Had you asked me a dozen years ago how I felt about ginger, I’d’ve been pretty dismissive of it. My experience of it at that time, as a non-cook, was limited to gingerbread and ginger ale, both of which I quite liked but neither of which I would have raved about. Even a few years after that, after having discovered a budding fondness for the kitchen, it was not an ingredient I used more than occasionally, usually in ground form in a Chinese concoction of some variety and even then only because the recipe said so and I do hate to veer from the instructions. The taste and smell did not particularly inspire me at the time.
As I’ve aged, so my attitude to ginger has changed. After discovering root ginger I went through a phase of considering it a necessary evil; dishes weren’t quite the same without it, but I detested the job of having to peel and grate it. In trying to find a swifter way of dealing with the annoying stuff I managed to break not one, but two garlic crushers. Take my advice and don’t try this, there’s just not enough give in raw ginger.
More recently, we have included a handful of dishes containing ginger into our regular menu, and I have to say I tend to put rather more ginger in on the whole than the recipes suggest, as I now find the taste to my liking. One is a paneer, pea and mushroom curry, the recipe for which I will share on another occasion (I will dedicate a whole post to curries at some point – they deserve it). Another is a vegetarian chow mein, which is a fantastically fresh, mildly spicy and extremely quick dish; the third is Thai green curry. I used to use a supermarket green curry paste and scoffed at my friends for going to all the effort of making a sauce from scratch, but most pastes you can buy contain nam pla (fish sauce) and so are off limits for a vegetarian, so I make one containing light soy instead.
To divert on a mild tangent by the way, ginger is a fascinating plant. My wife and I went to Singapore on holiday a few years back now and visited a botanical garden which was pretty much devoted to gingers, which contain amongst their number some incredibly beautiful plants. This was where I discovered two of my favourite ginger-related facts: firstly, that the banana is part of the ginger family; secondly, that there is a ginger with the unlikely name of Aileen McDonald. This latter fact is amusing because I happen to work with someone bearing this exact name and, you guessed it, the lady in question has a copper top.
Returning to the theme, the thing which triggered this discussion of ginger was my recent introduction to a most wonderful drink: an alcoholic ginger beer called Crabbies. I am quite sweet-toothed when it comes to the demon drink and have never liked normal beers or lagers; I am a cider or wine drinker most of the time, and often enjoy a shandy, usually accompanied by robust ribbing. So the idea of this drink was very tempting, and the reality exceeded expectation. Strongbow made a smooth cider a few years ago which never took off but I enjoyed immensely; this ginger beer evoked a similar reaction in me. Wonderfully smooth, just sweet enough and with a lovely but subtle burn from the ginger. I am now on the lookout for cheap bulk offers for Christmas.
Stem ginger, however, I’m afraid I am still unconvinced by. My wife does a lovely dessert which is chopped stem ginger mixed in with mascarpone, dark chocolate and some form of alcohol, served in brandy snap baskets, but even there I tend to swallow the pieces of ginger without chewing them if I can help it. I am always open to trying things again though; I have a spoonful of Christmas pudding every year for example, but no joy so far (actually the two things I won’t entertain are sprouts, which are the small cabbagey vegetables of the Devil, and rice pudding, which I cannot bear to be in the same room as an open pot of). So if anyone reading this has a stem ginger recipe that will bring me round, I’d love to see it posted below.
Meanwhile I’ll revert to root ginger and include here the chow mein I mentioned above.
Vegetarian chow mein (as always, serves 2)
- 150g beansprouts
- couple of pak choi, shredded
- good handful of shiitake mushrooms
- a handful of mange touts
- an inch of root ginger, peeled and shredded or grated
- clove of grated garlic
- half a dozen spring onions
- glug of light soy
- spoonful of granulated sugar
- teaspoon or two of whisky, dry sherry or mirin if you have it
- enough medium noodles to serve two, cooked and drained (we cheat and use wok noodles) and kept to one side with some sesame oil
- a little chilli oil
- salt and pepper
Wash and chop all the veg. Throw the mushrooms, spring onions, ginger and garlic into some hot oil and stir fry for a couple of minutes, adding the mange touts after about a minute. Add the noodles, soy, sugar, alcohol and seasoning, and bubble for another couple of minutes. Keeping the heat high, add the beansprouts and pak choi and cook until the pak choi looks slightly glassy. Serve with chilli oil to taste.