Ginger: bringing a little spice into the holidays
With the holiday season in full swing, it’s time to welcome back annual traditions, such as holiday potlucks, parties, singalongs, gift exchanges, and more. These activities have a few things in common, like bad sweaters and eggnog and mulled wine-induced shenanigans, but most importantly, there’s an abundance of holiday-themed food.
At these festive gatherings, you’ll find plenty of treats, from holiday cookies to fruitcakes to candy canes and more. All of these sweets tend to combine similar flavors and smells like mint, chocolate, and vanilla, as well as spices like clove and cinnamon. But there’s an underrated and underappreciated spice in the mix: ginger. While it is associated with gingerbread cookies and houses, it’s actually a very versatile ingredient. Plus, the health benefits of ginger are tremendous. It’s time to think about creative ways to use ginger to add a little spice to your holiday dishes.
To start, the ginger we cook with is from the stem of a flowering plant. You’ve likely seen it in many different ways in various contexts: fresh, pickled, candied, and dried. It’s a very potent sweet and spicy flavor that can make an ordinary dish pop. Additionally, gingerol, which is found in ginger, offers anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory capabilities. It can also aid indigestion, soothe muscle pain, prevent diabetes, and boost immunity, to name a few.
Ginger can complement many types of food, but I also love it as a beverage ingredient. For example, forget the typical hot mulled cider and serve something equally delicious, but a bit more unique. Ginger tea is an unexpected but amazing beverage to serve your guests that will also keep them healthy when the weather gets cold. Additionally, why not bring back ginger ale and ginger beer as nonalcoholic beverage choices? Whole Foods has a fabulous selection of beautiful bottles with fresh, clean flavors. They’re a great alternative to the sugar-laden classics we’re used to. If you want to make a holiday cocktail, use the ginger ale or ginger beer in a delicious punch that your guests will love!
HEALING WINTER GINGER SPICED GREEN TEA
This is a tea I make for friends or myself whenever winter begins to wreak havoc on throats and sinuses. The ginger adds a spicy fragrance and slight acidity that helps to play off the sweet notes of agave nectar and spices to cut through the ills of the winter cold. Don’t have agave nectar? Use honey. You can substitute other sweet spices if you like. Want to get a little crazy? Add a pinch of cayenne to the proceedings to spice it up a bit.
4 bags of good green tea
6 teaspoons agave nectar or local honey
4 coin sized slices of peeled fresh ginger
4 Cardamom pods
2 Star anise pods
1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
1 Lemon or orange, with juice and 4 strips of peel
Boil 8-10 cups of water and pour into a glass pitcher with green tea, agave nectar, ginger, cardamom, cloves, anise and lavender. Steep for 5 minutes or so, mixing to dissolve agave. Strain into four warm mugs and finish with a splash of lemon juice and peel in each mug.
Besides beverages, ginger is a fabulous ingredient to be used in ways you’re probably not used to. For example, did you know that ginger goes well with pasta? It may seem untraditional, but homemade pasta with a ginger garlic butter sauce and hot red pepper and parmesan is one of my favorites. Ginger is complementary to many different ingredients, so try some new combinations and see which one becomes a favorite in your household.
Ginger is also a fabulous ingredient for baked goods such as ginger muffins and spice cakes, which you can make using natural, healthy ingredients. They are a great choice for health conscious guests or a smarter choice to satisfy a kid’s sweet tooth. This is one of my favorite recipes that substitutes out unhealthy baking ingredients to create a delicious and wholesome treat:
Ginger Maple Holiday Muffins
1/2 cup – coconut oil
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup real – maple syrup
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon – ground ginger
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or oat flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Grease a muffin tin with coconut oil or butter.
Melt the coconut oil in the microwave for a 30-45 seconds to liquify.
In a small mixing bowl, mix the melted coconut oil and molasses together.
In a microwave safe mixing bowl, mix the maple syrup, Greek yogurt, egg, milk, and ginger.
Microwave this mixture for about 30 seconds to warm it up to approximately room temperature. (you also want to keep the coconut oil from hardening)
Then, add the coconut oil and molasses mixture.
Add the flours, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt and mix slightly to combine.
Scoop batter evenly into the muffin tin.
Sprinkle the top of each muffin with Brown Sugar
Bake for 18-20 minutes or until tops are firm to the touch.
Once Cooled serve plain, topped with whipped cream, or dusted with powdered sugar
If you’re feeling a bit naughty instead of nice, try making homemade fudge. It’s incredibly easy to make and is a great holiday gift, school class treat, or dessert to be served at your holiday gathering. Abandon the traditional chocolate fudge and try making ginger the main ingredient, like a maple ginger fudge. If you’ve never had that flavor combination, I highly suggest you try it – you don’t know what you’re missing!
Last but not least, it wouldn’t be the holidays if you didn’t make gingerbread cookies or decorate gingerbread houses. I know I’m always talking about being creative with ingredients, but sometimes it’s nice to stick with tradition. It’s a wonderful way to bond with your family during the holiday season. I suggest going to your local baker and order the bare gingerbread house as well as the royal frosting needed to apply the candy garnish. If your baker doesn’t provide them or you find they are too expensive, there are many places to buy a cost effective house online. Making gingerbread man cookies is equally as fun – all you need are cookie cutters and decorating materials. You can give them out as gifts or serve them to friends and family during the holiday season.
No matter how you use ginger this holiday season, one thing is important above all else: have fun! The holidays are all about getting together and enjoying time spent with friends and family, so make sure you take time to do so.