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TODAY

Wednesday, November 20

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Well, in January we looked forward to days like this. Days where the air is humid, the temperature is well over 80, and it's too hot to cook. But there are only so many days when one can handle eating a peanut butter sandwich for dinner and it is best to save the sandwich days for when the electricity goes out, as it did last night. And my appetite usually diminishes when it is hot out.

But there is one ingredient that I just love when it is hot out. Ginger makes me happy. I used to know ginger only in its ground, bottled variety that gets sprinkled in apple pie or pumpkin pie, but when fresh, it's a wonder and a delight.

It's also painful if you miss picking a slice out of a dish and find yourself chewing on it. Not only is the texture tough, but its flavor can be painfully intense and sharp. I love that flavor, but not the job of chopping it into toothpicks or slicing it thinly. Earlier this winter I came across a preparation that has become my new favorite. I simply rinse the ginger and cut off any parts that look bad before slicing it and throwing it into the food processor and turning it into a pulp.

Once it has turned into almost a paste, you simply scoop it out into cheesecloth and squeeze to remove as much of the liquid as possible. One pound of ginger will get you about 1 to 1-1/4 cups of liquid. You'll be surprised at how little of the ginger gets discarded — this fibrous rhizome is mostly liquid. And now that you've got a liquid that can be bottled and stored in your refrigerator for a month, you're able to quickly and easily add just a few drops to a salad dressing, a teaspoon to a cup of hot water with lemon to make a soothing tea in the winter, or even turned into a mixer for rum.

If you lack a food processor you can use a $7 Porcelain Grater and it will take longer, but its a more traditional preparation technique.

If you have sensitive skin, you may want to wear gloves, or slip plastic bags over your hands while squeezing the pulp of its juice. After squeezing the juice from a couple of pounds of ginger my hands felt like I'd been slicing hot peppers, with a mildly burning sensation lasting for a few hours afterward.

But, now that you've got your ginger juice, here are a few things you can do with it. Quinoa salad with carrots and sweet potatoes and a ginger dressing, ginger marinated chicken breast, and ginger beverage of the alcoholic and non- varieties.

I wrote about cooking quinoa a couple of years ago, and those recipes are still tasty. But this new creation will be appearing at more barbecues this summer and leftovers will be appearing as dinner on my non-cooking nights.

Here are some basics about quinoa:
• You have to rinse the quinoa until the water runs clear to remove any leftover alkaline from the seeds.
• Quinoa will double in size when cooked. So 2 cups of quinoa will get you 4 or more cups of finished quinoa.
• Quinoa is high in protein (high quality protein, at that), high in iron and full of lysine, potassium, and B vitamins.
• 1/4 cup of dry quinoa should make enough for one serving, so you can figure out how to increase the following recipe as needed.

Gingered Carrot, Sweet Potato, and Quinoa salad
1/2 pound of fresh sweet potato
2 cups of quinoa that has been rinsed
2 large carrots

Pour 4-1/2 cups of water into a medium-sized saucepan and place it over medium-high heat. While it comes to a boil, peel the skin off the sweet potato and then cube it into 1/2" chunks. Once the water boils, add the sweet potato to the water with the quinoa. Let it come back up to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot with a lid and let it sit for 15 minutes. Shake the pan occasionally to keep it from sticking but try to resist lifting the lid to stir. Once the time is up, pour the quinoa into large serving bowl and fluff it before putting it in the refrigerator to chill. Peel the carrots and chop them and add them to the quinoa and sweet potatoes. Toss with the dressing and let sit in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to 2-3 days before serving.

Dressing for Salad
1/4 cup of ginger liquid
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 cup of rice wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar would also work)
2 tablespoons of minced cilantro
1 tablespoon of honey or sugar
salt and pepper to taste
1 finely sliced scallion for garnish

Follow the directions above to get ginger liquid. Combine it with all the other ingredients except for the scallions, and pour over the salad. Toss to combine and toss after the salad sits for half an hour. The quinoa should soak up all the dressing. Sprinkle with the scallion (or even a finely diced garlic ramp) and serve as a salad, or as a dinner.

Ginger Marinated Chicken Breast (or Seitan) for Kabobs
1 pound of chicken breast cut into cubes (or 1 pound of seitan cut into cubes)
1/4 cup of ginger liquid
1 clove of minced garlic
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
pinch of dried chili flakes
juice from 1 lime
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of honey or sugar

Combine all of the ingredients in a plastic zipper bag and let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. (The lime juice and ginger will start to "cook" the meat if left for longer than that, but you can leave the seitan in for up to 24 hours. The ginger flavor will grain strength the longer it marinates.) Place the cubes on a skewer and place over direct heat on a grill for 8-10 minutes, turning every two minutes until cooked through.

Homemade Ginger Drink
1 pound of ginger (1 cup of ginger liquid)
1/2 cup of sugar or honey
1 cup of water

Follow the directions above to create the ginger liquid. Combine the sugar and water over low flame and stir until the sugar is dissolved. You can also heat in the microwave in 30 second bursts. Combine the ginger liquid and the simple syrup in a gallon-size container. Or you can combine it in a quart and simply mix one part of ginger mix with 3 parts of water (sparkling or non), iced tea or even a fruit juice.

Dark and Sultry
A Dark and Stormy is a cocktail of alcoholic ginger beer and rum. This, since slightly different, deserves its own name.
2 ounces of dark rum
1 ounce of ginger concentrate (mixed as above in a quart-sized container)
6 ounces of soda water
lime slice
ice

Combine rum and ginger concentrate in a shaker, or stir well in a glass. Combine the lime slice and ice to the glass and stir gently. Fill the glass with ice and serve with a straw.

Ginger is great all year round, but the refreshing nature makes it easier to get through the hot and sultry days. The days that I enjoy, if truth be told. Maybe it's because it reminds me of sipping tasty beverages on vacation, or maybe its because it just tastes good cold. If you've got a favorite recipe that includes ginger, feel free to share it in the comments.

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About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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