Ingredient of the Week: Fresh Ginger

Banner Fresh Ginger Root (c)2012

Ginger has been around a long, long time. The Produce Bible traces ginger back to southern India at least 2,000 years ago. According to Whole Living, the name comes from the sanskrit word stringa-vera, meaning hornlike body. It’s a tropical plant, a gnarly root- rhizome, actually, growing horizontally underground, sending up shoots with green leaves and yellow flowers annually. Reading The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion, I learned that most ginger comes from Jamaica, but it’s also grown in India, China, and Africa. The root can be harvested young or mature, and this effects both texture and intensity of flavor. Young ginger is more tender and juicy, with a mild spiciness, while mature ginger can be woody with a thick skin and intense heat. Use whatever you can find at the market, just be mindful of how much spice you’re adding to a dish. Ginger is mildly sweet as well as spicy, with a very unique, almost electric flavor. It’s famous for settling upset stomachs, calming the nerves, and reducing inflammation. Cultures across the globe use ginger in many different ways: brewed with hot sweet tea in India, pickled (gari) to cleanse the palate between courses of sushi in Japan, sliced and simmered in soup to renew energy in China, fermented in ginger beer across Asia, and much more. Fresh ginger is also delicious in stir-fries, vinaigrettes, pickles, jams, marinades, and fruit juices/smoothies. Tomorrow is 10 Ways Tuesday, and I’ve got plenty of creative ideas for cooking with fresh gingerroot during late winter and early spring.


Cook in the Moment: Grilled Chicories

Grilled Endive, Frisée, and Radicchio with Bagna Cauda (c)2012

My husband and I moved to Colorado four years ago from Memphis, Tennessee. Though we came from a region known for its barbecue, I discovered the joy of cooking over open flames in Boulder. Growing up in the oppressive heat and humidity of Arkansas, going outside meant getting eaten alive by mosquitos. Arriving in Boulder, Colorado, I was intoxicated by breathing the fresh, dry air, and the feel of brisk breezes coming off the Rocky Mountains. I felt lighter, and the stunning snow-capped mountain views seduced me, constantly calling me outside. At altitude, the sun shines more intensely, and even on a 30 degree winter’s day, if there is sunlight on your shoulders you’ll be warmed through. Our fourth floor apartment faces open fields where bald eagles nest and coyotes roam, horses gallop around the pond and cows ruminate. This time of year, as winter becomes spring, you can find us on the balcony with a glass of wine and our little Weber grill lit, a trail of savory smoke drifting above our heads. Cooking on the grill is easy, it’s casual, and to me, it’s the essence of Colorado living. As the days grow longer, I begin to pine for patio time, the simplicity of summer cooking, and a slower pace of life. On a warm March day, the husband uncovers our grill and I open a bottle of wine. Tomorrow might bring a foot of snow, but today feels like spring, and we intend to savor this moment.


10 Ways Tuesday: Chicory

Frisée Salad with Poached Egg, Croutons, Peas & Lemon Vinaigrette (c)2012

I’ve got creative ideas for cooking with chicories like endive, radicchio, and escarole during winter:

1.  Baked Escarole Stuffed with Breadcrumbs, Olives & Capers

This recipe from The Silver Spoon (self-professed bible on Italian cooking) smartly treats broad and sturdy escarole leaves like cabbage by stuffing and baking them in the oven. Begin by rinsing the whole head of escarole and tossing it into a hot pan with olive oil and garlic while still dripping wet. Cover the pan and let the escarole steam for a few minutes, meanwhile toast breadcrumbs and chopped garlic in oil until golden. Stir sliced green olives, capers, and parsley into the breadcrumbs and use the mixture to stuff inside the layers of escarole leaves. Place the stuffed escarole in a buttered casserole dish, top with more breadcrumbs and bake in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for about twenty minutes. It’s a great side dish and the idea sets my mind in motion, thinking of so many delicious variations.


Ingredient of the Week: Chicory

Chicory (c)2012

As the month of February comes to an end, my heart dares to hope that spring is on its way. The weather here in Colorado is characteristically unpredictable -one day warm and sunny, only to surprise us with a foot of snow the very next morning. March blows in like a lion, tearing through the foothills with 80 mile per hour winds that shake our walls and rattle the windows. It’s unsettling, at the very least. Our snowiest month of the year is a time when those living in temperate zones plant their spring gardens. The Colorado gardener must either be patient or lucky: wait until April to plant seedlings, when the threat of snow has passed, or put the fragile seedlings out early and get a head start on a short growing season. A late snow could spell catastrophe. Complaints from a southern transplant like me get no sympathy, “That’s Colorado,” the natives say.


Cook in the Moment: Egyptian Red Lentil Soup

Egyptian Red Lentil Soup (c)2012

Do you remember Egypt, or has it become muddled in your mind- stuffed towards the back of your brain with all those other Arab countries in rebellion? Life is busy, and time goes so fast, at least it does for us here in the United States. I would bet Egyptians feel differently, that to them time passes slowly, and change takes place over generations, not days or weeks. It’s been a year since Egyptians flooded Cairo’s Tahrir Square protesting the autocratic rule of president Hosni Mubarak (January 25, 2011). On February 11, 2011, Mubarak resigned, and the Egyptian military took control of the country. Did you know even after parliamentary elections Egypt is still under martial law? Watching Fredricka Whitfield interview blogger and Egyptian activist Gigi Ibrahim on CNN, I heard Gigi say, “After a year nothing has changed, we’ve been facing the same regime, if not worse.” A year later, Egyptians are still protesting, and the violence has escalated again. Just three weeks ago more than 70 people were killed in an outbreak of violence at a soccer match in Port Said. When asked, “Was the expectation that military rule would be gone by now?”, Gigi responded, “A year ago I knew it would not be over in 18 days, no revolution is started in 18 days or even 18 months or 6 years.” Here in the United States, we like situations to be tidy, we want to put Egypt in a box, because it’s difficult to understand the complicated issues of old nations. Egypt has risen and fallen many times over thousands of years. Military leaders have conquered and then been dominated by other nations. It’s messy.