Adventures in Cooking: The wonders of ginger

Majida Rashid

Growing up, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, I saw my mother cook curry by first browning chopped onions in a little oil. Then she would add diced tomatoes with spices, freshly crushed garlic and ginger and cook the ingredients until the oil separated from the sauce. Next meat and vegetables were added to that sauce. A curry without ginger was unimaginable.

For centuries ginger has been used in the East to flavor food and treat physical conditions due to its medicinal properties.

Mother gave us boiled water of ginger and mint for an unsettled stomach because it relaxes the gastric tract. Plain boiled ginger water was consumed at the onset of a cold or when someone was feeling under the weather.

Over time bottled ginger paste started appearing in stores, but remnants of my childhood observations still influence me. I mince ginger in a coffee grinder instead of buying it in jars. While now I make elaborate curries only for special occasions, I use a tiny piece of ginger in my green smoothie every day.

Zingiber officinal is a perennial flowering plant with a cluster of root-like edible rhizomes that we call ginger. Fresh ginger is considered an herb but it jumps over to the spice category when dried and pulverized.

I rarely use dried ginger because it has a strong odor and flavor. I think powdered ginger sold in markets should contain a warning: “Be aware of the pungent smell of the content and use it sparingly.”

It is believed that ginger was grown in the south of China as early as the 5th Century B.C. Chinese sailors used ginger to treat symptoms related to scurvy long before the condition was recognized by Western sailors. Much later, Marco Polo mentioned the ginger of Kain-du, as the city of Peking was known in his time, in his memoir.

From China ginger was taken to the Spice Islands in Southeast Asia, south Asia and West Africa. Arab traders took it to Greece and Rome. The use of ginger diminished after the fall of the Roman Empire.

But in the Middle Ages European apothecaries started using it in their remedies and elixirs. Native Americans and early Euro-American immigrants candied wild ginger roots and used the syrup for various purposes.

The pale ginger sold in America is sometimes labeled as Chinese ginger, perhaps because Chinese immigrants brought this particular variety.

There are countless varieties of ginger. Turmeric roots also belong to the ginger family. The pale variety is commonly used for cooking throughout the world. Its spicy, slightly sweet and peppery cousin galangal root is more popular in Southeast Asia. The region also uses leaves, seeds and flowers of different ginger plants in their cuisines.

Writing this column made me nostalgic about my childhood so I’m going to prepare a big pot of ginger along with fresh farm honey and drink it all day to feel great! But here is something for everyone. I got the recipe from a friend who lives in Mainland China.

Chicken Ginger

 2-3 Servings


1 1/2 - 2 pounds chicken

Enough water to boil chicken

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons freshly minced ginger

1/2 teaspoon red crushed pepper

6 cups hot water

1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons soy sauce

3-4 celery stocks, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander


1. Remove any visible fat from the chicken and wash it before boiling it in a pan for 5 minutes.

2. Drain the water and leave the chicken aside.

4. Heat oil in another pan or wok and saute the chicken and ginger for a few minutes.

5.  Add the crushed pepper.

6. Add water and bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.

7. Stir in the soy sauce, celery and coriander and cook for another 5 minutes.

8. Remove from the heat and serve hot with plain boiled rice.

Water can be adjusted to make soup or to keep the chicken dry.


Foodie Majida Rashid lives in Texas.  Food and cooking are her passion.  Her philosophical writing can be read at  @Frontiers_Of_Flavor