Ginger, spice and everything nice

    Photo by Daniel Schuleman / North by Northwestern

    You probably know at least something about ginger. Christmas wouldn’t be complete without gingerbread houses, and ginger ale is hands down the best beverage choice when flying. Maybe you’ve poked hesitantly at the pickled pink stuff next to the wasabi that comes with your California roll. But you probably didn’t realize all the things this feisty Asian root can do.

    Widely known for its use as a digestive aid, ginger is low in calories and contains dietary fiber, also a boon to your tummy’s health. Raw ginger root alone packs a sharp, spicy punch — like a milder horseradish — but once cooked, it adds a bright, exotic undertone to a variety of dishes.

    Fresh ginger root is remarkably inexpensive. Ground ginger will run you a little more, but a little goes a long way, as ground spices are always more potent than their fresh counterparts.

    Ginger Lentil Soup

    Served over rice or couscous, this soup makes for a hearty and filling meal, especially when it’s still snowing in April. I accidentally doubled the amount of cumin in the recipe the first time I made it and actually found the flavor lacking when I followed the recipe exactly. If you like a little more smoke and spice in your soup, I’d definitely recommend adding more. Yields 8 servings.

    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

    1 large onion, chopped small

    3 cloves garlic, minced

    3 to 4 tablespoons ginger, grated or finely diced

    3 cups water

    3 to 4 carrots, sliced

    1 pound French lentils

    6 cups vegetable or chicken broth

    2 teaspoons ground cumin

    ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)

    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

    Salt and pepper to taste

    Grated cheese for serving

    Cooked couscous or rice for serving

    1. Rinse the lentils with cool water, drain them and set aside. Chop the onions, garlic and carrots; grate the ginger. 

    2. Place a large pot over medium heat and add olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onions. Cook until transparent and slightly browned. 

    3. Add garlic, ginger and carrots, and cook while stirring for one minute. Add cumin and cayenne pepper and cook for 30 seconds. 

    4. Add water to the pot, and scrape the browned bits off the bottom as the water sizzles. 

    5. Add lentils and broth. Simmer for about 45 minutes until lentils soften. 

    6. Taste and season with salt and pepper, and finish off with lemon. Serve with cheese over rice and couscous.

    (Recipe adapted from

    Carrot-Ginger Miso Dressing

    Just like the dressing you get on your salad at Japanese restaurants, this version is sweet, spicy and bright in taste and color. You can use this as a salad dressing or a dipping sauce for other veggies. Yields 4 servings.

    1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped

    1 small shallot, peeled and roughly chopped

    2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger

    2 tablespoons sweet white miso

    2 tablespoons rice vinegar

    2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

    ¼ cup neutral oil (such as vegetable)

    2 tablespoons water

    1. Combine the carrot, shallot and ginger in the food processor, pulsing until finely chopped.

    2. Add the miso, vinegar and sesame oil. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the neutral oil and water. Serve immediately.

    (Adapted from

    Photo by Daniel Schuleman / North by Northwestern

    Ginger Chicken 

    This chicken dish is bold. If you’re on the fence about ginger, beware. You can scale back the amount called for in this recipe if you don’t want it to overpower the lime and garlic flavors. Be sure to pound out your chicken breasts nice and thin to ensure even cooking. I baked mine for about 10 to 12 minutes at 375 F, but prepare it to your liking. Yields 4 servings.

    4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, pounded thin (½ inch)

    3 cloves minced garlic

    3 tablespoons ground ginger (or 6 tablespoons fresh)

    1 tablespoon olive oil

    2 limes, juiced

    In a large plastic bag, combine the garlic, ginger, oil and lime juice. Seal the bag and shake until mixed well, then open the bag and add chicken. Seal bag and marinate in the refrigerator for no more than 20 minutes. Remove chicken from the bag and grill, bake or broil, basting with marinade, until cooked through and juices run clear. 

    (Recipe adapted from

    Ginger-infused Lemonade

    This recipe isn’t mouth-puckeringly sour, but the lemon shines with a hint of warm ginger at the end of each sip. Yields 6 servings.

    1 cup sugar

    1 (6-inch) piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and grated

    4 ½ cups water

    2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (depending on the size of your lemons, you may need anywhere from 8 to 12)

    Zest of 2 lemons (removed with a grater, zester or vegetable peeler)

    Lemon slices for garnish (optional)

    1. In a medium saucepan, prepare a simple syrup by combining the sugar, ginger root, lemon zest and 1 cup of water.

    2. Bring the ingredients to a boil, and then immediately remove from heat. Set aside and allow the mixture to cool. Use a strainer to remove the solids from the syrup. Pour the lemon juice into a pitcher; add the simple syrup and the remaining 3 ½ cups of water. Stir well and serve over ice. Garnish with lemon slices if desired.

    (Recipe from David Lawrence’s Boy Eats World!)

    Soft Gingerbread Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

    I followed this recipe almost to a T (using butter instead of shortening) from the website, but the ice cream part was my addition. If you’ve ever found yourself disappointed by gingerbread men, both in texture and flavor, give this recipe a spin. These surprisingly spicy cookies manage to be crispy at the edges but tender in the middle, just sturdy enough to support a small (or large — I won’t tell) scoop of your favorite ice cream. Yields 2 dozen cookies.

    2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

    2 teaspoons ground ginger

    1 teaspoon baking soda

    Photo by Daniel Schuleman / North by Northwestern

    ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon

    ½ teaspoon ground cloves

    ¼ teaspoon salt

    ¾ cup butter, room temperature

    1 cup white sugar

    1 egg

    1 tablespoon water

    ¼ cup molasses

    2 tablespoons white sugar (optional)

    Preheat your oven to 350 F. Sift (or whisk) together the dry ingredients — flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, then stir in the water and molasses. Gradually add the dry ingredients until well-combined. Chill the dough if it seems too wet to work with. Shape the dough into walnut-sized balls, and roll them in the remaining sugar if desired. Flatten the balls in your palm and lay them two inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool five minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If making ice cream sandwiches, scoop a small ball of your preferred ice cream and sandwich it between two of the cookies.

    (Recipe adapted from


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