Adding ginger makes everything nice
A spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down, and ginger tempered with sugar makes it much easier for kids to stomach the spicy root. Ginger heats up the body, gets the blood to circulate and induces sweating, all of which helps to ward off colds. At the end of each year, when the winds pick up and the air loses its summer humidity, ginger tea works as a great remedy at the first sight of a runny nose.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, there are two types of common colds: the “hot cold” (fēngrè gǎnmào, 风热感冒) and the “cool cold” (fēnghán gǎnmào, 风寒感冒). The symptoms of the former include a sore throat, coughing, extreme thirst, a yellow tongue and sweating, in which case ginger will aggravate the situation. But should you have aching muscles, no sweating and a thirst for warm liquids, then it is more likely that you have fenghan ganmao, for which ginger is a suitable remedy.
Ginger also helps combat nausea, as mirrored in Western culture in the practice of drinking ginger ale for upset stomachs. It is said that the ancient Romans knew of the medicinal properties of ginger, and, while seldom using it in cooking, they would eat ginger wrapped in bread at the end of their meals to aid digestion. This may have been the beginning of what is now a seasonal favorite – gingerbread.
In Chinese cooking, ginger is used to mask unsavory flavors such as the marine tang of seafood and the gaminess of meat. For example, before cooking pork, flattened and roughly sliced ginger is first stir-fried to season the wok.
Fresh, unpeeled ginger (tightly wrapped) can keep in the refrigerator for up to three weeks, or six months in the freezer. Alternatively, you can cover peeled and chopped ginger in cooking wine, sherry, or oil and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three months.
Here in Beijing, you can find boiled sweets flavored with ginger as well as candied ginger. But before gobbling them up, remember that ginger is potent in any form and be on the lookout for allergic reactions. When handling ginger, do not rub your eyes without first washing or wiping your hands – as with all spicy foods, it will cause irritation. That said, there really is nothing more satisfying than whipping up something sweet and spicy to warm up the whole family for the cold months ahead.
Makes 12-15 cookies, depending on size
• 2 1/4 cups flour
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 1 tsp baking powder
• 1 1/2 tsps cinnamon
• 1 tsp ginger
• 1/2 tsp cloves
• 1/2 tsp nutmeg
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1/2 cup butter
• 1/2 cup molasses or golden syrup
• 1 egg, beaten
• White granulated sugar for decorating
Cream brown sugar and butter. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to sugar and butter mixture. Add molasses or golden syrup and egg. Mix to form cookie dough. Wrap dough in cling film and chill for 20 minutes to an hour. Remove chilled dough from the fridge. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough until about half a centimeter thick. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters (see our “It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas” feature on p47 for more gingerbread ideas). Sprinkle white granulated sugar on top and gently pat the sugar crystals into the surface of the dough. Bake for 5-7 minutes. For best results, store in a cool, dry place for several days before serving.
Sweet Potato Soup with Ginger
Serves four generously
• 3 cups sweet potato, cut into bite sized pieces
• 4 cups water
• Thumb-sized piece of ginger, with skin
• Brown sugar to taste
Place raw sweet potato into water and bring to a boil. When water reaches a rapid boil, reduce heat to a slow simmer. Lay the flat side of a cleaver against the piece of ginger and apply pressure until ginger is flattened. When the chunks of sweet potato become tender, add the ginger and continue simmering for another 20 minutes. Add sugar to taste and simmer for another 10 minutes. Serve hot.