Common spice, uncommon value
Ginger has many health benefits and there are a variety of ways in which it can be used.
Integral ingredient: There's lot of good stuff in it.
CAN you think of making a savoury dish without ginger-and-garlic paste? Be it kebab, roast, fry, sabzi or a simple dal nearly every Indian recipe calls for a dash of ginger. But its importance lies not merely in its ability to enhance taste. It has medicinal value and plays an important role in digestion.
Ginger has been used for centuries for cooking and medicinal purposes. It has been written about in early Sanskrit and Chinese texts and also in ancient Greek and Roman literature. An ancient Sanskrit saying about ginger "Adrakam sarva kandanaam" means every good quality is found in the ginger.
This tuberous perennial plant is native to southern Asia. India and China are among the largest producers. Although often referred to as a "root", ginger is actually a "rhizome" or a stem that grows underground and bears both roots and shoots. Ginger is also cultivated in most tropical and subtropical countries.
Raw ginger has a refreshing smell and a pungent taste that most people like. A non-volatile resin containing a particular type of hydroxyaryl compound causes this pungency. It has been extensively used as a condiment in Asian cuisine, as well as in that of other countries.
From very early times, people realised that ginger has many medicinal properties too. The ancient Greeks ate ginger wrapped in bread to prevent nausea after a lavish feast. Chinese sailors chewed ginger to prevent seasickness. It has been used to treat heartburn, vomiting, stomach cramps, loss of appetite and a s a digestive aid. Ginger is also used to treat cold, cough and respiratory problems; to relieve toothache and it is an anti-oxidant as well. Ginger has always been integral to Indian cooking.
It forms the basis of the North Indian curry paste along with onion and garlic. Meat, chicken and fish are often marinated in a paste of raw ginger and garlic before cooking. Ginger paste is added to creamy coconut milk in several south Indian dishes. Ginger tea is prepared by adding finely sliced or grated ginger to the brew when boiling it.
In Chinese food, fresh ginger is used both boiled and fried. Food that needs long simmering is often flavoured with slices of ginger, because the flavour is released quite slowly.
Many people like the taste of raw ginger and enjoy eating finely shredded ginger with soaked gram or puffed rice. Some people soak the finely grated ginger in water for several hours and add it to the cooked dish just before serving. This helps retain the fresh, spicy and pungent taste. Powdered, dried ginger is also available. It doesn't quite taste like fresh ginger but is a fair substitute where fresh ginger is not available.
There are many simple ginger recipes. Boil slices of ginger in plain water and add half a lemon and a tablespoon of honey for relief during colds, coughs and sore throats. A handful of tulsi leaves can also be added when boiling the water. For a refreshing cold drink during summer boil half a cup of grated ginger and one cup of sugar in two cups of water. Strain it after it is cool and add half a cup of fresh lemon juice. This is the basic mixture. Add this to cold water or cold soda for a peppy drink.
Add a spoon of ginger powder to a cup of tea to get a delicious hot drink. Or use it when making ginger cookies. A dash of ginger powder is often added to soups and gravies to make them tastier.
Another hoary favourite is candied ginger, especially with children. Take chunks of clean ginger, pierce thoroughly with a fork and then simmer slowly in sugar syrup until all the liquid is absorbed and the pieces are dry. Or cut ginger into long, thin strips, keep it dipped in lemon juice for 15 minutes and then roll the pieces in salt and dry them crisp in the sun. In fact, ginger is really versatile in its health benefits so you should try it in various ways.
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