Dinner Parties 101: Color Me Ginger


My exposure to ginger up until a few years ago consisted of only two things: ginger ale and ginger snaps. Neither were pleasant experiences in my book. Ginger snaps were dry, spicy, and in my opinion, a sad excuse for a cookie. Ginger ale (paired with saltine crackers, of course) was only imbibed as a sick remedy.

It wasn’t until my first year as a lowly young professional that my true love affair with ginger began. I ventured to a take-out Thai restaurant around the corner and chose one of the cheapest things on the menu: a $5 chicken dish called “Ginger Perfect.” And perfect it was: Not only could I squeeze two meals out of it, but this inexpensive Thai dish single handedly helped introduce me to my now-favorite spice.

Ginger is the culinary version of a multi-tasker: It’s lemony, spicy, peppery, and sweet all at the same time. It’s versatile enough to pair with infused drinks, nearly any protein, and certainly desserts. To achieve authentic flavor, always go for the real thing—fresh, as opposed to ground. You can find the misshapen root in the produce section. To freshly grate it, I prefer to chop off some of the awkward “knobs”, leaving me with uniformly shaped pieces. Peel off the outer brown skin with a vegetable peeler or pairing knife and finely mince it by putting it in a food processor, through a garlic press, or by hand with a chef’s knife since it is fairly soft. 

Sometimes planning a dinner party meal in its entirety can be overwhelming, but finding a common ingredient or flavor to tie through each course is one way to simplify the process while having an understated theme. As long as the dishes have enough diversity in the ingredients, your guests won’t tire of the taste of ginger, and hopefully they’ll learn to share my appreciation (i.e. obsession) of it.

Ginger Pear Chutney and Goat Cheese Bruschetta
You can always prepare the pear chutney up to a week ahead of time and keep in the refrigerator. Just make sure to bring to room temperature before serving.

1 loaf French bread
4 large ripe pears
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup dark raisins, chopped
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 teaspoons peeled, grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cloves minced garlic
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 log (10 ounces) mild goat cheese
Flat-leaf parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 350°F. Slice bread diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place bread slices on cookie sheet and toast for about ten minutes, turning slices over once.

Meanwhile, prepare pear chutney: Peel and core pears; cut into 1/2-inch pieces. In nonstick skillet, cook pears, sugar, raisins, vinegar, ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper and salt over medium heat 25 to 30 minutes or until all of liquid evaporates and sugar caramelizes, stirring frequently during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Mixture will become very thick and turn dark brown. Cool chutney to room temperature.

Just before serving, assemble bruschetta: Spread about one tablespoon of goat cheese evenly on each toasted bread slice and top each with 1 scant tablespoon of pear chutney and fresh parsley garnish.

Shredded Cabbage Salad with Peanut Ginger Dressing

6 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoon chopped green onions
2 tablespoon natural peanut butter
2 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
1 head shredded cabbage

In food processor or blender, mix water, rice wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon of green onions (reserve remainder for garnish), peanut butter, soy sauce and ginger. Allow dressing to sit in refrigerator between 30 to 60 minutes to fully develop flavor. 

Recipe will produce about 3/4 a cup of dressing. Start by mixing 1/2 cup of the dressing into the shredded cabbage. You can add some of the remaining dressing if you desire a stronger flavor. Top salad with chopped peanuts and 1 tablespoon of the chopped green onions.

Ginger Thai Beef

2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 pounds beef sirloin, cut into 3/4 inch strips
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon lemongrass, chopped
¼ cup bamboo shoot, cut into thin strips
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons fish sauce
Juice of half a lime

Heat oil in wok or medium frying pan. When oil is hot, add beef, ginger, garlic, lemon grass, bamboo shoots, red pepper flakes, and fish sauce. Cook 4-5 minutes on high heat, stirring. Remove from heat & add the fresh lime juice.

Ginger glazed salmon with sesame seeds

4 six-ounce salmon fillets
2 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons honey
¼ cup black or white sesame seeds
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Prepare marinade by combining soy sauce, ginger, mustard, olive oil, honey, salt and pepper. Allow salmon to marinate for minimum of one hour.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Sear salmon fillet lightly, about 2 minutes per side, just to achieve color. Coat baking dish with cooking spray. Place fillets in baking dish and sprinkle heavily with sesame seeds. Bake for 10-12 minutes for rare salmon (or until internal temperature reaches 140°)

Coconut Panna Cotta with Ginger Mango Coulis

Panna Cotta is a traditional Italian gelatin dessert. I am typically anti-gelatin due to the texture, but panna cotta is so creamy and smooth that I don’t even notice it. If you have a hard time getting the panna cotta out of the molds, let sit in a bowl of warm water for 10-15 seconds to loosen.

For the Coulis:
1 cup Mango-sliced
1/2 cup Sugar
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon minced ginger

Puree and strain mango and ginger. Add sugar and lime juice. Can add more or less juice to acquire desired consistency—it should be liquid enough to pour.

For the Panna Cotta:
1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
1 (15-ounce) can coconut cream (recommended: Coco Loco)
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
2 cups chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over 3 tablespoons of cool water in a small bowl. Set aside to soften.

In a medium saucepan, heat the coconut cream and coconut milk over medium heat until the sides begin to bubble. Lower the heat and allow mixture to let cool slightly before whisking in the softened gelatin, stirring to make sure it is completely dissolved.

Fill a large bowl with cold water. Strain the coconut mixture into a separate bowl that will fit easily into the bowl of water. Set bowl of coconut mixture into the bowl of water to cool, stirring every few minutes with a rubber spatula until the mixture starts to thicken. If the mixture starts to set, remove it immediately.

In a third bowl, stir the cream and confectioners’ sugar together until the sugar is dissolved. Fold into the coconut mixture.

Divide the coconut mixture evenly among six 7- to 8-ounce custard cups or ramekins. Chill until firm, at least 4 hours.

To serve, run a knife around the inside edge of the molds and invert each panna cotta onto a serving plate. Drizzle the coulis over each dessert—enough to spill onto the plate.