Saturday, August 22, 2009

Consider the...ginger root

The ginger root is fascinating, yet aesthetically, it is an ugly looking little thing. Gnarled and knobby, it looks like something used in a witches brew or like the little "root man" Oephelia puts under her sick mother's bed in Pan's Labyrinth (great movie, by the way).

Yet ginger has a unique, piercing flavor that has been central to Eastern and Western cuisine for eons, from Ginger Snap cookies to stir-fried anything. And let's not forget the pickled ginger that comes with sushi, a favorite for many, including Vronsky. And while the health benefits of ginger are only recently being touted here in the States, the Chinese have been utilizing the power of ginger for ages, be it to settle an upset stomach, clear the sinuses, and for general all-around well being. Some even claim it has anti-cancer properties, and my Triathlon magazines recommend sucking on a small piece on race day to soothe the stomach and stave off any "G.I. distress" during the run. My Chinese grandmother, my po-po, swears by ginger for almost any ailment, and she might be right, seeing as she is nearly 90 and looks better and is more active than most people half her age.

These bits of knowledge about ginger served me well recently, as I was struck down with what is so clinically termed "intestinal flu." I was at Vronsky's when this happened--a mixed blessing, as it was lovely to have someone to take care of me, but a bit unfortunate, as in true NYC bachelor fashion, all he has in his fridge is a half-full chilled bottle of Grey Goose, two ancient tubs of peanut butter, and a zillion little packets of ketchup.

In one of my brief moments of respite, I called my mother to let her know what was going on, as I was becoming so dehydrated I was worried V was going to have to take me to the ER to get an I.V. if I failed to hold in some liquid soon. Fortunately, I managed to keep in some seltzer water before too long, and an hour later, a whole can of ginger ale, (there's that ginger again) and so my mother advised me to make some "Juk."

This was easier said than done, as I was too busy trying to get through to God on the Big White Telephone, and so unless she wanted to talk Vronsky through shopping for, and then cooking said Juk, it would have to wait until I was well enough to make the journey home.

Juk is the Cantonese word for congee, a Chinese gruel of sorts that my mother and grandmother will always serve when someone is sick. It is incredibly easy to make and capitalizes on the whatever is so healing in chicken broth, the simplicity and ease of rice on the digestive system, and most importantly, the magic of ginger.

JUK (Congee)

To make it, you will need 4-6 chicken drumsticks, 2 cups of non-sticky rice OR 1.5 cups of sticky rice (must be WHITE not brown rice), and a ginger root.

1. Put drumsticks in pot and fill 3/4ths with water. INCLUDE the bone--that's where the yummy, healing broth will come from, not necessarily the meat.
2. Add 1.5 teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil
3. Once up to a boil, turn heat down to a low simmer and cover, but leave a crack for steam to escape
4. Let chicken simmer until you can stick a fork into the meat, but it is not yet falling off the bone
5. Put in your rice and raise the heat again, stirring at frequent intervals to keep the rice from sticking/burning to the bottom of the pot
6. Bring to a boil again, and then turn down to a simmer until the rice has opened up and the water is cloudy. The rice should be suspended in the water and the chicken should be falling off the bone.
7. If you want it to be thicker and more gruel like and not as soupy, then let simmer for a bit more to steam out more water.
8. Wash and cut up your ginger root into thumb sized pieces and add to pot--add as many "sticks" as you like, depending on how much ginger taste you like, or how crappy you feel
9. Let ginger simmer for about 5 minutes, than turn OFF the heat and let the pot sit for about 15-20 minutes. Then eat. Will keep in the fridge for a while too and reheats easily.

Another ginger remedy for sick times:

Ginger tea--better than the stuff pre-made in the bag, I swear.

Take your ginger root, and slice into thin coins. Put about 4-5 coins in the bottom of a mug and pour in boiling water. Let steep, then squeeze in some lemon and stir in a dribble of honey if you'd like. Perfect for any illness, be it a head cold or something digestive, and the lemon gives you some extra vitamins.

There are many more recipes with ginger not associated with illness, but those of for later posts. As I write this, my juk is actually simmering down and cooling.... here's to that ugly little root, and to healthy days ahead.

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