Sunday, February 16, 2003

Serve it this week: Ginger

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

History: The root or rhizome we call ginger is a native of tropical Asia. Although it was an expensive import, probably from India, ginger was loved by ancient Roman cooks. Because it was shipped in root form, ginger was less perishable and more plentiful than most other spices from Asia. Ginger may have disappeared from Europe after the fall of Rome, but it reappeared after Marco Polo rediscovered it in China and India in the 13th century. By the next century, ginger had become relatively affordable and available in Europe. The English, especially, were fond of it, and transported this affection to North America. Ginger was included in the standard rations of American soldiers during the Revolution. Today, most ginger is commercially grown in Jamaica, followed by India, Africa and China.

Buy: Look for fresh ginger with smooth skin and spicy fragrance.

Store: Fresh, unpeeled ginger root can be stored, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to three weeks and frozen for up to six months. To use frozen ginger, slice off a piece of the unthawed root and return rest to freezer. Another storage method is to cover peeled, fresh ginger with sherry or Madeira wine and refrigerate, covered, for up to three months. Use the ginger-flavored wine in cooking.

Prepare: Peel away the thin skin of ginger root before using in Asian, Indian and other dishes. Dried, ground ginger imparts wonderful flavor to baked goods and some savory dishes, but is usually not considered a suitable substitute for fresh. In a pinch, crystallized ginger can be substituted for fresh (1/4 cup minced crystallized ginger for 1 tablespoon minced fresh). Wash sugar off crystallized ginger before using as a substitute.

Good for you: In different forms (such as ginger ale), ginger has been used to treat everything from seasickness to bubonic plague to digestive problems.

Ginger-Wine Broccoli Stir-Fry

1 large head broccoli

2 teaspoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons peanut oil

4 slices peeled, fresh ginger

4 large cloves garlic, crushed

1/3 cup pale dry sherry

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Remove florets from broccoli and bring large pot of salted water to boil. Boil the florets (save stalks for another use) until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and set aside. Stir cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water until smooth. Set aside.

Place large pan or wok over high heat. When hot, add peanut oil and swirl pan to coat surface. Add sliced ginger and crushed garlic. Stir and press until garlic is lightly golden.

Add blanched broccoli florets and stir until lightly coated with oil. Combine sherry, soy sauce, brown sugar and sesame oil in small bowl. Add to hot wok and toss to blend well.

Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 30 seconds. Add cornstarch mixture and stir. Cook, uncovered, until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

Joy of Cooking (Scribner; $30)

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Serve it this week: Ginger
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