I cannot drink ginger ale without having a flashback to my childhood. Every stomach virus that came along found me and/or my sisters swaddled in blankets on the couch, in front of the television, a glass of ginger ale close by. I don’t think my mother was aware of the medicinal properties attributed to the gnarly rhizome, and I’m not sure how much ginger is actually in a glass of ginger ale, but it seemed to do the trick. It kept us hydrated and was one of the few things that our tender tummies were able to tolerate in times of illness.
Ginger, native to Asia, has been used medicinally in the East for over 2,000 years, and has been studied frequently in the West in recent years. It is said to be a digestive aide, providing relief in instances of motion or morning sickness, bloating, gas, and menstrual and stomach pain. Also touted as an anti-inflammatory, ginger is a folk remedy for arthritis and muscle soreness, and as an anti-viral, when suffering from coughs or upper respiratory infections.
According to the National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health website, most studies, focusing on ginger extracts, show only possible effectiveness in treating those symptoms.
The University of Maryland Medical Center website also cautions that ginger may have negative interactions with common blood thinning, diabetes, and high blood pressure medications.
One thing everyone agrees on, though, is that ginger is a wholesome and positive addition to foods and beverages. The unique spiciness of ginger is unparalleled in ginger cookies, and is vital to many Asian and cuisines. Western cuisines have learned to incorporate the zippy root into classic recipes, turning run of the mill meals into mouth-watering entrees.
When purchasing fresh ginger, look for plump, firm masses with no signs of mold or wrinkled skin. If I am going to use up ginger within a week or so, I just wrap the root loosely in paper towels and store it in the vegetable bin of my refrigerator. For longer storage, ginger seems to keep best sealed in a ziplock type plastic bag. I don’t know why anyone would buy so much ginger that it cannot be used within a few weeks at most, but apparently it happens.
The best solution for keeping ginger on hand for two to three months, I’m told, is to submerged the root in vodka or sherry. I have not actually tried this, but it seems like it could be a win-win situation… Ginger martini, anyone?
I tend to not peel ginger when cooking with it, particularly if it is ending up in a stew or sauce. I believe that the best qualities of the root are found within or close to the skin, and any nutritional or medicinal benefit is welcome. If you find that aesthetically unpleasing, feel free to peel it.
I’m going to brag here: Tyler Florence (yes, the chef of Food Network fame) was at my house once. (It’s a long story.) He swiftly peeled the fresh ginger he was using in a curry by catching a portion just under the skin with the edge of a teaspoon, and zipping it downward. Quick, and easy! (Thanks, Tyler.)
Ginger can be minced, chopped, or grated. I find that a microplane works great for grating ginger, or a special ceramic ginger grater can be purchased in specialty kitchenware stores. Like garlic, the finer the mince, the greater the release of aromatic and seasoning qualities.
I am far more likely to use ginger for its culinary prowess than for its medicinal properties, but there is one thing I can’t escape. When I’m feeling under the weather, you will find a ginger-based drink at my side. And I most certainly will be swaddled in blankets, in front of the television. Sometimes, mom medicine is the best prescription.
Here are a couple of ginger recipes from eatingwell.com, that are not at medicinal. Enjoy!
A refreshing and mouth-tingling palate cleanser.
2 C sugar
2 Tbs peeled, minced fresh ginger
2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
4 C water
1/3 C freshly squeezed lemon juice
Combine sugar, ginger, lemon zest and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Boil, uncovered, over medium heat for 10 minutes. Cool. Stir in lemon juice.
Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker, following manufacturer’s directions. Break into chunks and whirl in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to a chilled airtight container and return to the freezer for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or until firm.
Grilled Salmon with Ginger Marinade
¼ C nonfat plain yogurt
2 Tbs finely chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbs lime juice
1 Tbs freshly grated lime zest
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs canola oil
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
1¼ pounds salmon fillet, (about 1 inch thick), cut into 4 pieces, skin on, pin bones removed
Whisk together yogurt, ginger, garlic, lime juice, lime zest, honey, oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Place salmon in a shallow glass dish and pour the marinade over it, turning the salmon to coat on all sides. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes, turning once or twice.
Meanwhile, prepare a charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill. (Do not use a grill pan — salmon will stick.)
Oil the grill rack. Place the salmon, skin-side up, on the grill. Cook for 5 minutes. Using 2 metal spatulas, carefully turn the salmon pieces over and cook just until opaque in the center, 4 to 6 minutes longer. Remove the salmon from the grill. Slip off the skin.
(Serving suggestion: pair this with Watercress & Pickled Ginger Salad, below.)
Watercress & Pickled Ginger Salad
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/3 C drained pickled ginger plus 1 Tbs liquid
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbs fresh lime juice or rice-wine vinegar
1 Tbs canola oil
1 tsp honey; freshly ground pepper to taste
6 C stemmed, washed, and dried watercress
4 scallions, chopped
Lime wedges, for garnish
Mash garlic with salt with the side of a chef’s knife. Place in a small bowl or a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add ginger liquid, lime juice (or vinegar), oil, honey and pepper; whisk or shake until blended.
Place watercress, scallions, and pickled ginger in a large bowl. Just before serving, toss with dressing. Divide among four plates. Top with a piece of grilled salmon. Garnish with lime wedges. Serve immediately.