DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - May 11, 2007

Epicure: Seasoning essentials: garlic and ginger

by Jacqui Love Marshall

Garlic and Ginger are my favorite everyday spices. I think of them as a professional dance team - each bringing its unique style and together offering a delightful set of culinary moves. They provide basic seasoning flavor but are quite versatile across a wide range of culinary tastes and cuisines.

Garlic is an ancient spice, used by Greeks, Romans, Asians and Africans since the earliest of times. Garlic grows as a bulb, made up of individual cloves, which are separated for use. A cousin to the onion, shallot and leek, it offers a pungent flavor to foods, intense or mild depending on how it is used. Because of its strong odor, it is sometimes called the "stinking rose." And if you've ever attended the annual Garlic Festival in Gilroy ("The Garlic Capital of the World"), you wouldn't doubt my word on this.

Besides repelling werewolves and vampires, garlic is reported to have many medicinal benefits. According to the Garlic Information Centre, www.garlic.mistral.co.uk, its qualities are as a cardio-protective, anti-oxidant, antibacterial and antifungal and aiding blood pressure, cholesterol, circulation, impotence, pregnancy, diabetes, coughs and colds, stomach conditions, cancer, pets and synergistic effect with other health food supplements. Frankly, I'm impressed.

Garlic bulbs generally contain 10-20 cloves of garlic. Cloves have a fine pink/purple papery skin and the bunch of cloves is covered with a thin white outer skin. Skins should be discarded and not eaten. Fresh garlic heads are firm with dry outer skins. Avoid heads that are sprouting, soggy or crumble with slight finger pressure.

To prepare garlic: Strip away some of the outer skin and remove as many cloves as desired. Garlic cloves come in a variety of sizes and shapes so the more you cook with garlic cloves, the better you'll gauge how many cloves of a particular size to use. With garlic, the finer the pieces, the stronger the taste. Crushed garlic has the strongest taste while cooked whole garlic has a milder, sweeter taste. Garlic added later in the cooking process produces a stronger taste than garlic added earlier.

Crushed garlic: Crushing fresh garlic by hand is a cultivated, useful skill. Place one unpeeled clove flat on a cutting board. Place a wide-blade knife over the clove and press strongly and flatly with the palm of your hand, avoiding the sharp edge of the blade. This will remove the skin from the mildly crushed clove. Discard the skin and work a little salt onto the board to soak up any garlic juices. Now, chip the clove into rough pieces. Position the knife flatly over one end of the chopped pieces and press down with the sharp edge. Move the knife along the pile of garlic, pressing and crushing as you go. The salt also helps to keep the garlic pieces in place as you press. Repeat the pressing until the garlic is the consistency you desire. Scrape the crushed garlic and juices off the board and set aside for use.

Garlic mashed potatoes: For a mild, slightly sweet version, peel a couple of cloves of garlic. Before boiling the potatoes, add the garlic to the water and boil with the potatoes. After draining, mash the garlic into the potatoes. For really garlicky potatoes, boil the potatoes as normal. After draining them, crush a couple of cloves of garlic and mash them into the potatoes along with the milk/butter/cream you normally use.

Ginger is native to China but has been adopted throughout Asia, India, West Africa and the Caribbean. Like garlic, its pungent flavor is used in many different cuisines as a flavorful seasoning for foods. Ginger is pickled, candied or crystalized, is used in sweets, and is the main ingredient for ginger ale and ginger beer drinks.

Studies of ginger's medicinal benefits are less substantial than those regarding garlic but ginger is widely used for nausea, motion and morning sickness, as an anti- inflammatory and, for many people, as a regular dietary supplement.

Ginger adds an aromatic and fiery flavor to foods. It has a "kick" factor that enhances mild dishes without overpowering the food's taste. Many vegetarian dishes include ginger for the seasoning factor as well as the digestive benefits. Fresh ginger is essential to Asian and Indian cookery. It is used in pickles, chutneys and curry pastes and the ground dried root is a constituent of many curry powders.

Cooking ginger is almost always used fresh - then minced, crushed or sliced. Fresh ginger can be kept for several weeks in the salad drawer of the refrigerator. For the freshest ginger, select pieces that have a smooth, taut skin and are firm but not woody, moist but not soggy. Run a vegetable peeler or a teaspoon along the outside edges to remove the skin. To chop or mince, use a sharp knife; to grate, use a porcelain grater; to slice, cut lengthwise across the grain. If you don't plan to use your ginger right away, cover it tightly with saran wrap and freeze it up to 6 months. When ready to use, grate, chop or slice it frozen to make it easier to handle.

For a great starter to a dinner gathering, serve the Lime-Ginger Coolers and the Shrimp Toasts! Garlic. Ginger. Don't leave home without them.

--Jacqui Love Marshall lives in Danville with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at jlovemarshall@yahoo.com.

Recipes

Lime-Ginger Coolers (makes 6)

Small ice cubes

12 dashes bitters

1 cup concentrated lime juice (preferably Rose's)

6 slices peeled fresh ginger

Fill 6-8oz. glasses with ice. Add 2 dashes bitters and 2-3 Tbsp. lime juice to each glass. Top with 1/2 cup seltzer. Add ginger and serve.

Shrimp Toasts (18-24 pieces)

This recipe uses both garlic and ginger and is a delight with cocktails or as an appetizer.

1 large egg white

1 Tbsp. rice wine

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

1/2 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 slices raw bacon, cut into small pieces

1 slice fresh gingerroot, 1-1/2-inch thick

2 scallions trimmed to 1-inch green plus white part

3-inch piece celery rib

2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

3 large garlic cloves

2 tsp. dark sesame oil

1 tsp. dark soy sauce

5-6 slices quality white bread, each slice cut into 4 triangles

2 cups peanut oil

1. Combine cornstarch and wine in small bowl. Stir well; set aside. Beat egg white until light and frothy, set aside.

2. In a food processor, combine bacon and shrimp and puree until smooth. Add garlic, scallions, celery, cilantro and ginger. Pulse until vegetables are finely chopped. Transfer mixture to a mixing bowl and add soy sauce, sesame oil, egg white and cornstarch/wine.

3. Spread 1 Tbsp. of paste onto each triangle. Chill, up to 4 hours, until ready to fry.

4. Heat peanut oil in a wok to 360 degrees (or until a piece of bread turns brown when added). Turning often, fry triangles a few at a time until they are golden brown on both sides, up to 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately. Note: The toasts may be prepared ahead and re-heated but are best right out of the wok.

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