Out of the Frying Pan And Into the Antipodes--
Recipes & reminiscences from 70-plus years of New Zealand & Australian food; with some of the loves, some of the lovers, and some of the culinary & social history.
(A few names & places have been changed to protect the guilty)

Monday, 12 August 2019

Gingering Things Up A Bit


Gingering Things Up A Bit


Mmm-mm! One of the most delicious smells in the world: Mum’s baking ginger gems! Nothing better, coming home from school on a pouring wet, cold, grey, miserable winter afternoon, than walking into the warm kitchen to find it pervaded with the sweet, spicy scent of Mum’s “ginger gems”.
    “You can each have one, once they’ve cooled down,” she says firmly.
    The waiting’s agonising, but finally we each get to eat a lovely moist, spongy, dark brown ginger gem. By now the scent in the kitchen is so strong it almost makes your head reel.
    After that even eating them as pudding that evening would be an anticlimax, but we don’t: they’re for morning tea tomorrow, she’s got “Mrs Gleddie” coming. Like the horribly well-trained little kids of the Fifties that we are, we accept our fate. Besides, we didn’t expect anything else, really.

    Never heard of them? No, well, “gems” were a cultural icon of 1950s New Zealand. They could be plain, too, or sometimes a little bit of chopped dried apricot was added, but the best ones were the ginger gems. (See the recipe below, in the Recipes section.)
    Back then we’d never heard of fresh ginger: it’d be about another quarter century before that favourite of today’s “Asian”-inspired recipes crept into our consciousnesses.

A little bit of gingery history
Ground or powdered ginger has a long and honourable tradition in European cookery. It’s the ground-up dried rhizome of the ginger plant (Zingiber officinale), one of the first spices to reach Europe from India and other areas of tropical southern Asia: it was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
    Throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance only the wealthy would have had access to spices. The great households would have had a “spicer” on their staff: his sole rôle was to mix and prepare spices for foods and medicines. Spices were a luxury item. Contemporary accounts of the voyages of exploration such as Giovanni Battista Ramusio’s Delle navigationi et viaggi…, published in Venice in several volumes from 1613, list spices along with fabulous jewels, pearls, gold and silks as wondrous treasures of the East. In the 16th and 17th centuries a growing middle class in Europe would have bought a handful of their favourite spices from a commercial spicer (the French word for grocer, épicier, originally meant a spicer.).


    For hundreds of years spices were valuable commodities, sparking huge trade wars in the 16th and early 17th centuries, with the Dutch, English, Portuguese and Spanish fleets competing bitterly and bloodily for the precious cargos from the East.
    Vasco Da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, was the first European to reach India (“the Indies”) by sea, in 1498. The trade route to the east was open at last—the way there being a secret that the Portuguese were to guard jealously during the century that followed. Immense quantities of hugely valuable spices were brought back to Europe. “Within three years, the Portuguese were back in India. In 1505, Lopo Soares’s fleet of nine vessels departed from the Malabar Coast with a cargo that included 1,074,003 kilograms of pepper, 28,476 kilograms of ginger, 8,789 kilograms of cinnamon, and 206 kilograms of cardamom.” (Lizzie Collingham. Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors. Oxford, University Press, 2006, p. 51)
    Read more about the race to the East for spices in my series of blog posts on “Discovering Asia” (written with a different hat on). The first one below tells you about Vasco Da Gama’s voyage. The trade wars that followed are documented in the subsequent entries.

“Discovering Asia: East Indies - The Quest for Spices”

“Discovering Asia: The Stolen East Indian ‘Rutters’: How the Dutch Broke the Portuguese Trade Monopoly”:
“Discovering Asia: The Dutch Race to the Spice Islands”:
“Discovering Asia: The East Indies Opened Up To Colonial Expansion”:
“Discovering Asia: East Indies - Companies and Conflict”:

Sweet and Savoury
By those who could afford them, the sweet spices, sometimes called “aromatics”, like ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mace, and nutmeg, were used alike in sweet or savoury dishes for hundreds of years in European cuisine, alongside many other spices that gradually fell out of use (cardamom, “grains of Paradise” or Melegueta pepper, and sandalwood, for example). Like all spices, they were also used in medicine.
    To us, these early recipes read like Indian or Persian dishes; but “A stew of chicken simmered with cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, saffron, and a little vinegar and thickened with ground almonds was standard Portuguese fare during the sixteenth century.” (Lizzie Collingham. Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors. Oxford, University Press, 2006 p. 59.) The Indian “vindaloo” that we know today, a curry with vinegar added, was a Portuguese export to Goa, rather than vice versa.
    And here is a combination of meat with ginger, cloves, and mace that we wouldn’t be surprised to find today in Indian cuisine, but that was common in English cuisine until well after Shakespeare’s time:

Coney in Gravy: Take blanched almonds, grind them with wine And good broth of beef and mutton, and draw it through a strainer, and cast it into a pot, and let boil; and cast thereto powder of ginger, cloves, mace, and sugar. And then take a coney [rabbit], and seethe him enough in good fresh broth, and chop him. And take off the skin cleanly, and pick him clean. And cast it [in]to the syrup, And let boil once. And serve forth.
(From Harleian MS 4016; spelling modernised)
(Original in: Thomas Austin. Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books. Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS. 4016, with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1429, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS 55. London, for The Early English Text Society by N. Trübner & Co., 1888.)
http://www.godecookery.com/nboke/nboke51.htm (This website also provides a modern version, using either rabbit or chicken.)

    Such sweet and savoury dishes survived into the 18th century. In 1723 a German Cook, Maria Schellheimer, offered a couple of versions of what we’d probably consider a very odd way of poaching eggs, in her Brandenburgisches Kochbuch. The sweet and sour version is “cold with a sauce made from cress grated [sic] with good wine vinegar, strained and seasoned with ginger, pepper, cinnamon, sugar and salt.” (Ursula Heinzelmann. "Saving the Lost, Sour Eggs: An Annotated Pictorial Documentation of an Almost Extinct German Egg Recipe". Eggs in Cookery: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 2006. Totnes, Prospect Books, 2007, p.96.)

You can get modern recipes for “gingerbread” but they’re nothing like the spicy dish that was a food icon across Europe for centuries. Survivors or perhaps descendants of this traditional dish are still to be found: two Dutch versions, which are small biscuits or cakes baked for festivals, are pepernoten and kruidnoten (the two frequently confused by the cookery writers).
    Mediaeval English gingerbread was typical of what was eaten as a cake in those days. Basically, you mush up some breadcrumbs with a lot of honey, add your spices, squish it together, let it set and decorate to suit the occasion.
    Okay, don’t take my word for it: here’s Jane Grigson, in English Food:

“A mediaeval recipe, from about 1430, gives a good idea of what this early gingerbread was like. You warmed a quart of honey and skimmed it, then added breadcrumbs until the mixture was thick enough to be shaped into a square loaf without further cooking. Before the crumbs were added, the honey might be coloured yellow with saffron, or red with sanders which was a preparation of sandalwood from India. It was also flavoured with black pepper and cinnamon, and presumably with ground ginger, too, although this is not mentioned, presumably because whoever copied the manuscript overlooked it…
   “This solid square was decorated with box leaves held in place by cloves. Sometimes the cloves had gilded heads, and were used to pattern the top of the gingerbread, which was eventually cut into slices for eating. The nearest thing to mediaeval gingerbread is the French pain d'épice…”
(Jane Grigson. English Food. Harmondsworth, England, Penguin, 1977. (First published London, Macmillan, 1974))
    Mrs Grigson had a go at it, but the result sounds to me like pretty much of a flop.

Gingerbread as street food: 18th-19th centuries
Street food was even bigger in the 18th and early 19th centuries than it is today—in fact, from the Middle Ages on. The pictures tell the story in many contemporary collections of illustrations of “street criers” or “street cries”. The one below is from the set by William Marshall Craig (d.1827), which was published in 1804 in a book by Sir Richard Phillips (1767-1840): Modern London; Being the History and Present State of the British Metropolis (London, for R. Phillips, 1904).


    The accompanying text indicates gingerbread was sold in winter, but in summer the traders sold Banbury cakes and other cakes instead.
    During the 18th century gingerbread was immensely popular as a street food in London: there are many tales of the vendors and many variants of their cries were recorded. This was no longer, however, the old Mediaeval gingerbread, but rather a biscuit made with treacle, and often produced in fancy shapes by pressing it into wooden moulds: “By the second half of the eighteenth century, gingerbreads made with treacle and flour were becoming popular … [and] replacing the old breadcrumb and almond paste gingerbreads. (“Lady Barbara Fleming's Gingerbreads 1673”, Historic Food.)
    But by the end of the 19th century the London street traders had been tidied up by the indefatigable Victorians, so that in 1885 Andrew White Tuer, a collector of street cries and recorder of street food, noted that although gingerbread was “still to be found in a cold state at village fairs”, the once-famous hot spiced gingerbread sellers had “long since disappeared from our streets.” (Andrew White Tuer (1838-1900). Old London Street Cries; and, The Cries of To-day, with Heaps of Quaint Cuts… 1885)


19th century – Isabella’s “Dessert Biscuits”
Mrs Beeton, who tried to include all things culinary in her Book of Household Management of 1861, has this to say about ginger:

GINGER. –The ginger-plant, known to naturalists as “Zingiber officinale”, is a native of the East and West Indies. It grows somewhat like the lily of the valley, but its height is about three feet. In Jamaica it flowers about August or September, fading about the end of the year. The fleshy creeping roots, which form the ginger of commerce, are in a proper state to be dug when the stalks are entirely withered. This operation is usually performed in January and February; and when the roots are taken out of the earth, each one is picked, scraped, separately washed, and afterwards very carefully dried. Ginger is generally considered as less pungent and heating to the system than might be expected from its effects on the organs of taste, and it is frequently used, with considerable effect, as an anti-spasmodic and carminative.


    In fact English cooks at this period used powdered ginger, and Isabella Beeton would never have seen a frost-tender ginger plant. Here’s a typical example of how she uses ginger; it’s a good illustration of how times had moved on since the early 18th century: spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and mace were still used in sweet dishes—biscuits, cakes, puddings—but almost never in savoury or meat-based ones, a pattern that was to be maintained for another hundred years or more in British-based cookery.

Dessert Biscuits, which may be flavoured
with Ground Ginger, Cinnamon, &c. &c.
Ingredients.—1 lb. of flour, 1/2 lb. of butter, 1/2 lb. of sifted sugar, the yolks of 6 eggs, flavouring to taste.
Mode.—Put the butter into a basin; warm it, but do not allow it to oil; then with the hand beat it to a cream. Add the flour by degrees, then the sugar and flavouring, and moisten the whole with the yolks of the eggs, which should previously be well beaten. When all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, drop the mixture from a spoon on to a buttered paper, leaving a distance between each cake, as they spread as soon as they begin to get warm.
Bake in rather a slow oven from 12 to 18 minutes, and do not let the biscuits acquire too much colour. In making the above quantity, half may be flavoured with ground ginger and the other half with essence of lemon or currants, to make a variety. With whatever the preparation is flavoured, so are the biscuits called; and an endless variety may be made in this manner.
Time.—12 to 18 minutes, or rather longer, in a very slow oven. Average cost, 1s. 6d. Sufficient to make from 3 to 4 dozen cakes. Seasonable at any time.
(Isabella Beeton. The Book of Household Management. [London], S.O. Beeton, 1861.)

Little gems of the 1950s
“Gems” are a kind of small muffin made with baking powder (bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar), baked in a special very heavy baking pan (“gem irons”), traditionally of cast iron, which allows them to rise in a special way. They are oblong in shape and often sweetish, but not nearly as sweet as cakes. In the 1950s they were normally served cold, buttered, for morning or afternoon tea. Real gems have to be made with the gem irons preheated to very hot, until a small dab of butter dropped in each gem holder sizzles.


    Modern recipes incorrectly interpret them as sweet muffins, not using the traditional gem irons and frequently intending them to be eaten warm. Real gems occur in 19th-century American cookery (e.g. “Corn Meal Gems”, in Lydia Maria Gurney’s The Things Mother Used To Make: A Collection of Old Time Recipes, Some Nearly One Hundred Years Old and Never Published Before, New York, Frank A. Arnold, 1914) as well as in mid-20th-century New Zealand and Australian cookery, but already in the early 20th century some recipes are more like sweet cakes (e.g. “English Gems”, 365 Foreign Dishes: A Foreign Dish for Every Day in the Year, Philadelphia, G.W. Jacobs & Co., [1908]).

1 level breakfastcup flour;  6 tablespoons milk;
1 teaspoon Edmonds baking powder;  1 oz. butter;
1 teaspoon ground ginger;  1 oz. brown sugar;
pinch of salt;  2 tablespoons golden syrup; 1 egg
Sift dry ingredients. Beat egg and add with milk. Melt butter, sugar and golden syrup together and mix in last of all. Put in twelve hot greased gem irons and bake 12 minutes at 425° F.
(Edmonds Cookery Book. De luxe ed., [Christchurch, N.Z.], T.J. Edmonds Ltd., 1955 (1968 printing) (First published as The Sure to Rise Cookery Book, 1908))

Steaming Ginger
The other highlight of Mum’s culinary efforts with powdered ginger was steamed ginger pudding: yummy, too, but not as good as the ginger gems:

Ginger Pudding
4 ozs. butter;  1 teaspoon ground ginger;  2 ozs. sugar;
1 teaspoon Winson’s Bicarb Soda; 1 egg;  8 ozs. flour;
2 tablespoons golden syrup ; about 1/4 pint milk
Cream butter, sugar and golden syrup together, add beaten egg and mix well. Dissolve bicarb soda in the milk and add alternatively with dry ingredients. Put into a greased basin, cover with greased paper, and steam 2 hours.
Note: 2 ozs. raisins or chopped [crystallized] ginger may be added.
(Edmonds Cookery Book. De luxe ed., [Christchurch, N.Z.], T.J. Edmonds Ltd., 1955 (1968 printing))

Steaming was a favourite way of cooking a hot pudding in those days, but you’d be hard put to it to get it right if you followed these instructions! However, this book is more helpful than some, which would assume that you knew—the local productions, published for school or church or even township anniversaries, or as fund-raisers for schools or clubs, being the worst offenders. The Edmonds book gives the general instructions for steaming at the beginning of its section on “Puddings” (a pudding being a hot dessert, boiled, steamed or occasionally baked):

TO STEAM
The mixture must 2/3-fill the pudding basin. Cook in a greased steamer or basin. Tie a piece of greased paper securely over the basin. Stand in a saucepan with sufficient boiling water to come half-way up the side of the basin. Cover saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Keep water boiling all the time. Add more boiling water if necessary.


Gingernuts or Ginger Nuts?
These days shop-bought “gingernuts” (NZ) or “ginger nuts” (AUS), hard ginger-flavoured biscuits which need to be dipped in your tea or coffee if you don’t want to break your teeth, are still popular, as they have been for decades: if we open a packet on Monday at morning teatime at the workplace where I volunteer, the biscuits have usually vanished within the week, although it’s only a small staff.

No uniform “ginger nut”?
The biscuits are such a favourite that in Australia, although the big commercial biscuit manufacturer, Arnott’s, bakes all their “ginger nuts” centrally these days, different-coloured and different-tasting sorts are made for different states. Originally local factories in the various states baked for the state markets; when the mega-baker took them over and tried to introduce a uniform “ginger nut” there was terrific negative feedback from their customer base. So Arnott’s gave in to the local tastes, and now they produce four different varieties! You can read all about it in an article on the ABC website: “Ginger nut: The Aussie biscuit favourite that varies across the country”, by Lish Fejer and Penny Travers.


    Back around 1949-1950 earnest home cooks were still giving their recipes for home-made ones. (And yes, there are still recipes on the Internet, but then, there’s a lot of strange stuff out there). The Green and Gold Cookery Book had two versions; this is the fuller one:

Ginger Nuts
One pound of flour, one pinch salt, one teaspoon carbonate soda, 1 oz. ginger, one teaspoon mixed spice, 1/2 lb. treacle, 1/4 lb clarified dripping, 3 oz. brown sugar, two tablespoons milk.
Sift the flour, salt, soda, ginger and mixed spice. Melt the dripping, sugar and treacle, and pour on to sifted flour, etc. and add the milk. Knead well and roll out 1/4 in. thick. Cut with a round cutter and bake in a moderate oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
—Mrs. T. C Sharman, Black Forest.
(Green and Gold Cookery Book: Containing Many Good and Proved Recipes. 15th ed. (rev.), Adelaide, R.M. Osborne, [1949?])

Note the use of dripping: a common and cheap shortening during the Depression and the Second World War: you roasted your “joint” (usually mutton) and carefully drained off the hot fat into your “dripping pot,” a small metal lidded basin. For baking the fat would later be clarified after it had set and you’d lifted it off the small layer of meat jelly at the bottom of the pot.
    In New Zealand, which has a strong dairying tradition in spite of the popular myths about sheep, butter was the only shortening commonly used in home baking by the nineteen-fifties. Mum sometimes put a dab of dripping on a roast, but she never used it for baking.

Ginger treat: crystallised or “preserved”
As well as the popular powdered ginger, which is what all the recipes used to mean when they just said “ginger”, sweetened ginger root was also available, at a price, in crystallised or “preserved” form. Exactly what the recipes mean when they use the word “preserved” in this context isn’t clear. You could get ginger preserved in syrup in blue-and-white Chinese “ginger jars”—if you knew where to look. Very, very occasionally Dad would bring home a jar of it in the 1950s as a treat. You wouldn’t have dreamed of using it for baking.
    The crystallised sort, sold dry in packets and intended for baking, was more readily available. Mum hardly ever bought it—we couldn’t afford any luxuries—but when she did it would be used very, very sparingly: a small piece, little more than a narrow slice, topping a favourite biscuit recipe. More affluent families would chop it and put it in birthday cakes, wedding cakes and of course Christmas cakes, along with all sorts of dried fruits.
    A similar mixture is used in this Australian recipe with the irresistible name:

Stuffed Monkeys
[From the section “Biscuits and Shortbreads”]
Two cups brown sugar, 1 lb. butter, 1 1/2 lb. flour, little cinnamon, two eggs.
Mix together, roll out into little cakes 1/2 in. thick.
Filling.—Chopped almonds, fig jam, preserved ginger, and mixed peel chopped fine.
Mix together, and put a little on each cake. Fold over like a pasty. In an Electric Cooker bake at 450° [F] with the current switched off 12-15 minutes.
(Green and Gold Cookery Book: Containing Many Good and Proved Recipes. 15th ed. (rev.), Adelaide, R.M. Osborne, [1949?])

Finishing off the Fifties: modern gingerbread
This comes out rather like a sweet loaf.

Gingerbread
6 oz butter;  3/4 breakfastcup light brown sugar;
3/4 breakfastcup treacle; **  3/4 breakfastcup milk;
1-1/2 teaspoons Winson's Bicarb Soda;
[2-1/2 breakfastcups flour];  [1 teaspoon ginger];
[1 teaspoon spice]
Put above [first 5] ingredients into a basin and stand basin in saucepan of hot water until mixture is melted and bubbly.
Pour into 2-1/2 breakfastcups flour, 1 teaspoon ginger and 1 teaspoon spice sifted together. Mix and bake in a greased shallow tin about 3/4 to 1 hour at 350° F.
(Edmonds Cookery Book. De luxe ed., [Christchurch, N.Z.], T.J. Edmonds Ltd., 1955 (1968 printing))

** I once substituted molasses (bought for Boston Baked Beans) for treacle, to make this. It made a tasty loaf, not very sweet, with a hearty, almost earthy and smoky flavour. The leftover portion kept forever in a tin, becoming very dry but not mouldy at all. It was still edible, though rather hard, after several months. This was when I was living in downtown Wellington, so it certainly wasn’t a dry climate.

Goodbye to the Fifties
These recipes from around 1950 sum up the uses of ginger during the first 6 to 7 decades of the 20th century, really: crystallised ginger was sometimes used, but the norm was ground ginger, and we only used it in sweet dishes, whether baked or steamed.
    Probably the first adventurous use of ginger in the Antipodes was to serve it sprinkled it on a piece of melon as a starter, in the 1970s. (See the earlier article, “Revivals and Survivals; Melon With The Meal?”)

Gingerly Into the Eighties
Spices began to reappear in Antipodean meat and vegetable cookery from about 1980, as those who’d read some of the more adventurous ethnic recipes which had begun to appear in English-language versions in the 1970s—Indian, Middle Eastern, Far Eastern—got more daring themselves.
    Below is a typical recipe, but for an unusual vegetable, which became suddenly popular in New Zealand at around this time (though some sources claim it was introduced over 100 years earlier.) These so-called “yams” (Oxalis tuberosa; Spanish oca), which originate in South America, and like the potato date back as a food source at least to the Incas of Peru, and probably earlier, are small tubers, about 6 to 8 cm long, with thin pinkish or sometimes yellowish skins, and yellowish flesh.
    They taste of nothing very much if boiled, but are delicious the way Mum did them in the 1980s, in one of her very few ventures into new foods: roasted in a little oil until the flesh is completely soft and the edible skins are browned. This recipe offers a different approach, gingering them up:

Sweet and Sour Yams
500 g prepared yams;  2 tablespoons honey;
1 tablespoon cider vinegar;  1 teaspoon ground ginger;
2 tablespoons butter;  1/2 teaspoon salt
Place the yams in a greased casserole.
Combine the butter, honey, ginger, cider vinegar and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil. Pour over the yams.
Cover and bake at 190°C for 1 hour until tender. –Serves 4-6
(Mary Browne, Helen Leach & Nancy Tichborne. The Cook's Garden: For Cooks Who Garden and Gardeners Who Cook. Wellington, [N.Z.], A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1980)

With the discovery of spicy foreign food came the discovery of ginger root as an ingredient—variously called “fresh” or “green” to distinguish it from its powdery relative.
    Here’s an early Australian vindaloo recipe, which I cut out from Family Circle magazine in the 1980s. In the Antipodes we weren’t yet so into ethnic food that we’d recognise the word “vindaloo”, which is presumably why it isn’t used here!

1 x 1.25 kg (2 1/2 1b) chicken, cut into serving pieces;
3 fresh green chillies, seeded and finely chopped;
6 medium onions, finely sliced; 3 cloves garlic, crushed;
1 x 5 cm (2in) piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated;
1 cup cider vinegar;  3/4 cup chicken stock;
1 teaspoon chilli powder;  2 tablespoons ground coriander;
2 teaspoons ground cumin;  1 teaspoon ground cloves;
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom;  1 teaspoon turmeric;
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon;  salt
1. Mix the chilli powder, coriander, cumin, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and turmeric to a thick paste with 1-2 tablespoons of the measured vinegar.
2. Heat 2-3 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan, add onions, garlic, ginger and chillies and fry for 5 minutes, or until soft. Add vinegar-spice mixture and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes.
3. Add the chicken pieces and cook for 10 minutes, turning frequently. Pour in remaining vinegar and stock, add salt to taste and cook for 45 minutes, or until chicken is tender. –Makes 4 servings.
(Family Circle. North Sydney, Family Circle Publications,1981-1999)

This approach was to remain popular with Australasian cooks. An almost identical recipe, under the curiously non-ethnic name “Mum’s Chicken Pot Roast”, appears in 2008 in the collection Homecooked Feasts: Favourite Celebratory Recipes From Australian Kitchens (Sydney, ABC Books).

Into the new century: ginger … and everything trendy
These days you’re not cooking unless you throw root ginger, garlic and chopped chillis into the mix—along with everything else that happens to be trendy at the instant. It could be cauliflower “rice” (that’s cauliflower, trendies, the despised veggie that you refused to eat when your Mum shoved it on your plate), quinoa, chia seeds (“gelatinous and similar in texture to sago” –BestRecipes.com.au), pomegranate seeds, pomegranate syrup, palm hearts (destroying the Environment here, trendies), coconut oil (i.e. solid cholesterol), sliced coconut flesh (ditto), banana flowers, or you-name-it crap. Doesn’t matter what it is, it has to be the trend of the moment.
    So I’ll just give you a few recipes that reflect the trends but are reasonably do-able, not inordinately expensive, and may actually taste good.

Ginger vegetable: a new veg for a new age
It goes by various names in Australia: bok choy, buk choy, or pak choy (sometimes choi) and is now always available in the supermarkets.


This recipe dates from 2009, and while being typical of what we eat now, is one of the less extreme recipes of the period. And it’s very easy!

Pak Choi Fry
1 bunch pak choi;  3 large cloves garlic, crushed;
1 cm piece ginger, crushed;
2 teaspoons sesame oil or vegetable oil
Remove pak choi leaves from the stalks and soak for a while in cold water. Carefully wash stems to clean. Cut in half lengthwise.
Place a frying pan over high heat and add oil. When oil is hot add ginger then garlic. Add pak choi and remove from heat immediately.
Toss pak choi in oil until it wilts and combines well with oil. Add salt to taste.
Remove from heat on time otherwise the leaves turn brown/green destroying the taste. Sesame oil gives more of an authentic Chinese flavour. If you wish you can add sesame seeds to garnish. –Serves 4.
—By “sachcho” (BestRecipes),

Ginger tofu: still trending…
Thirty years back tofu was largely seen as the sort of thing vegetarian nutters ate. Times have changed. Some people still don’t like it, but it’s fair to say that this Australian tofu recipe represents modern tastes. –Though I don’t advise trying to chop tofu into “matchsticks”! Bitesize chunks will work better. “Kecap manis” is Indonesian soy sauce. I wouldn’t add salt: all soy sauces are salty. I found the recipe in 2014, at which time it was fairly new on the website.

Stir-fried Tofu and Vegetables with Kecap Manis
250 g firm tofu cut into matchsticks; [or bitesize chunks]
1 carrot cut into matchsticks, medium;
100 g green beans, topped; 1 capsicum;
1 onion, chopped;  2 cloves garlic, minced;
5 cm. ginger, minced;  4 tbs kecap manis;
2 tbs peanut oil;  1/2 tsp salt and pepper
[Garnish]: 1 [bunch] coriander
1. Wrap the tofu in paper towels and press to remove any moisture.
2. Heat oil in wok, add garlic, ginger and onion and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes.
3. Add tofu and vegetables and continue stir-frying for a few minutes longer, making sure the vegetables are crisp.
4. Add kecap manis, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
5. Cook until heated through.
6. Serve with chopped coriander and rice or noodles.
Notes: I prefer the ABC brand of kecap manis sedang as it’s not as sweet as the plain kecap manis. –Serves 4.
--By “SpiceGirl”. (BestRecipes),

Ginger beef: slimming but with-it
The big Aussie government science department, the CSIRO, has had terrific success with its diet cookbooks over the last dozen years or so. However, I found that the amount of protein they advise per day is far too much—it started to give me gout symptoms. No kidding. And I’m sure you can’t blame the Shiraz!
    Nevertheless the individual recipes are lovely. This one is typical of their with-it approach.

Teriyaki Beef with Egg Noodles
4 x 200 g beef steaks, trimmed of fat and thinly sliced;
150 g mushrooms, sliced;  2 small onions, sliced;
3 cloves garlic, crushed;  1 x 3 cm piece ginger, grated;
3 tablespoons teriyaki sauce;  2 teaspoons sesame oil;
2 teaspoons vegetable oil; coriander leaves (optional)
Noodles:
1 1/3 cups (160 g) cooked egg noodles, still hot;
red capsicum (pepper), cut into thin strips;
6 spring onions, sliced;  teaspoon sesame oil
1. Heat the oils in a wok or large non-stick frying pan over high heat. Stir-fry the beef in batches, then remove from the wok and drain on paper towel.
2. Add the onion, garlic and mushrooms to the wok or pan and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes. Return the beef to the wok, add the teriyaki sauce and mix until heated through. If the mixture is too dry, add a little water.
3. To prepare the noodles, combine all the ingredients. Divide among four noodle bowls and top with the teriyaki beef and coriander leaves (if using). Serve with steamed Asian greens. –Serves 4.
+ To make chicken teriyaki, simply replace the beef with the same quantity of chicken breasts.
(The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet Recipe Book. Camberwell, Vic., Penguin, ©2010)

Ginger lamb: slowly lapping it up, Moroccan style
“Tagine” cooking suddenly became even more trendy than sliced, crushed or grated ginger root in the early 21st century. Don’t ask me why; these things are mysterious. Bandwaggons are always jumped on, yep, but as to why they became bandwaggons… If you’re really trendy you rush out and buy a humungously expensive real tagine (the pot)—and presumably half-kill yourself trying to cook with it. The telly gurus in their immaculate trendy garb who advocate it, while behind the scenes a team of slaves are sweating over the flame to produce the thing that will eventually appear on the screen, have apparently never grasped that it is essentially a dish of nomadic, desert-living peoples who had nothing but open fires to cook on! If you’re out in the desert about to move on with your camels and goats to the next source of water and grazing, you don’t have ovens or stoves. Geddit? They have since been invented, however, and so has the slow cooker, which this next recipe from 2009 very sensibly uses.

Slow Cooker Lamb Tagine
Easy lamb tagine that tastes like you have made a huge effort.
500 g diced lamb;  1 x 400 g tin diced tomatoes;
10 prunes;  1/4 preserved lemon, finely diced;
1 red onion, sliced;  2 cloves garlic, crushed;
1 teaspoon fresh ginger; 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped;
1 tablespoon coriander, chopped;  1 cup chicken stock;
1 teaspoon turmeric;  1/2 teaspoon cinnamon;
2 teaspoons ground cumin;  1 cinnamon stick;
1 tablespoon honey;  2 teaspoons sugar;
1/4 cup ground almonds (almond meal)
1. Into slow cooker, add all but the ... [prunes, preserved lemon, ground almonds, parsley & coriander leaves], mix well.
2. Set slow cooker to low and leave to cook for 8-10 hours.
3. Half an hour before serving, stir through prunes, preserved lemon, ground almonds, parsley and coriander.
Serve with couscous. –Serves 4.
—By “RedDoll”. (BestRecipes),

Desserts: still gingery in slices
Ground ginger and crystallized ginger are still with us in the 21st century, as well as the trendier root ginger. They’re still favourites in dessert recipes, though the approach has changed a lot since the Fifties: now your home cook whips up a “slice” instead of filling the kitchen with steam to make a ginger pudding. Slices are versatile: they are eaten both as desserts and for morning or afternoon tea. (More on slices in the earlier blog articles, Condensed Cholesterol & Sugar Blindness: the Australasian ‘Slice’ (1)” and “Snap, Crackle- Slice? The Australasian ‘Slice’ (2)”.)

Honey Ginger Slice
For lovers of ginger.
1/2 cup chopped glacé ginger ;  1/2 cup honey;
1 3/4 cups self-raising flour; 1/2 cup caster sugar;
1 1/3 cups cornflakes, crushed;  1 cup rolled oats;
1 cup desiccated coconut; 1 teaspoon ground ginger;
250 g butter;
Lemon Icing:
60 g butter;  2 tablespoons lemon juice;
1 1/2 cups icing sugar; 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1. Sift flour into bowl. Add oats, cornflakes, coconut, sugar, ground ginger and half glace ginger. Mix well.
2. Heat butter and honey in a small pan, stir over heat until butter is melted. Stir butter mixture into dry ingredients and mix well.
3. Press mixture over base of an ungreased slice tin. Cook at 180°C for approximately 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Stand in pan for 10 minutes before turning out on wire rack to cool.
4. Lemon Icing: Beat butter until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in half sifted icing sugar, juice and rind. Add remaining icing sugar.
Spread icing over slice and sprinkle with remaining glace ginger.
—By Donnamare. (BestRecipes),

It’s one of the earlier recipes on the website; I found it in 2009 but it probably dates from a few years before that.
    The second slice is a New Zealand recipe (called a tart but in fact an unbaked slice) that’s possibly as trendy as you can get in the 2nd decade of the 21st century without actually using root ginger in your dessert:

Mandarin Ginger Chocolate Tart
For the crust:  3/4 cup raw almonds, 100g;
1/2 cup walnuts, 50g;  1/4 cup cocoa powder, 30g;
1/2 orange, zest only;  1 cup chopped dates, 125g;
2 tbsp orange juice, if needed;
1/4 cup crystallised ginger, thinly sliced; 1/4 tsp salt
For the chocolate ginger filling:
250g dark chocolate, dairy free, 50-62% cacao;
300g silken tofu, drained;  1/4 cup crystallised ginger;
3/4 cup coconut cream;  1 tsp vanilla essence; 1/4 tsp salt
For the toppings:  1 tub coconut yoghurt [non-dairy];
1 can mandarin segments, in syrup, chilled;
1 packet freeze-dried mandarin [optional]
1. To make the crust, place the almonds, walnuts, cocoa, orange zest and salt in a food processor and process to a coarse meal.
2. Warm dates so they soften (20 seconds in microwave works well), then cut into thirds to find any stones. Add to processor and run until the mixture starts to clump together. If too dry, add orange juice to help it clump up.
3.  Press into a shallow tray approx 20 x 25cm, lined with baking paper. Cover base with baking paper then use a tin to smooth and press evenly to around 6mm thick. Lay the very thinly sliced ginger on top of the base, spreading it evenly around.
4. For the filling, melt the chocolate in a small bowl resting over a saucepan of boiling water. Don’t let the base of the bowl touch the water and be careful not to let any drips of water enter the bowl of chocolate.
5. While the chocolate is melting, blend the silken tofu, coconut cream, vanilla essence, salt and crystallised ginger until smooth. When the chocolate is melted add it to the blender and blend until smooth. Pour on the base, spread evenly and chill for several hours until set.
6. Slice into wedges and serve with a dollop of coconut yoghurt and a couple of segments of tinned mandarin. Freeze-dried mandarin is great crushed and in chunks on top if you have it. –Serves 12.

As you can see, the name’s a bit of a misnomer: the mandies just go on top. Folks, it’s Vegan: completely dairy-free. It’s rather funny, really, to see the sort of crystallised ginger our grannies and great-grannies would have used turning up next to tofu, coconut cream and coconut yoghurt! I had to look that last up to make sure that it really is non-dairy, but yep, both Cocobella and Nudie sell dairy-free coconut yoghurt, and there are even recipes on the Internet for making it yourself with special non-GMO probio—Well, never mind. I’m giving Aaron Brunet a “A” for effort, but in dairy-besotted New Zealand I wonder how many people would want to make this delicious recipe? By the way, I’d cut back on the salt, never mind if it’s for 12.

Gingery, trendier?
The modern dessert recipes above use the forms of ginger that were traditional in Western cookery. But there are lots and lots out there that use root ginger, either slicing it finely or grating it as you would for a savoury Asian-style dish, or—a favourite, this—boiling the root up, usually chopped, with sugar, preferably palm sugar, to make a syrup. This typically gets poured onto fruit. Australasian cooks of the 21st century are really keen on this method, but it predates them: in 1999 Gourmet magazine had a recipe for “Mango in Ginger-Mint Syrup” which is on the big American database, Epicurious.com.

Gingery, sweeter still—and salty?
Crystallised ginger has been a favourite ingredient in homemade Australasian sweets for decades. Back around 1949-1950 Mrs. Harry Arbon, from Clarence Park in Adelaide, South Australia, advised in her “Toffee” recipe: “For fruit toffee any desired fruit may be put in the tins before pouring out the toffee. Currants, sultanas and ginger are very good.” (Green and Gold Cookery Book, op. cit.)
    In the 21st century it’s still being used. Here’s a very trendy recipe to end with: it includes that trendiest—and to me just about the most terrifying—of the latest fads: flakes of unnecessary salt. Why? Well, because everybody’s doing it. Many cooks advise that a pinch of salt enhances the flavour of chocolate, yes. But sprinkling it on top of a mixture that already contains artery-hardening ingredients? If you make these admittedly yummy sweets, do try not to eat them on the same day as anything else heavy in unsaturated fats and salt!

Ginger, Hazelnut and Orange Chocolate
400 g dark chocolate, at least 60% cocoa solids;
200 ml cream;  1 orange, zested, plus extra to garnish;
60 g roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped;
2 1/2 tbsp crystallised ginger, finely chopped;
2 egg yolks;  1 sprinkle flaky sea salt, to garnish
1. Line a 15cm square tin with baking paper.
2. Roughly chop the chocolate and put into a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted then set aside.
3. Bring the cream to a boil and add to the chocolate with the orange zest, hazelnuts and 1 tbsp of the ginger; stir and set aside.
4. Place the egg yolks into a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Add 40ml of hot water and whisk for two minutes.
5. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer. Fold in the chocolate and whisk for three minutes or until room temperature.
6. Spoon into the tin, scatter with the extra ginger, orange zest and flaky salt.
Chill overnight then cut into desired size squares with a hot knife.
—By Amanda Laird, Viva. (Bite) http://www.bite.co.nz


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