mushy.
Plum-orange glazed chicken
1/3 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons Chinese plum sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 skinless and boneless chicken breast halves
1 teaspoon oil
Stir together the orange juice, plum sauce, mustard, ginger, vinegar and red pepper flakes. Put the chicken into a glass pan and add the marinade. Turn to coat the chicken. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or overnight.
Remove chicken from marinade. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. When hot, add chicken. Cook 5 minutes and baste with marinade. Turn chicken and continue cooking 4 to 5 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink when cut.
Per serving: 182 calories; 27 g protein; 4 g fat; 7 g carbohydrates; 102 mg sodium; 73 mg cholesterol.
This is adapted from "Asian Vegetarian Feast" by Ken Hom.
Makes about 1/3 cup
2 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped ginger root
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a food processor combine ginger, garlic, coriander and basil. Add oils, salt and pepper, processing to a paste. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Remove from refrigerator about 30 minutes before using.
Note: Use pesto on fine pasta, such as vermicelli or angel hair, or spread on fish before baking. Or stir into hot, cooked white rice.
Per 2 tablespoon serving: 148 calories; 1 g protein; 15 g fat; 3 g carbohydrates; 224 mg sodium; no cholesterol.
This recipe is from "Turn It Up!" by Janet Hazen.
Spiced ginger cake with candied ginger cream
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 1/2 teaspoons ground mace
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger root
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup finely chopped candied (sugared) ginger
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with vegetable cooking spray, or grease and flour pan. For cake, sift together first seven ingredients.
With an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and oil until pale and smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in carrots and fresh ginger.
Slowly add dry ingredients, mixing well. Stir in nuts. Transfer the batter to prepared pan and bake on the middle rack about 40 minutes, or until cake tests done in center. Cool on a rack.
For cream, with electric mixer, beat cream on high until soft peaks form. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until it holds its shape. Stir in candied ginger.
Serve the cake with a dollop of candied ginger cream on the side.
Per serving: 686 calories; 7 g protein; 46 g fat; 64 g carbohydrates; 368 mg sodium; 98 mg cholesterol.
This recipe is from "Pacific Flavors" by Hugh Carpenter.
Thai shrimp with mango dressing
1 pound shelled and de-veined medium shrimp or prawns
1 red bell pepper, quartered, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded, cut into thin slices
8 ounces spinach leaves, stemmed and washed
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 medium green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
1 medium-sized ripe mango
4 to 5 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese chili sauce or 1/2 teaspoon hot chili oil
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
For the salad, bring a pan of water to the boil, add the prawns and cook 2 minutes, or until pink, curled and cooked through. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again. Transfer to a paper towel-lined bowl and refrigerate.
Prepare the pepper, cucumber and spinach leaves. Refrigerate.
For the dressing, peel the mango and cut the fruit off the center seed into a food processor. Add lime juice, brown sugar, fish sauce, chili sauce or oil and ginger. Process until smooth. Refrigerate.
To serve, shred spinach leaves with kitchen scissors. Combine with shrimp, pepper, cucumber, pine nuts, onions and cilantro. Stir in the dressing and serve.
Per serving: 201 calories; 20 g protein; 4 g fat; 24 g carbohydrates; 690 mg sodium; 148 mg cholesterol.
This "Healthy Side-Dishes" recipe is from Williams-Sonoma.
Stir-fried vegetables in black-bean sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 carrots, peeled, cut into sticks 1/4 -inch wide-by-2-inches long
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 narrow zucchini, cut into thin sticks 2 inches long
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
1 medium clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger root
1 to 2 tablespoons water (optional)
2 teaspoons Asian black-bean sauce
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
In a large, deep, nonstick frying pan or wok set over medium-high heat, warm the vegetable oil, swirling it around in the pan. When hot, add the carrots and cauliflower, stirring occasionally, until coated with oil and lightly glazed, about 1 1/2 minutes.
Add zucchini, bell pepper, garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes. (Add 1 to 2 tablespoons water if vegetables stick to the pan.)
Combine sauces, sherry, vinegar and dissolved cornstarch. Add to pan, stir to mix and cook, stirring, 1 minute, until sauce thickens and coats vegetables.
Per serving: 83 calories; 2 g protein; 4 g fat; 10 g carbohydrates; 121 mg sodium; no cholesterol.