Whether you cook something sweet or savory, fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) has a traditional place at the holiday table. Its bright, spicy flavor adds something special to cookies, cakes, and festive starters that will encourage family and friends to keep coming back for more. The key is choosing the freshest roots from the store or (even better) your own potted ginger plant.
Ginger is wonderfully easy to grow as a potted houseplant, if kept in a sunny window. Just provide it with a well-drained pot of fertile Fafard Professional Potting Mix, water moderately, feed monthly with an all-purpose water soluble fertilizer and you’ll be set. If planting ginger root for the first time, be sure to plant it with its horn-like buds facing upwards and sink it 1-2” below the soil’s surface. Store-bought roots will work very well or you can purchase plants from retail greenhouses like Logee’s. One choice cultivated variety is the Javanese ‘Sunthi’, which has smaller, more pungent roots, but it is hard to find in commerce.
Starting with the good stuff always makes recipes taste better, so be sure to go for the firmest, nicest ginger roots for your holiday cooking. Here are several fresh ginger recipes that will make the best use of them:
Fresh Ginger Cake with Lemon Glaze
This oil-based cake is very flavorful and moist. The addition of tart lemon glaze makes it even more decadent. Begin by buttering and flouring a bread pan and heating the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. All wet ingredients should be at room temperature.
2 large eggs (room temperature)
¾ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup hot water
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 cups cake flour
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ cup packed, macerated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon lemon zest
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ cup powdered sugar
Combine all of the dry ingredients (except the sugar) in a sieve over a large mixing bowl and sift the ingredients. Next, add all the wet ingredients, except the ginger, lemon zest, and eggs, to another large mixing bowl and whisk until smooth and light.
Combine the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients and fold in the ginger and eggs, using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, until fully combined. Then transfer the batter to the baking pan. The cake should be baked for around 45 minutes.
Test the cake with a bamboo skewer and make sure it comes up clean before removing the cake. Before the cake cools, whisk the glaze ingredients together, skewer holes across the top of the cake and pour the glaze over the top—allowing it to sink into the cake and harden. Once cool, take a knife along the cake edges and remove the cake from the pan.
Gingerbread with Fresh Orange Zest
For years I sought out the best gingerbread recipe and finally settled on a conglomerate of recipes gathered from a variety of places.
¾ cup salted butter
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup dark molasses (not black strap!)
¼ cup warm water
1 tablespoon fresh crushed ginger
1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
A healthy pinch of salt
3 ¼ cups sifted flour
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy then mix in the molasses and water. Sift the dry ingredients then add them to the wet until fully combined (be sure not to over mix).
Flour your hands and pull the dough together into a flattened ball and chill for at least 12 hours. Before you roll the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Flour up a board and pin and cut your dough in two. Roll out the dough to around 1/4 inch thickness. Be sure to keep the board and pin floured to stop the dough from sticking.
Cut out your shapes and reroll any excess dough, though try not to overwork it as this results in tough cookies. Place the rolled cookies onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for eight to ten minutes, depending on how large or thick your cookies are. The less baked, the chewier the cookie. Allow the cookies to cool before decorating. Royal icing is the best for decorating and gel food coloring provides the deepest colors.
Roasted Eggplant Dip with Ginger
This creamy, nutty, gingery eggplant dip tastes great with pita, crackers, and fresh vegetable crudités.
1 large, fresh Italian eggplant
3 tablespoons almond butter
1 tablespoon full fat Greek yogurt
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons macerated ginger
1 clove finely minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon flatleaf Italian parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the top of the eggplant, cut it in half and place it flat side down on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Roast it until it is completely soft. This should take around 45 minutes. Once cooked, allow the eggplant to cool. Scoop out the soft eggplant and add it to a food processor. Briefly heat the coriander, cumin, and fennel seed in a heated pan with two teaspoons of olive oil—a minute or two should be enough. Add all of the ingredients to the food processor and pulse the dip until smooth—adding salt and pepper to taste.
This dip tastes best if the flavors are allowed to marry for sein the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature before serving.