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November 2000 Issue
Ginger -- Zingiber officinale
by Rossana S. Tarantini
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Ginger is one of the most widely used spices in the world. Essential in Asian and Indian dishes containing meat, seafood or vegetables, it is also integral in Japanese marinades. You could almost say that there is no Chinese cuisine without it -- at least no respectable stir-fry. In America you find it mostly in desserts and baking but it is quickly becoming popular in many other dishes. Add a pinch of ginger in any dish where you're cutting down the salt, add it to chicken soup, sautéed vegetables and roast chicken or pork. For a great steak, rub ginger, garlic and black pepper into the meat and let it sit a couple of hours before grilling. I find the addition of ginger to my meatballs helps to cut down on the acidity of the sauce they simmer in.

Ginger has slightly lemony overtones with a very pungent flavour and can be bought in many forms. Powdered is the form of choice for all types of baking including gingerbread and coffee cakes. Cracked ginger is used traditionally for pickling and canning but is also being used more and more in marinades, sauces and stocks. Whole root ginger can be kept indefinitely. It can be grated, sliced, diced, or pieces of it can be broken off. A piece of a drier root makes a nice addition to a pot of stock or a fruit sauce. Crystallized ginger is ginger that has been peeled, diced and preserved using a sugar cure method. It's perfect for baking and candy making and is also good in teriyaki or sweet and sour marinades because it keeps its pungency and bite even with the candy coating.

A decoction of fresh ginger root is said to aid greatly in the fighting of colds and flu.

Ginger is a perennial that grows about 3 feet high. It's reedy looking with spiky green leaves and flowers that are mauve and yellow. The flavour is in the root of the plant just under the surface of the soil. A "hand" of ginger is usually approximately 6 inches, beige on the outside and a pale creamy yellow on the inside. It can easily be grown out of pieces of live root. But be forewarned, not all the ginger in the supermarket is still living and viable, while perfectly good for use in cooking, it will not necessarily be good for sprouting. You may need to buy several roots and plant them all, then exercise great patience. Ginger will probably not show any greenery for at least a month, probably even more. Ginger can spend the summers outside, but adapt it slowly to the light by giving it rest periods in the shade. It will, however, grow just as nicely if you keep it indoors entirely.

My friend Steven -- the Scotsman living in Germany -- had such fun on our last collaboration that he wanted to do it again. The following recipes -- and be forewarned there are quite a few of them -- are all his. Any notations and anecdotes with the recipes are his as well.

I know they're all wonderful, but you try them out for yourself. Since there are so many recipes in this month's column, here's a quick rundown of what's in store for you:

Okay . . . handing over the column to Steven. Dear readers, please meet Steven Dougan, a very dear friend and a chef par excellence!!

Unless stated otherwise, all dishes serve 4 people.

Fresh ginger should be peeled before use, it can be replaced by dried ginger but it will make a big difference in the taste, as the dried form does not have the same aroma. I have tried both and much prefer the fresh variation.

Some of these recipes have 5 pepper mixture as one of the ingredients. In Europe, we can get this mixture in any Asian shopping center. It is a mixture of black, white, rosé, and green pepper corns with pimento berries. If you do not have access to 5 pepper mixture, then just use freshly ground black pepper.

You will also find the use of 5 aroma powder in some of these recipes. This is a mixture of aniseed, fennel seeds, cloves, Szechwan pepper, and cinnamon. You can buy it ready mixed, or mix your own as I do, since I prefer a bit more Szechwan pepper in mine. (Some men like it hot!)

Many of these recipes are adapted from Ken Hom Travels with a Hot Wok -- some the way described in the book and others with slight changes, adapted to my own taste. I highly recommend this book to all lovers of eastern cooking.


Grilled Scampi with Hot-Spicy South-East-Asian Sauce

For the Scampi
  • Some thin bamboo sticks for the skewers
  • 450g. raw scampi
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon 5 pepper mixture, or freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil, extra virgin
For the Sauce
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon seeded and finely chopped fresh red chili
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon 5 pepper mixture, or freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, extra virgin
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons of a sweet rice wine
Soak the skewers in warm water for about 15 minutes.

Shell and clean the scampi. Then wash them in cold water with a tablespoon of salt. Let them drain and repeat the process with fresh salted water. Rinse well and dab dry with a kitchen towel.

Mix the rest of the salt with the pepper and olive oil. Mix the scampi into the mixture making sure that the scampi are coated all over. Then skewer them on the bamboo sticks.

Place all the ingredients for the sauce in a blender and blend until they have the texture of a paste. Grill the scampi under your oven grill or do them on your barbecue, for about 2 minutes each side. Serve straight away on warmed plates, sprinkled with the spicy sauce.


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