As soon as the days get shorter and the nights turn frosty, I set a pot on the stove, add slices of golden ginger and filtered water, and simmer them to make ginger tea. Sipping this zingy infusion through the winter months helps to ward off colds and flu. I also call it my portable heater because it wards off the chill in my apartment by keeping me cozy from the inside. FYI, my landlord does not keep me frigid. He actually sends up too much stifling, brain-smothering heat. To stay clear-headed and keep my skin from drying like a prune, I turn it off, preferring to wear Ugg’s, a shawl around my shoulders, and to wrap my hands around a mug of steaming ginger tea.
Ginger may be the single most healing food there is. In Ayervedic medicine, it is called the universal remedy because it does so much, from stimulating circulation—as my warm hands demonstrate—and soothing indigestion, reducing fever, relieving nausea from pregnancy, motion sickness, and even chemotherapy, to possibly reducing arthritis pain. You get pickled ginger alongside sushi because it fights bad microbes and parasites—which is mostly unnecessary now but was something the Japanese used to good advantage before refrigeration existed.
Ginger grows in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and even New York State, where a farmer brings it to my local Greenmarket. The best-tasting fresh ginger is golden and comes from Hawaii. Jamaica produces the best dried ginger—think of ginger beer. Australian ginger is usually preserved in sugar. Dipped in chocolate, it is over the top good.
Ginger is not a root, but rather an underground stem, what botanists call a rhizome. A cluster, with its forking branches, is called a hand, and the branched segments are called fingers.
For ginger tea, place two ½-inch slices of ginger and a cup of filtered water in a small pot. Bring just to a boil, cover, and set aside to steep for 10 minutes. Serve sweetened, if you wish, with honey, agave, or stevia.
Nibbling on this Ginger Shortbread while sipping honeyed ginger tea adds to the pleasure.
Ginger Shortbread (Makes 8 pieces)
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup superfine sugar
1/3 cup finely chopped preserved ginger
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
2. In a small bowl, combine the flour, ground ginger, and salt.
3. Place the sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like pebbles. Add the flour mixture and pulse until it forms a coarse, loosely granular dough.
4. Turn the dough into an ungreased 8" round cake pan. Sprinkle on the chopped ginger. With your fingers, quickly work the ginger and any powdery bits into the dough, then press the dough into an even layer in the pan.
5. Bake for 15 minutes. Make a border by pressing the bottom of the tines of a fork around the edge of the dough in a circle. Using the tips of the tines, prick the dough all over. With a sharp knife, score the dough into 8 wedges.
6. Return the shortbread to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden. Do not let it brown.
7. Set the pan on a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Rescore the wedges and run a knife around the edge of the shortbread to loosen it. Invert the pan and gently unmold the shortbread. When it has cooled, break the shortbread into wedges. Ginger Shortbread keeps in an airtight container for 5 days.
Adapted from The Essential Best Foods Cookbook, by Dana Jacobi,