Tremendously versatile and intensely flavorful, gingerroot has long been an integral component of Eastern cooking, appearing in everything from fiery curries to calming teas. Its distinctive taste gives depth of flavor to dishes, without adding calories or fat. And it is said to bring with it many health benefits -- including the alleviation of digestive disorders, congestion, and joint pain.
Despite its gnarled, complex appearance, ginger is easy to work with. Look for smooth, shiny skin devoid of wrinkles. You can refrigerate the root wrapped in plastic up to three weeks or freeze it up to three months, slicing off just what you need as you go. Peel the thin outer layer, then grate, slice, or mince the fibrous flesh. The flavor and pungent heat tend to intensify during slow cooking, so be careful not to add too much in the beginning.
Like garlic, ginger marries well with strong seasonings, such as curry powder in an Indian-style lentil soup. Yet it also works in milder dishes and desserts -- lending sharpness to a miso-carrot dressing and imparting a piquancy to poached pears. Added to sweet or savory dishes, fresh ginger is a healthful way to wake up your food.