I recently discovered a spice that’s even better than ginger. Well, actually, it is ginger, but it’s called “young ginger.” Like the name suggests, the young ginger root is harvested earlier than mature ginger, so it can be cultivated in places with shorter growing seasons, like Massachusetts.
As you can see from the photo, young ginger looks like it’s dressed for a party, with pale, almost luminous skin and pink tips. It’s sweeter and has less bite than the typical ginger.
Until last week, the only ginger I’d ever cooked with was the typical light brown root that is now sold in virtually every supermarket, in addition to most ethnic groceries. Mature ginger roots are fibrous and often a bit bitter. Although some people don’t bother to remove the tough, leathery skin, I always take it off with a vegetable peeler. Then I usually mince or grate the ginger.
I learned about young ginger while strolling through the Copley Square Farmers Market recently. Old Friends Farm, the certified organic farm based in Amherst, Massachusetts that had the genius idea of growing ginger in this unlikely climate, sells its wonderful produce and flowers at the Copley Market and the Newton Farmers Market in the Boston area, as well as markets in western Mass.
The young woman who sold it to me was very conscientious about explaining that young ginger is more perishable than mature ginger and should be wrapped in plastic inside a zip lock bag in the freezer if you don’t use it right away. I followed her instructions to grate as much of the frozen root as needed and return the rest to the freezer. The frozen ginger is surprisingly easy to grate with a Microplane grater.
I’ve been happily experimenting with my young ginger. I peel the parts of the skin that seem a little tough, but use most of it, skin on. It adds a nice kick to a dish, but seldom overwhelms it, the way that hot peppers can. I grated some over a fruit salad of apples, red grapes and fresh lemon juice, and it really perked up the flavor.
I also grated the young ginger into a dressing for a fresh turnip, apple, carrot, and raisin salad modeled after a cole slaw recipe from Boston chef and cookbook author Didi Emmons. (I can’t wait to buy her new cookbook, Wild Flavors, which just came out!) Didi graciously gave me permission to share the recipe for the Ginger Dressing from her Haley House Cole Slaw. This simple, tart, spicy dressing would liven up any mix of fresh veggies, but add it sparingly, so the vinegar doesn’t overpower your salad.
Didi Emmons Ginger Dressing
1 tablespoon cane sugar or brown sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
salt and pepper to taste
1. Combine sugar, vinegar, olive oil, ginger and salt and pepper in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
I’m going to buy more young ginger to store in my freezer. I figure if I have enough, I won’t need to use it “gingerly.”