Saturday, November 12, 2016

GIN UP FLAVOR WITH GINGER

A Spanish friend of mine was extolling the virtues of ginger. He said he likes to finely chop ginger in a food processor, put it in ice cube trays and freeze it. Cubes of ginger, ready to pop into a curry, a cocktail, a pot of herbal tea.


I was surprised, as ginger is a spice that is hardly used at all in Spanish cooking, at least not since medieval times. He inspired me to delve into my ginger repertoire.

Ginger is a rhizome, not a root. Knobs of it with fresh sprouting tips can be planted in a pot for an exotic house plant. Ginger in Spanish markets (jengibre) is imported from China.

I adore ginger. So when I get a taste for that lively, piquant spice, I turn to other cuisines—Chinese, Southeast Asian, Indian, Moroccan. Luckily, I can find most of the ingredients I need in Costa del Sol supermarkets.

On the palate, ginger is at the same time “hot,” as in biting, sharp, and “cool,” as in refreshing. It's slightly bitter and also subtly fruity-sweet. Ginger combines especially well with tropical fruits, such as mango, banana and pineapple. But it complements fruits such as apples, pears and cranberries as well.

Ginger is a natural with carrots, pumpkin, cabbage and eggplant. (I’m thinking Brussels sprouts with ginger and pumpkin pie with ginger instead of the ubiquitous pumpkin pie spice.)

In Asian cooking, ginger is essential with fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon, and with shellfish such as shrimp and crab. It is used with meat such as pork and sausage; with game and with variety meats such as kidneys. Ginger is a perfect seasoning for chicken, duck and turkey.

And, of course, there’s gingerbread, in all its variations. While usually made with dry, powdered ginger, these cakes and cookies can also be made with grated fresh ginger.

Here’s my ginger-themed dinner party menu.

Ginger in everything! At the top are hors d'oeuvres--quail eggs with gingered fish paste, wrapped in spinach leaves, and chopped fish steamed in banana leaves with ginger, coconut milk. On the left is a noodle salad with squid, shrimp and mango. The main dish, served with jasmine rice, is a Thai curry with chicken, coconut milk and peanut sauce. On the right is sambal, chiles with ginger.

Pink ginger ale (recipe below).

The banana leaves cut from the neighbors' garden proved too stiff to fold around the fish mixture. So these patties (right) were steamed in aluminum foil. Combine the chopped fish (I used corvina)  with Thai red curry paste, coconut milk, grated ginger, nuoc mam fish sauce, rice flour and beaten egg. Place a spoonful on banana leaf squares or foil, fold. Cook in a steamer over boiling water for 20 minutes. Serve hot or cold.   The hard-boiled quail eggs (left) are encased in a surimi fish paste with egg white, wrapped in spinach leaves and steamed 5 minutes.

Gingery squid, tangy dressing with rice noodles, tart mango and fresh herbs--this salad makes a good starter for an Asian-inflected dinner. I served chile sauce on the side, as several guests (and one child) were averse to "hot".  (Recipe below.)

The main dish, Gai Tua, Chicken in Peanut Sauce, served with rice. This recipe comes from The Original Thai Cookbook, by Jennifer Brennan ((Perigee Books; 1981). I made the basic Thai  red curry paste using Spanish piquillo peppers instead of chilies. Besides ginger, the paste includes caraway, cumin, coriander, lime zest and garlic. The peanut sauce contains more ginger, coconut milk and peanut butter.


Dessert--a rich mango-ginger pudding with toasted coconut (recipe below).


Pink Ginger Ale
Refresco de Jengibre


This makes a refreshing non-alcoholic drink or a great mixer for highballs with gin or rum.

You can finely chop the ginger and lemon in a mini-processor. Hibiscus tea (malva in Spanish) gives the drink it’s lovely rose color. Sweeten the beverage to taste with sugar syrup or stevia or else use a sweet lemon-lime soda in place of the soda water.

Makes 6 drinks.

¼ cup minced ginger (2-inch piece)
1 slice lemon, minced
2 hibiscus tea bags
Sprig of lemon verbena (hierba luisa), optional
4 cups boiling water
Sugar syrup or liquid stevia to taste
Ice cubes
Soda water


Place the ginger, lemon, tea bags and lemon verbena, if using, in a heat-proof pitcher. Pour over boiling water. Cover and allow to steep 15 minutes. Strain the liquid into a clean pitcher or jar. (Minced ginger and lemon can be saved for another use. Discard tea bags and lemon verbena.) Sweeten the beverage with sugar syrup or stevia.

When liquid is cooled, refrigerate.

To serve, pour the pink ginger ale over ice in tall glasses and fill with soda water.

Noodle Salad with Squid, Ginger and Mango

Prepare the squid at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours in advance. Use green or unripe mango for this salad. I used two medium squid and a whole package of rice vermicelli for this salad to serve six. But the quantities can be freely varied.

Squid, cleaned of skin and innards
Chopped ginger
Rice vermicelli
Asian dressing (recipe below)
Green mango, shredded
Salt
Lemon or lime juice
Cooked and peeled shrimp
Celery, thinly sliced
Green beans, cooked and sliced crosswise
Sliced limes
Sliced scallions
Sliced cucumbers
Sprigs of mint and basil


To prepare the squid:  Cut the body pouch open lengthwise. Place it, skin side down, on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, score the flesh in ¼ -inch crosshatching. Cut the squid into 1 ½-inch pieces. Score the wing flaps in the same way.

Cross-hatched squid curls when cooked. Add ginger.
Bring a pan of salted water to a boil. Drop in the squid pieces and the tentacles and cook just until the pieces curl and turn opaque, about 30 seconds. Drain and put in ice water to stop the cooking. Drain again and place the squid in a bowl. Add chopped ginger. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Cook the vermicelli according to package directions. Drain and refresh in cold water. Drain well. Place in a bowl and mix with part of the dressing. Save remaining dressing for finishing the salad.

Place the shredded mango in a small bowl and sprinkle with salt and lemon juice. Allow to stand 15 minutes.

To assemble the salad: Place the noodles on a rimmed platter. Scatter the pieces of squid and ginger on top. Add the shrimp, celery and beans. Spoon remaining dressing over the salad. Scatter the shredded mango on top.

Garnish the platter with sliced lime, scallions, cucumbers and sprigs of mint and basil.

For the dressing:
½ cup lime or lemon juice
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (nuoc mam or naam pla)
½ teaspoon minced ginger
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
Chilies, minced, to taste, or sriracha chile sauce
Warm water


Combine all ingredients. Add enough water to dilute the flavors to taste.

Mango-Ginger Pudding
Espuma de Mango y Jengibre

This is somewhat like panna cotta. Coconut milk can be substituted for part of the milk to emphasize the tropical flavors.

Serves 6.

Grate ginger.
1 ½ cups milk
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 cup cream
Sugar, about ¼ cup
1 cup pureed mango
Sugar to taste
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
Toasted grated coconut (optional)


Place ½ cup of the milk in a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Allow to soak 5 minutes. Heat, stirring, until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Add the remaining 1 cup milk, the cream and the sugar to the pan. Heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is just beginning to bubble. Remove from heat and whisk in the mango, ginger and lemon zest.

Divide the mixture between 6 ½-cup bowls or glasses. Refrigerate until the pudding is set, at least 12 hours.

Serve the pudding in the same bowls garnished, if desired, with toasted coconut.


More recipes with ginger:
Quince and ginger olive oil cake.  (This recipe is from Virgin Territory by Nancy Harmon Jenkins.)


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