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I Spice: Ginger

If you like today's ingredient, you'll love Melissa Clark's Double Ginger Doughnuts. (James M. Thresher/The Washington Post)

I live in a ginger-obsessed household. My older son knew how to pick out the taste of ginger when he was 2. It's in our tea every morning.

I fully intended to tell you why I love its flavor and describe its taste in detail. But first, I will let one of my all-time favorite food writers, Melissa Clark, wax poetic: “Ginger adds a deep, peppery, spicy freshness to dishes -- a tang of acid coupled with a musty, rich, profound flavor. I love that combination of zippiness and profundity.”

Recipe Included

I use fresh ginger in pickles, sautes, stir-fries, juices, cocktails, rice dishes, curries, breads, desserts, you name it. Clark and I both have a soft spot for young ginger in particular. “It has a juicier, sweeter quality than the older roots you see, and you can use more of it without it becoming overwhelming," she says. "It’s also my choice for pickling and candying."

You've probably seen powdered or ground ginger sold on the spice aisle. I don’t use it much except to add to my tea occasionally. Clark uses it a lot and says it's a must for bakers. Her suggestions include making ginger sugar instead of cinnamon ginger for toast; adding it to pumpkin pie filling and, of course, baking gingerbread. But she and I agree it has a very different flavor profile from fresh ginger root: less acidic and much more intense.

When buying fresh ginger, look for pieces that have relatively smooth skin, without blemishes and wrinkles. Ginger keeps well in the fridge for up to a week. If I buy extra, I make a paste and freeze it. Many times I will grate it along with garlic and green chili peppers; this gives me an excellent base for stir-fries and curries.

Clark peels her ginger with a spoon, like many people do; a knife works for me. Here are Clark's top five ways to use ginger:

* Add it to the blender for your morning fruit smoothie.

* Grate it into long-simmered stews made in the slow cooker or Dutch oven.

* Add a few coin-size slices to homemade chicken broth.

* Use fresh grated ginger in quick breads such as zucchini or pumpkin.

* Grate fresh ginger, mix with minced garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil and lemon juice for a tangy salad dressing or dipping sauce for veggies.

* Cut ginger into slivers and add to sauteed chicken. Or grate and mix with garlic, then smear onto fish before cooking.

Not only is ginger a great taste enhancer, it is good for you. Wendy Bazilian, author of "The SuperFoodsRx Diet" (Rodale, 2008) and co-owner of Bazilian's Health Clinic in San Diego, told me about some very interesting research that came out last summer from the University of Rochester on using ginger to deal with post-chemotherapy nausea (and at reasonable culinary doses of 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per day).

A couple of studies were presented last May at the American College of Sports Medicine’s annual meeting about ginger for reducing post-exercise pain and inflammations. Historically, ginger has been used for all kinds of digestive/nausea problems from motion sickness to morning sickness.

Fresh ginger is thought of almost exclusively as an Asian ingredient, but how about trying some cross-cultural Asian Tacos? Or making your own Spicy Ginger Ale ? And while ginger is often paired with pork, it works really well in this easy and healthful Chicken with Ginger Juice Glaze.

So tell me, how do you use ginger?

-- Monica Bhide

Double Ginger Doughnuts
Makes 3 dozen small doughnuts

Fresh and ground ginger account for the dual punch of these beignet-size puffs.

MAKE AHEAD: The dough needs to rise in two 2-hour increments. From food writer and cookbook author Melissa Clark.

For the ginger sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

For the doughnuts
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
2/3 cup whole milk
2 3/4 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
1 large egg
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2-inch piece peeled ginger root, grated (1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying plus more as needed for proofing

For the ginger sugar: Combine the sugar, ground ginger to taste and cinnamon, if using in a medium bowl.

For the doughnuts: Combine the yeast and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer. Cover with the flour and let sit for 10 minutes.

Add the egg, sugar, salt, freshly grated ginger, ground ginger and cinnamon; beat on medium-low speed for 5 to 10 minutes to mix well and to activate the glutens in the dough; stop to scrape down the dough from the paddle as needed. The dough should be springy and pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Stop to scrape down the dough, then add the melted butter. Beat on medium-low speed for 2 to 5 minutes; the butter should be completely incorporated and the dough should be smooth and glossy. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes, then refrigerate for 2 hours. The dough should be slightly springy, and denser than bread dough.

Heat the oil in a 3-to-4-quart heavy-bottomed pot over high heat, to 350 degrees. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain the temperature. (It’s best to use a candy thermometer that clips on to the pot to monitor the temperature.)

Use oil to generously grease 3 large rimmed baking sheets.

Lightly flour a work surface. Use your hands to flatten the dough into a rectangle about 3/4-inch thick. Cut the dough into 36 rectangles (each 1 1/2 to 2 inches across), then use your hands to roll each one into a ball, placing them 3 inches apart on the greased baking sheets as you work. Cover with clean kitchen towels and let sit in a warm spot for about 2 hours. The balls will spread and flatten somewhat, about doubling in size.

Line a plate with several layers of paper towels. Place the bowl of ginger sugar nearby.
Working in batches of no more than 3 at a time, use a Chinese skimmer or slotted spoon to lower the doughnuts into the hot oil. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes, turning them often until puffed and golden brown on both sides. Use the skimmer or spoon to transfer them to the paper-towel-lined plate to drain, then immediately into the ginger sugar and toss to coat.

Repeat to fry all the doughnuts and roll in the ginger sugar. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 63 calories, 1 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 1 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 34 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  January 22, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  I Spice , Recipes  | Tags: I Spice, Monica Bhide, ginger, recipes  
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Next: Chefs' Sunday Night Suppers: Job done


Mmmmm... ginger. We always keep a bit around, particularly for curries and hoping to do some more stir frying.

Thanks for the idea about chicken stock. I often use a bit of lemongrass for a similar purpose.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | January 22, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Sipping my ginger-boosted tea right now. Added a couple of fresh ginger slices to my tea strainer (along w/ chamomile tea) in hopes of soothing an upset stomach.
Recently created a spiced ginger fortune cookie dipped in dark chocolate. It's a fortune cookie people actually WANT to eat.

Posted by: jeanneam | January 22, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I adore ginger, too, and use it in lots of recipes like you do. Those ginger donuts look amazing! Two of my favourite ginger recipes are chewy ginger cookies and a homemade ginger ice cream pie.

While fresh ginger is available year round, sometimes the quality is hit and miss, so when it's gorgeous I buy a lot and freeze it. Then whenever I need some, I just grate it using a microplane.

Posted by: Charmian1 | January 22, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

You forgot one very important use for ginger: candied as a filling for dark chocolates. mmmm.

Posted by: fran426 | January 22, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

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