I grew up in Amritsar, India, where ginger was used in many traditional dishes, from shami kebabs (small meat patties) to pindi chole (spiced chickpeas). And now that I’m a chef, this flavourful root is the lifeblood of my cooking.
Originating in Southeast Asia, ginger has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. It’s loaded with nutrients that are said to benefit your body and brain — for example, in the ayurvedic healing system, it’s used to relieve nausea. It’s primarily popular, however, for its fragrance and flavour.
Some of my earliest memories are of the aroma of ginger as my mother made my favourite foods — adraki gobi (a wintery cauliflower dish) and mutton pulao (a celebration pilaf). Of course, it’s not just India that features ginger in its cuisine. In Japan, for instance, it’s pickled and served alongside sushi, while in China it’s used with garlic as a base for many stir-fried dishes.
The way I use this root depends on the dish. Generally, I grind it to a paste to use in marinades or smooth gravies. Otherwise I chop or julienne it, particularly when the dish needs aroma as well as bite. When treated correctly, this hot and fragrant spice is indispensable in Indian cooking. Surender Mohan is executive chef at Jamavar and Bombay Bustle.
Make a paste of ginger, garlic, salt and chilli, then rub it over meat and leave for a few hours. The mixture penetrates the meat and creates depth of flavour that you can’t get from adding a sauce later.
You don’t always have to use fresh ginger in your cooking — dried and powdered versions can be added to chutneys and other condiments to create a fresh, aromatic flavour.
3. Palate cleanser
In Japan, pieces of dried and pickled ginger are eaten as a palate cleanser, freshening the mouth after eating. It also makes a great accompaniment to richer dishes.
4. Chai masala
This spiced drink is incomplete without ginger. Lightly pound the fresh root before brewing it up with hot water, cardamom, black pepper, cloves, dried ginger and cinnamon.
Pieces of ginger can be cooked in sugar until they soften. They can then be eaten like sweets, or in lieu of a lozenge to ease a sore throat. You can also use candied ginger when baking cakes and biscuits.
Published in the Jan/Feb issue of National Geographic Traveller Food.
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