I love ginger. I don’t mean that yellow powdered stuff that you put in molasses cookies, gingerbread and pumpkin pie – though those are some of my favorite desserts! I mean ginger root, or rather rhizome (underground stem) of the plant Zingiber officinale.
Ginger is one of those spices that is so versatile it is used in all kinds of foods — including desserts (fresh and crystallized ginger are amazing in carrot cake, for example), meat marinades, and salad dressings. Ginger is also promoted as a medicinal herb, just check out this Medline entry for a list of its many suggested health benefits. As I write this, I am remembering an amazing ice-cold ginger juice that I ordered at a West African restaurant in New Orleans this summer. The drink was so ginger-spicy that I had to drink some water in between to cool down my tongue – but it was delicious.
Vietnamese cuisine uses a lot of ginger, often to complement flavors like lemongrass and garlic. Last night’s dish was Braised Tofu with Ginger, or Dau Hu Kho Gung – another internet recipe. Therefore, I can’t really vouch for its authenticity, but it has a Vietnamese name and it seemed like an interesting way to cook tofu so I thought I’d give it a try. The ground pork used in the recipe definitely makes this a non-vegetarian tofu recipe. A good portion of ginger and garlic are sauteed briefly, then the pork is added until cooked through. Tofu, chili sauce, onion and fish sauce are added and the dish is covered and cooked for about 15 minutes while the flavors all meld together. My usual way of preparing tofu involves marinating it before cooking, but the longer cooking time for this dish allowed the tofu to soak up the flavors during cooking. The dish ended up a bit salty, (I keep forgetting how much salt the fish sauce adds to the dish already) but other than that it was a very flavorful dish. The ginger flavor was cooked into the dish, so it was not brash like some fresh ginger dishes, but the flavor was definitely there.
I also made this cabbage salad/slaw dish to go with it. The salad called for one tiny Thai chili sliced thinly, and boy was it a HOT one! Thai chile rates about 50,000-100,000 units of heat on the Scoville scale, which puts it about 10-20 times hotter than an average jalapeno pepper. So I ended up with a salty main dish and a spicy-hot salad for dinner, my tastebuds are still tingling a bit…
Back to ginger for one more recipe that I found on the Food Network about a year ago, Ginger Pear Tea. I have made it a few times, and although it’s not Vietnamese specifically, it is Asian-inspired and easy to make, so I wanted to share it with you. It’s served cold, and the pear-ginger combination is very refreshing.