Ingredient SpotLight

Ginger (botanical name Zingiber officinale) is in the same family as turmeric and cardamom. It is native to Southern Asia and has long been a staple addition to Asian cuisines. It's equally at home in sweet and savory dishes and recipes. The gnarled root of the plant is used in cooking. Ginger is available in six forms: fresh, dried, pickled, preserved, crystallized (or candied), and powdered or ground. Its flavor is peppery and slightly sweet, with a pungent and spicy aroma. Keep in mind that fresh ginger, much like garlic, mellows with cooking, and turns bitter if you burn it. Since it's so versatile, I'm offering two very different recipes featuring ginger this month. Enjoy!

Crab and Pork Spring Rolls

  • 1/2 oz. dried wood ear mushrooms (about 2)
  • 6 oz. ground pork
  • 1/4 lb. jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over
  • 1 whole large egg, lightly beaten, plus 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten separately
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 scallion, finely chopped
  • 2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 30 Vietnamese rice-paper wedges*
  • About 6 cups peanut or vegetable oil

Cover the mushrooms with hot water by 1 inch in a bowl and soak them for 20 minutes (the mushrooms will expand). Drain them in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse thoroughly, then drain again. Trim off and discard any hard parts from the mushrooms, then finely chop them. (You should have about 3 tablespoons.)

Stir together the mushrooms, pork, crabmeat, beaten whole egg, cilantro, ginger, scallion, garlic, and salt in a bowl until combined well.

Line a tray with wax paper. Put a double thickness of paper towels on a work surface and fill a shallow baking pan with warm water. Discard any rice-paper wedges with holes. Soak 1 wedge in warm water until pliable, 30 seconds to 1 minute, then carefully transfer it to paper towels, arranging it with the curved side of the wedge nearest you.

Put 1 tablespoon of the filling in the middle of the curved side about 1/2 inch from the edge and shape the filling horizontally into a 2 3/4-inch log. Fold the left and right corners of the wedge over the filling, overlapping slightly and aligning the bottom edges. (The wedge will resemble an open envelope.)

Dab the top corner with some yolk, then tightly roll up the wedge away from you, making sure the ends stay tucked inside. (Be sure to roll up the wedges tightly or air pockets will prevent them from browning evenly when fried.) Put the roll, seam side down, on a tray and loosely cover it with plastic wrap. Make more rolls in same manner, transferring them to the tray and arranging 1/2 inch apart. Keep them loosely covered until you ready to fry them.

Heat about 1 inch of oil in a 5- to 6-quart pot over moderately high heat until it registers 365°F on the thermometer. Fry the rolls in batches of 5 or 6, keeping them apart during the first minute of frying to prevent sticking and stirring occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer them with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. (Return the oil to 365°F between batches.)

*Found in Asian markets.
  • Yields: 10 servings
  • Preparation Time: 2 hours

Triple-Ginger Cookies

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup light (mild-flavored) molasses
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh peeled ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/3 cup (about) sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Whisk the flour, crystallized ginger, baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter in a large bowl until it's creamy and light, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in both brown sugars. Beat on medium-high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg, molasses, fresh ginger, ground ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Beat to blend. Add the flour mixture in 2 additions, beating on low speed just to blend between additions.

Place 1/3 cup of sugar in a small bowl. Roll one teaspoon of dough into ball between palms of your hands, then roll it in the sugar in the bowl to coat; place it on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough, spacing the cookies 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart.

Bake the cookies until the surfaces crack and the cookies are firm around the edges but still slightly soft in the center, about 15 minutes. Cool completely on a cooling rack.

  • Yields: About 3 dozen cookies
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour