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Smoking Hot - Ginger

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
© Provided by DKBooks


This tropical rhizome has been used in many forms across Asia for centuries. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has extraordinary culinary and medicinal value, and it would impossible to cook Asian food without it. Every part of the ginger stem can be utilized, imparting an exhilarating spiciness to salads or seafood dishes. The flesh can be pounded, and the juice squeezed from the pulp to be added to dressings and soups. The remaining pulp becomes a staple ingredient in countless curry pastes, or provides the base for many cooked dishes. The skin is used to flavor stocks, broths, braises, and poaching liquids. Ginger can also cut richness, when it is paired with. for example, coconut cream, pork, or roasted duck.

Balancing flavors

Ginger plays an essential role in the balance of Asian cooking. It can be part of a larger group of flavors with other herbs and spices, or take more of a lead role in the flavor of a dish. When eaten on its own, ginger is hot and peppery, and you would think too overpowering to go with milder elements, but when blended with other ingredients its chameleon-like properties come to the fore. It partners well with chile, with garlic, and with the sour elements of lemon, lemongrass, lime juice, and lime leaves favored in Southeast Asia. The pink-tinged flesh of young ginger is delicious pickled in rice vinegar. Known as gari in Japan, it is served alongside every portion of sushi the world over. This “baby” ginger is served in syrup in China, and crystallized for use in confectionery and desserts. Young green ginger flowers are delicious at the beginning of the season. They can be stir-fried, imparting their ginger essence and the crisp texture of asparagus. A wild ginger, or gra chai, is used in salads, and marinades for curing fish. It has a milder, earthier taste and wetter texture.

“Ginger plays an essential role in the balance of Asian cooking. It can be part of a larger group of flavors with other herbs and spices, or take more of a lead role in the flavor profile of a dish.”

Good medicine

Across Asia, ginger is widely used for its medicinal qualities as an antioxidant, its ability to boost the immune system to fight colds and headaches, and to aid digestion. It helps to combat nausea and is also said to counter many of the bacteria that cause sickness when meat and fish are past their best, which can happen quickly in tropical Asian climates. In the holistic schools of ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, in particular, ginger has an important role because of its digestive properties, among other things.


Cousins of the ginger rhizome are also important in Asian cooking. One of these is galangal (Alpinia spp.), which has a much more fiery, indeed almost medicinal taste than its counterpart. Galangal is largely used in Thailand and Indonesia as a key ingredient in many curry pastes. It is also often found sliced in soups such as tom yam, which translates as “hot and sour.” It was not until after the Spanish and Portuguese brought back examples of South America’s bountiful natural larder that chiles found their way into Thailand in the late 16th century. For centuries previous, ginger and galangal provided the heat and spiciness that form the basis of Thai cooking.


Bright orange turmeric (Curcuma domestica) is used fresh in Southeast Asian and South Indian cooking. It has a clean spicy taste similar to ginger and is highly valued for medicinal uses from China across Southeast Asia to India. It has even found champions in Western circles for its purported anti-cancer properties. In Bali, turmeric is the main ingredient of jarmu, a liquid herbal base of medicines used in the region. Turmeric is also famed for its dyeing properties—everything that it touches turns a bright yellow.

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