Spice Suggestion: Ginger

“You’re a gook.”

A recent event brought back some memories of my youth….

Growing up in the 70’s was not the best time to be Asian. It would be many years before I’d be old enough to understand the politics of Vietnam and the generalizing that strengthened the animosity aimed at me; so I remember being confused as to why people kept calling me a vulgar name for being Vietnamese when I was Korean.

As I grew up, I rebelled not only against the prejudice in general but the idea that there weren’t any differences among the various Asian ethnicities.

In some ways, I feel the same today about the spice, ginger. Too often when I mention using ginger, people will say something like, “Oh, it makes sense that you’d like ginger, being Asian and all.”

And when they do, that rebellious feeling sweeps over me again, and I find myself wanting to argue against the notion that ginger is somehow the spice of Asians and should only be relegated to Asian foods….

From medicinal to cooking uses, ginger has been a staple of Greek, Middle Eastern, and European countries for as many centuries as Asian countries. Even in the United States people have used ginger without considering it an “Asian” spice. Colonial recipes for gingersnaps and gingerbread and ginger teas and ginger ales abound as well as records of its use as medicine for upset stomachs.

Admittedly, ginger can be strong, so sometimes folks who are used to bland foods might find it a bit much, but a little can add an abundance of flavor.

In this day and age, ginger comes in a variety of types: fresh, dried, candied, crystallized, freeze dried, pickled, as a paste, and grated in a tube or container for the refrigerator. Fresh ginger obviously is the strongest in terms of flavor, but the convenience of the options with a longer shelf life is not to be underestimated.

If you’re using fresh ginger, you want look for ginger root with a nice, tan color which is firm to the touch and has smooth ends. If it looks dried out or moldy or is soft to the touch, don’t buy it. To use, simply peel and chop as desired. Ginger keeps for a good few weeks in the fridge, and you can even freeze it for several months.

Obviously the more you use, the stronger the ginger flavor, and fresh ginger will have a stronger taste than the other varieties. Ginger is like garlic and onions, and the more ginger cooks, the mellower its flavor becomes, so if you prefer the spicy, pungent taste, add the ginger near the end.

Some ways to use ginger:

1. Homemade ginger tea: The way my mom makes it is to put some fresh ginger root and cinnamon sticks into a pot of water and just let it simmer and steep for a while. Add a little bit of honey, and it’s quite delicious plus has added health benefits.

2. Vegetables: Grated fresh ginger root or ground ginger adds a bit of zest to sauteed vegetables.

3. Omelettes and Egg dishes: Make a paste of ginger and garlic to add a little zing which is quite tasty.

4. Baked goods: Add dried ginger or chopped crystallized ginger to muffins, pancakes, scones, waffles, cakes, cookies, pies, for a new taste.

5. Meats, chicken and fish: Add grated or chopped fresh or freeze dried ginger or ground ginger to any entree to add another flavor dimension to the dish.

6. Soups and dressings: Ginger adds a nice tang to soups and homemade dressings, whether for salad or entrees.

On this site there are already recipes for ginger snaps and a ginger cake and gingerbread, but I’ll add another couple below for a ginger cheesecake which is creamy and spicy and yummy and pumpkin custard squares which my kids love and which are great when you don’t want to take the time to make a pumpkin pie. Both recipes are dairy, gluten, nut and mostly refined sugar free.

Pumpkin Custard Squares

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8.5 x 11 pan with your preferred method.

2.  In a large bowl, mix 1 can of pumpkin with 2 eggs, 1/2 cup agave, 2 tbsp melted butter, 1 cup soy or flax milk, 1 cup water, 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 to 2 tsp ground ginger (if you love ginger, use the higher amount; if not use the smaller amount), 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp ground cloves.

3. Mix in 3/4 cup Gluten Free Bisquick until the batter is smooth and creamy with no lumps.

4. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes. The custard will be stiff and dry on top and the custard will be slightly puffed.

5. Cool completely on a wire cooling rack. Cut into squares and serve.

Ginger Spice Cheesecake

(Be sure ALL ingredients are at room temperature for best results!)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 10 inch springform pan with your preferred method.

2. In a food processor pulse one 8 ounce box of gluten, nut and dairy free gingersnaps until you have crumbs. Mix well with 1/4 cup melted vegan butter. Spread evenly onto the bottom of the prepared springform pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire cooling rack. Decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees.

3. When cool, carefully cover the outside of the springform pan with aluminum foil and put the pan into a larger pan. Begin to boil some water, enough to fill the pan at least halfway up the springform pan but no more than 3/4 way up (this you’ll do after you put the cheesecake batter into the springform pan).

4. In a mixer, cream four 8 ounce room temperature Tofutti cream cheese packages until smooth and creamy. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the cream cheese down from the sides.

5. Slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup Agave while mixing the cream cheese on low.  Once incorporated slowly mix in one 12 ounce package Tofutti sour cream.

6. Blend in 1/2 cup liquid egg whites. Then 2 whole eggs, being careful to mix them in one at a time.

7. Mix in 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 to 2 tsp ground ginger (choose the amount based up on your preference for mild or strong ginger taste).

8. In a food processor chop up crystallized or candied ginger so you have at least 2 tbsp (you can use more if you want). Add to the cheesecake mixture and blend only until the ginger is incorporated.

9. Carefully pour the cheesecake batter into the springform pan. Place the larger pan with the springform pan into the oven. Very carefully pour the boiling water in the larger pan until it’s at lease halfway up the springform pan. You can go as high as 3/4 way up.

10. Bake for one hour and 30 minutes. When done, the cheesecake will be firmer around the edges, the batter won’t be jiggly, and the cheesecake will be slightly puffed.

11. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and from the larger pan. Remove the aluminum foil, and cool for 15 to 30 minutes on a wire cooling rack. Run a knife around the edge of the springform pan and remove the outer side of the pan.

12. Cool the cheesecake completely in the fridge for several hours.








Recipe Makeover: Ginger Snaps

“What do you mean they aren’t new?”

You know you’re getting older when your childhood comes back in style. First, it was the clothes. That bell bottoms actually became the rage again is beyond comprehension. Then my husband’s high school students began to talk about Bruce Springsteen as if they had discovered him. Finally, my children’s cartoons and toys gave deja vu a whole new meaning. Holly Hobbie, Transformers, Power Rangers, Strawberry Shortcake and Gang… though more hip than the ones I grew up with, they are familiar nonetheless.

For the most part, nostalgia has made these returns good things, but when my daughter and my niece came to me with the Strawberry Shortcake Berry Yummy Cookbook, I knew that whatever recipe they wanted to make would not bring immediate joy to my heart.

Sure enough, they wanted to make Ginger Snap’s Gingersnaps. For folks who might be unaware, there is a difference between gingersnaps and the ginger cookies most people make these days. Ginger cookies are thick, soft, gingery, molasses cookies. Gingersnaps are thin, crisp cookies flavored by ginger. Essentially, the difference is in the molasses to flour ratio, but that difference creates two very distinct cookies.  Gingersnaps are so-called because they are supposed to literally snap when you break them in half, and they were very popular when I was a child.  How to substitute gluten free flour and replace the sugar and dairy without sacrificing the “snap” of the cookie was going to be tricky.

We put our brains together, though, and in the end we created a rather pleasing gingersnap cookie which all the cousins enjoyed immensely.

The original recipe:

2 cups flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp ground ginger, 2 tsp cinnamon, 3/4 cup butter, 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 egg, 1/4 cup molasses.

Revising the recipe:

1. Flour: The types and variety of gluten free flours abound, and finding the right combination, along with whether to use potato or arrowroot or tapioca starch, took some work. We finally decided that a mixture of gluten free oat flour, sorghum, and coconut flours with potato starch and a bit of xanthan gum worked the best.

So, I made up a large batch of the following which would yield enough flour to make two batches of the cookie recipe: 1 1/2 cup gluten free oat flour, 1 1/2 cup sorghum flour, 1/2 cup coconut flour, 1 cup potato starch, 2 tsp xanthan gum.

2. Sugar: Usually I like to use Agave because I can use so very little of it. For one cup of sugar, I could use a scant 1/4 cup of Agave. Agave, however, would provide moistness which we wanted to avoid for gingersnaps. My second choice would normally be to use stevia, but stevia has a distinct flavor which wouldn’t combine well with the ginger. In the end we decided to use coconut sugar because we were already using the coconut flour, and it would complement the ginger well. In addition, the glycemic index of coconut sugar is very low.

3. Butter: Normally I would replace the butter with a plant-based oil because it’s healthier, but we would have the same problem of adding unwanted moisture. Since we were using the coconut sugar and flours, it might make sense to use coconut oil, but coconut oil wouldn’t provide the spreading of the batter which is necessary for a gingersnap to be thin and crispy. So, finally we decided simply to stick with “butter” and use the vegan, soy-free version offered by Earth balance.

4. Molasses: Since I try to reduce sugars as much as possible, we opted to replace the regular molasses with date molasses. It’s still higher in sugars than I’d like but it has less than regular molasses and at least has the advantage of being made with dates. Plus it’s only a scant 1/4 in the recipe, so overall what we’re adding per cookie isn’t much.

5. Egg: Since we don’t have an issue with eggs (currently) we opted to leave it as is for our version, but I tried making it with ground flaxseed mixed with water as an egg substitute, and the batter worked just as well.

Gluten and Dairy Free Gingersnaps

(makes about three dozen cookies)


2 cups gluten free flour blend*

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp cinnamon

3/4 cup vegan butter

1 cup coconut sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg or 1 tbsp flaxseed mixed with 3 tbsp water

1/4 cup molasses

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. Mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon.

3. Cream the butter. Add the coconut sugar and vanilla. Mix well.

4. Add the egg (or flaxseed mixture) and beat well.

5. Slowly add the molasses while mixing on low.

6. Gradually add in the flour in small increments and beat until well combined.

7. Drop dough by level tablespoons onto the cookie sheets, making sure to leave space for them to spread.

8. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cookies have browned and spread.

9. Let the cookies cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheet. Then remove them with a spatula to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. It’s important that they cool completely, because that’s what will harden them and give you the “snap”.

* Gluten Free Flour Blend:1 1/2 cup gluten free oat flour, 1 1/2 cup sorghum flour, 1/2 cup coconut flour, 1 cup potato starch, 2 tsp xanthan gum. (Will make two batches of cookies)