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Fresh ginger brings a little heat to New Hampshire’s coldest months

  • Candied ginger<br/><br/>HILLARY NELSON For the Monitor

    Candied ginger

    HILLARY NELSON For the Monitor

  • Grasmere gingerbread<br/><br/>HILLARY NELSON For the Monitor

    Grasmere gingerbread

    HILLARY NELSON For the Monitor

  • Fresh ginger Japanese Chicken<br/><br/>HILLARY NELSON For the Monitor

    Fresh ginger Japanese Chicken

    HILLARY NELSON For the Monitor

  • Candied ginger<br/><br/>HILLARY NELSON For the Monitor
  • Grasmere gingerbread<br/><br/>HILLARY NELSON For the Monitor
  • Fresh ginger Japanese Chicken<br/><br/>HILLARY NELSON For the Monitor

I live in the kind of old house that charitable people describe as “airy.” No matter how many honeycomb blinds and heavy curtains we hang – or how many walls we re-insulate – my house is freezing in winter.

My solution? Many layers of polar-fleece and a cup of hot “ginger steeper” always close at hand. Ginger steeper is nothing more than boiling water poured over several slices of fresh ginger. The longer it sits, the more gingery it tastes, and the more it seems to warm me up from the inside out. It is caffeine free, delicious, and can be renewed all day, simply by adding more hot water. In the evening, I can use the still flavorful pieces of ginger in a stir-fry.

And my ginger steeper is actually good for me. This tropical rhizome’s health benefits, which have been touted in many scientific studies, include working as an anti-inflammatory to soothe muscle aches and arthritis, soothing gastric upsets, breaking down fatty substances in foods and possibly fighting cancer.

Though tender young ginger is thought to be the best tasting, in New Hampshire (where it’s too cold to grow frost-sensitive Zingiber officinale) we’re more likely to find large, mature rhizomes at the grocery store. In my experience, the best place to stock up on ginger is at Asian markets, where it’s always in high demand and there’s generally a fresh supply on hand. Look for heavy-feeling, unwrinkled, plump, shiny rhizomes. Store ginger in the refrigerator, wrapped in a piece of damp paper towel tucked inside an open plastic bag or a mesh produce bag.

Ginger is generally peeled before using, with a vegetable peeler, small knife, or, if the skin is very tender, the edge of a spoon. Because the mature rhizome is quite fibrous, if it is going to be eaten in large pieces, such as in candied ginger, it is best cut against the grain. When a recipe calls for minced ginger, I simply peel a “thumb” (a piece of ginger about 2 inches long) and then grate it, discarding the fibers that are left behind. Ginger can also be grated or minced and then squeezed for its juice.

When I happen upon an especially good-looking batch of ginger, I buy lots of it, then make pickled ginger and candied ginger. These simple preserving methods yield very different products, each with many uses, including two of the recipes that follow – Grasmere Gingerbread (a delicious, slightly chewy shortbread flecked with candied ginger and spiced with milder powdered ginger) and a healthful winter salad made with cold-hardy kale, celery root and pickled ginger.

Pickled Ginger

4 ounces peeled fresh ginger (about 6 ounces unpeeled)

2 teaspoons kosher salt or coarse sea salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

Break the ginger apart into fairly evenly-sized “thumbs” and then slice them across the grain into very thin rounds using a sharp kitchen knife or a mandoline. Toss the ginger gently (so it doesn’t break) with 1 teaspoon of the salt, then set it aside in a colander for 15 minutes to drain.

Meanwhile bring a kettle of water to a boil. When the salted ginger in the colander has drained for 15 minutes, pour some of the boiling water over the ginger to remove the salt. Put the rinsed ginger into a small, heat-proof bowl and cover it with more of the boiling water. Set aside.

Place the remaining salt, the sugar and the rice wine vinegar in a small pot and bring it to a simmer, stirring so the sugar and salt dissolve in the vinegar.

Drain the ginger and place it in a very clean 8-ounce glass jar. Pour the simmering vinegar over the ginger; it should fill the jar to the top. Cover with a very clean lid (preferably plastic because metal will interact with the vinegar). Allow it to cool and then place it in the refrigerator. It will be ready to eat the next day and will keep in the refrigerator for at least 1 month. Makes one 8-ounce jar.

Kale, Celery Root and Pickled Ginger Salad

small bunch kale

small celery root

1/4 small purple onion, cut into very thin slices

2 tablespoons pickled ginger

2 tablespoons juice from pickled ginger

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive or other good vegetable oil

juice of half a lemon

salt, pepper and hot pepper to taste

Wash the kale, then tear the leaves from the tough stems. Discard the stems, then chop the kale into thin strips. Place the strips in a bowl and massage and squeeze them for several minutes until the kale becomes much softer and easier to chew. Set aside.

Wash and peel the celery root. Cut the root into slices and then cut the slices into batons. Add to the kale along with all the remaining ingredients. Toss well, allow to sit for a moment for the flavors to blend, then taste and adjust the seasonings.

Serve immediately, or keep it refrigerated for up to one day. Leftovers are very good as a condiment on a warm sandwich made with pork or cheese.

Serves 4.

Candied Ginger

4 ounces peeled fresh ginger (about 6 ounces unpeeled)

4 ounces sugar (about 1/2 cup)

3 tablespoons water

Break the ginger into evenly sized “thumbs” and cut them across the grain into rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Place the sliced ginger into a saucepan, cover it with cold water and bring to a simmer. Let the slices cook gently for about 20 minutes, then drain them, discarding the liquid. Cover them again with cold water and bring them once again to a simmer. Cook for an additional 15 minutes or so, until tender but not falling apart, then drain again, discarding the liquid. Set aside.

In the same pan (if desired) place the sugar with the 3 tablespoons of water, cover the pot, then bring the mixture to a simmer. When the sugar has melted completely, add the blanched ginger pieces, making sure they are evenly covered with the sugar syrup. Place the lid back on the ginger and simmer gently for about 15 minutes, sloshing the pan around a bit occasionally, but not really stirring, which could cause sugar crystals to form prematurely.

Meanwhile, brush a cooling rack with a little oil and place it on a sheet tray. When the ginger looks translucent, remove the lid from the pot and allow the syrup to thicken a bit. Pour the ginger onto the prepared cooling rack, allowing the syrup to drip onto the sheet tray. Use a fork to separate the pieces of ginger from one another so they don’t stick together while cooling.

The cooled ginger will have a coating of hardened sugar syrup. When completely dry, place in a tightly sealed container and store in a cool dry place. It should keep (as long as it’s very dry) for about 6 months.

Grasmere Gingerbread

3/4 cup sugar

grated rind of 1 orange

2 tablespoons honey

2 sticks cool unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1¾ cups flour

3/4 cup rolled oats

2 teaspoons powdered ginger

1∕3 cup candied ginger (see recipe), cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

sugar for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with nonstick baking spray or butter and flour it. Set aside

Combine the sugar, rind and honey in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times.

Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl of the processor and pulse again, until the mixture is the texture of coarse cornmeal.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan then press it with your fingers into the pan to form an even, compacted layer. Sprinkle, if desired, with more sugar. Place in the oven.

Bake for about 1 hour, turning the pan at least once so it browns evenly. The gingerbread will puff up, then deflate again. It is done when it’s evenly browned all the way through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool until still a bit warm.

Cut the warm gingerbread while it’s still in the pan into 25 pieces, about 1½ inches by 1½ inches. Let cool to room temperature before removing from the pan.

Makes 25 pieces.

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