4/25/12

Ginger

Yesterday, before I left for work, my husband had a bit of a sore throat that I didn't much care for the sound of, because I knew it indicated that his respiratory system was about to go on strike if I didn't act quickly. Unfortunately, before I could brew up a pot of herbal tea or something, I realised that I was running dangerously late for work, so I kissed him goodbye, and ran out the door. Last night, I got home, and felt that same annoying scratch. Time for plenty of ginger in the food.

The trick to using ginger in your cooking, so that it tastes its best, is to make sure that you don't overcook it. When you fry it in oil, it tends to get rather sticky, unless you carefully sliver or dice it. Grated ginger and hot fat do not get along very well. What's worse is that when you do grate the ginger, the flavour dissipates into the food, and any ginger lover will tell you that this is a shame. You want to actually taste the ginger, and feel its soothing feeling on your throat.

Here's a couple of things to remember:

1) Don't overcook your ginger. Unlike garlic, whose flavour can be mellowed with early cooking (such as when you add it directly to fat), ginger tends to cook rather quickly, when it's grated. When it's in large pieces, or in discrete pieces (even when said discrete pieces are rather small), it tends to keep it together, and not burn. I'm guessing that it's the rough edges of grated ginger that causes it to stick like that to the pot.

2) Don't put your ginger into huge chunks. For people who purport to dislike ginger in food, the frequent complaint (as my mother found out early on, thankfully) is that they hate to bite into a huge chunk of ginger. The theory that my mother had at the time, however, was that if it was in a large piece, you could easily pick it out. Tell that to a kid who's growing, and used to (more or less) inhaling his food, and you're going to get some choice words. Ginger, being so lightly coloured, tends to blend in with the background, and not stand out overmuch. Because of this, you want to either chop the ginger so huge as to make it impossible to miss (and thereby be able to easily remove it from the pot of food), or chop it small enough that you don't bite into large chunks of ginger, or to grate it.

If you do grate it, please add the ginger at the absolute latest point that you can, and you'll have a strong gingery flavour. If you want it to cook down a bit more to mellow a touch, go ahead and cook it, so long as you've got enough liquid in the pot to ensure that the ginger doesn't stick like glue to the bottom of the pot and burn.

In other words, when you're making a soup, stew, daal, or other liquidy thing, feel free to grate your ginger, and add it shortly before introducing liquid (should you want a mild taste). If you're making something dry cooked, like lemon rice, coconut rice, tomato rice, saag paneer, etc, if you want a mild taste, sliver the ginger as finely as you can, then chop the slivers into as small a piece as you can get it to. If you grate it, you'll have to add it towards the end of cooking, and wind up with a strong taste.

If you want a doubly strong taste, sliver then dice the ginger, and then add it towards the end. It will be dlicious.

But I digress. I told you all of that to tell you this. I made daal last night with obscene amounts of ginger, and it really helped a lot. Here's how it goes.

2 cups red lentils
1 TB canola oil
1 tsp black mustard seed
1 tsp cumin seed
1/2 tsp coriander seed
4 TB finely chopped (not grated) ginger
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
Salt & black pepper to taste
6 cups boiling water

In a pot, add the red lentils, and the boiling water. Let the lentils cook for about 8 minutes over a full rushing boil. Drop down the simmer for another 15 minutes or so. You want them cooked all the way through. While that's going, go ahead and make the spice blend. In a small pot, add the canola oil, and allow it to heat through. When it's hot, add the mustard seeds, and wait for them to pop violently. When they do, add the cumin and coriander seed, and lift up the small pot to swirl it around to combine the ingredients. When the cumin and coriander pop and sizzle and make a lovely aroma, add the chopped ginger, turmeric, and a bit of the salt. Stir around the ginger for a bit over the heat for about 2 - 3 minutes. If you try this with grated ginger, you'll get a sticky mess. If you try this with ginger paste, or ginger garlic paste, you'll get a bad smelling sticky mess. Please, just use fresh ginger, people.

When the ginger is just softened, turn off the heat. Let the spices hang out until the red lentils are cooked through. You'll know the red lentils are completely cooked when they turn completely yellow. Yes, it's normal for them to get a little broken up. Once the lentils are cooked, stir through the spices, and add pepper to taste.

Between the black pepper and the sharp ginger, your throat will feel a hundred times better.
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