By Brooke Gazer
It’s surprising that this versatile vegetable isn’t found in every home because it has so many beneficial properties. Ginger aids in digestion, has anti-inflammatory properties, reduces nausea, and helps open up the sinuses and reduce congestion when you’re suffering from a cold. It keeps well if you just drop a whole piece into the freezer, just peel it as you need some. It can be used as a flavoring in so many ways: in a savory stir-fry or curry, as a candy on its own, in a sweet desert, or in a delicious drink.
Apparently, this plant is easy to grow right here in Huatulco’s semi tropical climate. One simply cuts it into pieces and plants them as you would a potato, but not quite so deep.
My gardener cleared a space, and we planted a patch last winter. Within a few weeks, tiny shoots were visible, peeking out from beneath the earth. For this August’s “Food Issue” of The Eye, I was hoping to show photos of the mature plant and report on how long it takes to reach maturity. That was the plan in February.
Tango, our golden retriever, likes to help out around the house and gardening is his specialty. Before the shoots reached a height of two inches, Tango had harvested the entire patch, converting the tiny plants into mulch. Visibly pleased with his efforts, he left the soft earth ready to receive something more durable. Fortunately, ginger is easy to find in Huatulco so I put aside the notion of growing my own. But here are two ways I like to enjoy it.
On its own, a few thin slices of crystalized ginger make a delicious sweet treat. It may be pure sugar but it’s fat free, gluten free and made at home, and has no preservatives.
While it is sometimes possible to find crystallized ginger at Chedraui, I think it’s expensive at 135 pesos for 100 grams. For only 65 pesos, this recipe makes almost 400 grams of thinly sliced crystalized ginger … PLUS the most amazing ginger syrup you have ever tasted. Use the syrup to flavor drinks, top ice cream, or add it to desert recipes for an extra kick.
1 lb. fresh ginger, peeled
5 cups water
4 cups granulated sugar, divided (3 cups + 1 cup)
To peel the ginger root, you want young fresh ginger because you
can scrape off most of the peel with a vegetable brush. Older
ginger can be peeled with a paring knife by scraping it gently.
- Slice the ginger into ⅛ – ¼-inch thick slices. If you have a manual slicer or a food processor, this is quick and easy; it can be tedious cutting by hand.
- Bring the water to a boil and add the 3 cups of sugar, stirring to dissolve; then add the ginger slices.
- Return the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until the ginger is translucent and the syrup is thickened.
This could take from 25 – 60 minutes, so watch it carefully so that it doesn’t boil dry. The slices should be transparent and the bubbling mixture should be thick, with about ½ – ¾ cups of syrup at the end. If you have a candy thermometer it should reach 225°C. If you do not boil it long enough the slices will not be crystalized, so longer is better.
- Set a strainer into a heat-proof glass bowl.Remove mixture from heat. Quickly pour the mixture into a strainer, letting the syrup drain into the glass bowl so that you can save it for later.
This will keep in the fridge indefinitely. If it turns to sugar, just add a little water and bring it to a boil.
- Set up a cooling rack and cover it with waxed or parchment paper sprayed with lightly coated with cooking spray. Take the strainer from the bowl and gently toss the slices to remove excess syrup. Spread the ginger slices on the rack.*
- Sprinkle the ginger slices with the remaining cup of granulated sugar. Use a fork to separate the slices and turn them so both sides get covered with sugar.
- Leave the ginger to dry, uncovered, at room temperature, for 2-8 hours. You can keep this ginger in an airtight container for a few months
*Now you’re probably wondering about all that sugar attracting ants on the counter. Pesky as they may be, ants can’t swim. So, if ants could be a problem, try this. Before you assemble the paper-covered rack, fill a cookie sheet with water, invert 2 mugs and place the cooling racks on top of the mugs. If fruit flies could also a problem, set a light tea towel over top of the rack once the ginger has cooled.
Double Ginger Cookies
This recipe is easier to make if you can mix the ingredients in a food processor, but a hand mixer will work fine – these directions are for the hand mixer. The recipe is supposed to make three dozen cookies, but I usually get only two dozen.
6 tablespoons butter at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
¼ cup molasses
½ cup chopped crystallized ginger
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger (or more to taste, I double it)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or more to taste, I double it)
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Sugar for “sanding”
- Cream butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl.
- Add molasses and egg, mixing until smooth.
- Mix in the crystallized ginger.
- Combine all dry ingredients except the sanding sugar (flour, baking soda, and the ground spices) in a second mixing bowl; add the dry ingredients to the liquid mixture.
- Continue mixing the ingredients until smooth and all the dough comes together.
- Cover this and refrigerate it for about an hour or until it feels solid.*
- Roll into 1-inch balls and coat each ball with the sanding sugar.
- Place balls 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet.
- Bake at 350°F for 12 – 15 minutes. Don’t over-bake the cookies, you want them soft in the center.
*The batter, if it is covered tightly, will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. I like to make small batches so that they are freshly baked when I eat them – and so that I am not tempted to et the entire batch in one day.
Brooke operates Agua Azul la Villa, an ocean view B&B in Huatulco (www.bbaguaazul.com). She also has a website that profiles people who have moved to Mexico (www.brookegazer.com).