A Taste of Ginger

Ginger or stem ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a common spice worldwide. We see it in ginger cookies and ginger bread in America or in wedang jahe (a ginger drink) locally and finely sliced anywhere. Many a food historian is of the opinion that ginger is a native of tropical Asia where it has been cultivated for so long that its wild forebear — probably of India or Malaysia — no longer exists. From its original home in tropical temperatures it went to more temperate regions as gastronome and epicurean el supremo Suryatini N. Ganie explains.

There are a thousand and one uses for ginger. But one big question is: to peel or not to peel?

Many people think peeling is not necessary (except when making candy or pickles) because it wastes much of its flesh.

Peeling the skin is considered useless and when cutting it into matchstick sizes experts say, it will be also considered superfluous because the skin softens with cooking and is undetectable in the finished dish.

In kitchens of many islands in Indonesia, dishes of obviously Chinese overtones are using ginger on a daily basis and its frequency of use seems to be second only to salt.

Many noodle dishes in Central Java call for sliced or finely chopped ginger. For medicinal purposes, ginger is used as a warming agent and when a cold is nearing, the drinks wedang jahe or skoteng, are “prescribed”.

A more attractive and less medicinal version, wedang serbat has small chunks of white bread or boiled peanuts, and a popular brew is the teh jahe or tea with a gingery taste, a common drink offered by spas after a treatment.

People traveling with small children that are prone to motion sickness, often have on hand fresh ginger root (tingting jahe) or permen jahe, a sweet, chewy, candied ginger.

The candied ginger will soon relieve the unpleasant feeling because it is known to relieve nausea and headaches. One of the handy and very good chewy ginger candies comes from Cirebon and is sold in many supermarkets or traditional markets.

But should you prefer to use a ginger liquid extract, which is available in commercial form, then take — unless prescribed differently on the package — one teaspoon 30 minutes before departure.

Ginger is not only helpful in alleviating nausea but also in relieving the inflammation of arthritis and high cholesterol levels (The complete herbal companion, Elisabeth Burch, N.D)

In Indonesia, the most common kinds of ginger are the pale yellowish-white ginger as well as the rather grayish ginger, which comes from India and is mostly used for medicinal potions called jamu.

As ginger is a very common spice, it is sold in abundance in traditional markets. To obtain an aromatic flavor, one has to chose the still plump ones, because once ginger starts to shrivel, it loses its wonderful flavor and aroma.

Here is a recipe from the beginning of the 20th Century for a Dutch-Indonesian pudding called gember pudding (ginger pudding in Dutch).

Melt 250 grams butter and when cooled, mix carefully with 200g sifted flour to avoid a lumpy texture, and little by little pour in 400 milliliters of hot milk while stirring to create a smooth batter.
Cook over medium flame until the mixture thickens. Take from flame and let cool. Then carefully add 4 whitish beaten egg yolks, 150 g granulated sugar (or to taste), 150 g finely chopped preserved ginger and stiff beaten egg whites. Stir.

Put back to cook over medium flame, stir well and take from flame again. Grease a suitable pudding form with butter and dust with fine breadcrumbs. Put the pudding mixture into the form and steam it for about an hour over medium flame. The pudding is served with a vanilla sauce.

Tastes good, but not for weight watchers!

Suryatini N. Ganie