Looking for a way to zing up just about anything? Enter fresh, not quite spicy, not quite sweet ginger. This healthful, fresh root is a perfect way to bolster flavor in everything from warming curry recipes and zippy dressings to bold baked goods.
Fresh ginger is technically a rhizome, but common parlance is to call it a root. It’s a terrific flavor builder, full of health benefits. It’s available in fresh form as well as ground or powdered.
When shopping for fresh ginger, look for firm, moist roots that feel heavy for their size. There will often be a rough, dried patch where the section of root was cut or broken off. No need to worry about that, but do not purchase if the root itself is dried and shriveled.
Ginger stores well on your kitchen counter for a few days, but if you’d like to keep it fresh longer, wrap it in paper towels and then in plastic and keep it in your refrigerator’s crisper. It can also be frozen if wrapped tightly in plastic. Many people peel and mince their ginger first before freezing it, for added convenience.
Despite the fact we can find it year round in most markets, fresh ginger does have a season. Young ginger can be found in the spring, usually in Asian markets, and isn’t as strong in flavor as the older grocery store root. It has a fresh lively taste and a less fibrous texture, with hardly any skin so it doesn’t need to be peeled.
It’s recommended to peel fresh ginger before using it in recipes, as the skin can be tough to digest. If the skin is particularly stubborn or thin, small patches of skin can be left on the root itself, particularly if it is going to be finely chopped and mixed with many other things. You can use a spoon, vegetable peeler or knife to peel it, and it can be easily grated with a microplane or minced with a knife.
Ginger has been known to stimulate digestion, reduce nausea and inflammation, and positively affect cholesterol levels. (Hence, ginger ale for belly aches and flu symptoms.)
Ginger has an uncanny way of livening up any dish but can easily strong-arm every dish. Here are four ways to add ginger to build balanced dishes that aren’t too spicy or too sweet:
1. Make a spicy hot tea
To brew it into hot tea, merely cut up a hunk of fresh ginger (no need to peel) and pour boiling water over it. Add a little honey and a bit of lemon and you have the perfect winter tonic. You can add bourbon, too, and call it cough syrup for grownups.
2. Stir it into soup
Fresh, grated or pureed, it brings wonderful zest to hot, creamy winter soups. It pairs particularly well with carrots, cauliflower, pumpkin and winter squashes as well as Indian spice mixes and Asian flavors.
3. Spice up stir-fries, grain bowls and salad dressings
Fresh ginger is a fantastic flavor agent for many condiments and meals. Almost every stir-fry could use a little grated or even minced ginger to spice things up. You can toss a knob into the cooking water for grains to boost flavor, and grated ginger is great in salad dressings. Spring rolls are another great place to incorporate ginger.
4. Swirl it into sweets
Especially in the winter, there are lots of sweet things that are great with fresh ginger. Try steeping milk with ginger for making caramels, stir fresh ginger into carrot or pumpkin bread. Ginger cookies are a favorite. You can also try ginger hand pies or pumpkin pie with fresh ginger. If you like, you could even double down and add candied ginger with your fresh ginger.