Food is never dull when it contains ginger. Some zingy, warming root ginger electrifies and enlivens a dish like nothing else. A stalwart aromatic in Asian and Caribbean cooking, you can incorporate it into a spice paste to build a deep, broad-shouldered flavour, or finely shred it raw over your finished dish as a pungent, tongue-tingling garnish, but it also works brilliantly in western dishes, such as crème brulée. Choose big chunky rhizomes that are firm to the touch, without any give, and with smooth, unwrinkled skin – they keep better in the fridge than small ones. Don't be timid or parsimonious with fresh ginger; think in terms of tablespoons, not teaspoons, and aim to use it up quickly when it's dripping with juice.
Why is ginger good for me?
No wonder ginger occupies a venerable role in ayurvedic medicine as an appetite-stimulant and digestive aid.
It acts as a carminative (it prevents flatulence) and an intestinal spasmolytic (it soothes the intestinal tract). Modern research supports its efficacy as a safe remedy for travel sickness, and for nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Ginger also seems to have an analgesic effect on the joints. Gingerols, the potent anti-inflammatory compounds found in ginger, appear to reduce the pain, and improve the mobility, of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.
An infusion of fresh, thinly sliced root ginger in boiling water has a warming action on the upper respiratory tract, making it a soothing home remedy for colds, flu, and coughs.
Where to buy and what to pay
Asian grocers and Chinese supermarkets see ginger as core stock, not as slow-selling exotica, so they have a healthy turnover. Guide price: £2.kg. Avoid supermarket ginger packed in fiddly plastic bags: you'll pay up to four times more for the privilege.
Ginger crunch traybake
This is adapted from my mum's well-used Edmonds Sure to Rise cookery book. I have made it a little more grown-up with fresh ginger as well as ground, and a little ginger juice in the icing. Ginger juice is very easy to make. Peel and grate a 5cm piece of ginger then press the grated ginger through a sieve into a bowl to extract
Makes 1 traybake
For the base
125g soft butter
100g light brown soft sugar
2 tbsp ginger, peeled and very finely grated
210g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground ginger
For the icing
20g butter, melted
2 tbsp golden syrup
3 tsp ginger juice
35g icing sugar
½ tsp ground ginger
1 Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Cream the butter and sugar with the grated ginger until light and fluffy. Sift in the flour, baking powder and ground ginger. and fold to a firm dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth; if it's crumbly, dampen your hands whilst kneading.
2 Line a 20x30cm oven tray and press in the ginger dough. Bake for 20 minutes until golden.
3 After 15 minutes, make the icing. Put the butter, golden syrup and ginger juice in a small pan and warm until runny, beat in the icing sugar and ground ginger to a smooth paste.
4 Remove the base from the oven and let it cool for 5 minutes before pouring over the icing. Leave to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting into squares.