Aromatic ginger stirs new zing into dishes

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If you want to add a little spice to your life, try cooking with fresh ginger. I grate it into soups, smoothies, desserts (especially ice cream), preserves and sauces.

Though it’s often called ginger root, it is not a root at all but the rhizome or underground stem of the plant Zingiber officinale, which comes from the same family as turmeric and cardamom.

When buying fresh ginger, look for heavy pieces with smooth brown skin and no wrinkling or mold. Fresh ginger is hard and breaks cleanly with a snap. If you see pieces with fibers coming out at the break, they’re old.

Ginger can be kept in the refrigerator for two to three weeks wrapped in a paper towel and placed in a plastic bag. Moisture is ginger’s enemy and can cause mold to grow. It can also be wrapped in foil and stored in the freezer for one to two months. It will lose its crispness but will still be flavorful.

If I have too much ginger on hand, I grate it, add enough water to make a paste and freeze it. I can then easily add it to stir

fries and other dishes.

Asian cooking authority Nina Simonds recommends burying a knob of ginger in sand to keep it fresh. She says it will even grow.

To prepare ginger, scrape off the brown skin with a spoon (or leave it on), then chop, slice, grate the flesh using a Microplane grater.

In Chinese cooking, ginger is sliced into julienne, chopped or smashed and added to vegetable, fish and meat dishes. In Japanese cuisine, it’s grated, shredded or pickled and served thinly sliced with sushi. Indian and Pakistani chefs favor it in curries and rice dishes.

We think of ginger as an Asian ingredient, but it has crossed over into many cuisines. You might find it in German cookies, Australian marmalades, Moroccan tagines and American cranberry relish.

Ginger does more than improve taste. It’s also good for you. Traditionally, it has been used to relieve problems with digestion or nausea, including motion sickness. If you like ginger’s warm, pungent flavor, increase the amount used to suit your taste.

Seared Ginger Balsamic Salmon with Hot and Sour Slaw

Makes 4 servings.

Adapted from “Simple Asian Meals” by Nina Simonds (Rodale, $29.99).

For the dressing:

1/4 cup soy sauce

3 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar or Worcestershire sauce

For the salmon:

4 (6-ounce) pieces center-cut salmon fillet with skin, patted dry

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

4 teaspoons canola oil (divided)

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced

4 tablespoons minced fresh ginger (divided)

3 1/2 cups (9 ounces) shredded broccoli slaw

2 tablespoons rice wine or sake

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 cup water

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar

Combine dressing ingredients; set aside. Season salmon with salt and pepper.

Heat half the canola oil and the sesame oil in a wok or heavy skillet until hot but not smoking. Add red pepper flakes and 2 tablespoons of the ginger; stir-fry 10 seconds. Add bell pepper and toss lightly over high heat. Add the broccoli slaw, toss lightly and pour in the rice wine. Stir and cover. Cook over medium-high heat for a minute. Uncover and add the dressing. Toss lightly and transfer to a bowl.

Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a 12-inch, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the salmon fillets in the pan, skin side up, partially cover and sear until well browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Turn the fish over and cook 5 to 6 minutes, until the fish flakes in the middle.

Portion some of the slaw on individual plates, and place salmon fillets on top.

Drain off any oil and reheat the frying pan with the balsamic vinegar, water, lemon juice, brown sugar and remaining 2 tablespoons ginger. Simmer over medium heat-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes until thickened and reduced to 1/3 cup. Carefully pour the glaze over the salmon.

Notes: A medium-bodied gewurztraminer or riesling or a light lager or ale will pair well with this spicy dish. Serve with brown rice or another whole grain.

Per serving: 544 calories (56 percent from fat), 33.5 g fat (6.7 g saturated, 13.5 g monounsaturated), 93.5 mg cholesterol, 40 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 4.9 g fiber, 1,735 mg sodium.