Jan 19, 2012

Hawaiian Ginger, The Spice of Life.

Hawaiian yellow ginger,
photo courtesy of  Pinner Creek Organics
Ever since I was a teenager, drinking ginger beer, I have loved the taste of ginger. It wasn't until I moved to Hawaii that I really began to appreciate the fact that this plant is not only delicious, and good for you, but its flower is also fragrant and beautiful. Ginger is a native plant of tropical Asia. Ginger root is the underground rhizome that you see in most grocery stores. Raw ginger, used in many Oriental recipes, has a very intense flavor. The pungent taste comes from the same family of molecules that cause the heat of chili peppers. The older the ginger root gets, the more intense the flavor.


Ginger has been used for centuries worldwide for its many health benefits. It contains nutrients like potassium, phosphorous, riboflavin, and vitamin C. It also contains zingiberene, a protein-digesting enzyme which helps digestion. Ginger's enzymes are also considered an effective anti-inflammatory alleviating the symptoms and pain of arthritis. It also is an antioxidant more powerful than Vitamin E. In 1980, Cornell Medical school researchers published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine saying that ginger inhibited the process of platelet aggregation. Ginger strengthens the heart muscle, lowers the serum cholesterol, and interferes with cholesterol biosynthesis. Ginger is also an analgesic (painkiller like aspirin), antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal, kills parasites, and counters nausea and seasickness. No wonder it is considered a health phenomena!


Many varieties of ginger are cultivated worldwide, however Hawaii only grows two types of ginger, white and yellow. White ginger is larger and less pungent than yellow ginger. Yellow ginger has a stronger, sweeter flavor and most likely came to Hawaii in the 1880's with the Japanese sugar cane workers. It is harvested young because it has less fiber, however the roots flesh is still firm, succulent, fragrant, warm, peppery and sweet. Hawaiian yellow ginger is primarily used fresh and can usually be found in health food stores. The majority of ginger grown in Hawaii is white ginger, that's the ginger you see in the supermarket, however a lot of white ginger is dried and ground into powder to become the familiar kitchen spice used in cookies, bread and other bakery goods. Ginger makes delicious pickles to be served along side sashimi. It can be candied, or steeped with sugar and water to make a simple syrup that can be used in granitas and sorbets. Mince fine and use as a last minute addition to stir fries, or whisk into salad dressings. Check out this website featuring a family owned farm on the Big Island of Hawaii that grows delicious yellow ginger and sells it online, "Pinner Creek Organics".  http://www.pinnercreekorganics.com/yellowginger.html

Crystalized Ginger
Click on photo to enlarge
Crystallized Ginger
Have you ever wondered why the Chinese and Japanese frequently add ginger to their food? It helps digestion, facilitates absorption, helps with flatulence, and helps prevent nausea. A delicious way to enjoy ginger is to crystallize it. You can buy ginger already crystallized, but it can be hard to find, and is sometimes expensive. I like to make my own, it's very easy to do, here's the recipe:

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus extra sugar for coating
1 cup fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch slices

Procedure:
Combine water and 1 1/2 cups sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add ginger, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer ginger to a wire rack, set over a pan, and dehydrate in a very low 170˚F convection oven for 1 hour, or dehydrator until dry, and then cut into smaller 1/4 inch pieces. Roll the small pieces of ginger in additional sugar. Store in an airtight container for up to three months. Use in recipes, or just pop a couple of pieces in your mouth every day.

Lemon Cookies with Crystallized Ginger
Ingredients:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped candied ginger
1 large egg
2 tablespoons vanilla
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup water

Procedure for the cookies: Beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the ginger and beat for 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well blended. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and beat till just combined.

Divide the dough into two equal pieces; roll each half between two pieces of parchment paper to 1/4” thick. Cut dough into 2” circles (dipping your cutter in flour between cuts). Freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 350˚F; line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place one sheet of dough onto a cutting board remove parchment paper. Using a thin spatula, carefully transfer cookies to your prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, for 10-12 minutes or till lightly browned around the edges. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Re-roll scraps and repeat until you’ve used up all of the dough.

Procedure for the glaze: Whisk confectioner’s sugar, lemon zest and juice, honey, water and a pinch of salt till smooth. Using a fork, drizzle the glaze over the cooled cookies. Let stand till glaze is set (about 30 minutes).

Pickled Ginger
Ingredients:
2 pounds fresh young ginger root
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups rice vinegar
2 cups sugar

Procedure:
Peel the ginger root with a small spoon. Cut the ginger into thin slices using a carrot peeler or mandolin,  and salt them. Leave the ginger in a bowl for one hour, dry with paper towels, then put the ginger into a large sterilized jar. Mix rice vinegar and sugar in a pan and bring to a boil. Pour the hot mixture of vinegar and sugar on the ginger. Cool, then cover with a lid and place in the refrigerator for a week. Note: The pickled ginger lasts about a month in the refrigerator. Serve with sushi or just enjoy eating it by itself. Makes about 2 cups.

Grilled Honey-Ginger Salmon
Ingredients:
3 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic
1/3 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons orange zest
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup honey
1 green onion, chopped
1 1/2 pounds of salmon fillets

Procedure:
In a large self-closing plastic bag, combine first seven ingredients; mix well. Place salmon in bag and seal tightly. Turn bag gently to distribute marinade. Refrigerate 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes for stronger flavor. Turn bag occasionally. Lightly grease grill rack. Preheat grill to medium heat. Remove salmon from marinade; reserve the marinade. Grill 12-15 minutes per inch of thickness or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Brush with reserved marinade up until the last 5 minutes of cooking time. Discard leftover marinade. Make 4 servings.

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