Category :

saturday spice: ginger, the horn root


previous saturday spices:

cardamom, 11/15/15

cloves, 12/05/15


[ginger, zingiber officinale, india/china]

Let’s get back on this boat and sail a little north to our next destination: China!

But first I need to take a potty break in India. So typical, stopping the entire carpool half an hour after setting out from the last potty break.

I’m sorry.

Ginger is most often associated with China, and for good reason, but based on examining the large amount of genetic variation among ginger species on the Indian subcontinent, it is assumed that the root is native to this area. Perhaps some species of ginger are indigenous to China, or maybe the Chinese were the first to get to the root.

The reason we most associate ginger with China is that they wrote about it first. The first known mention of ginger, dried or whole, in China showed up approximately 4,000 years ago, while Indian texts started mentioning the spice only 2,300 years ago. For the sake of simplicity and fairness, let’s assume ginger is native to both India AND China.




To be honest, though, it doesn’t even matter: ginger no longer grows in the wild, and is now cultivated all over the world. Furthermore, the root has been propagated from trimmings for so long that it can’t produce seeds anymore.

Arab traders, for a long time the rulers of the eastern spice trade, brought ginger from east Asia to Roman Alexandria, planting rhizomes all along the way. Fun fact, people from the Arabian peninsula not only helped spread ginger around the world, but they were also the first to bring coffee from Ethiopia east to Yemen. Those of us who love coffee and gingerbread (and really anything using eastern spices) owe a lot to the Arabian peninsula.

When Rome fell in the first half of the first millenium C.E., Gallic and Gothic nations helped proliferate some spices (and another fun fact: the reason we still use the word “spice” to refer to the species of ancient Rome is because the Goths had no appropriate word of their own, and adopted from Latin), but unfortunately, ginger was not one of them. For half a millenium, the root was lost to Europe.

Right when Y1K struck, making all those medieval computers go bonkers, Europe rediscovered ginger, and by the 14th century, the only spice more valuable was black pepper (which has been among the most popular spices since the trade first started.)

The Portuguese, who, thanks to Vasco de Gama, took over the spice trade in the middle of the second millenium, introduced ginger to west Africa, while Spain carried it over to the Americas later.


but where did those little luscious human-shaped cookies come from?

Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) is credited with the invention of gingerbread cookies.

Also, you can thank Queen Isabella of Portugal for helping bring spices to North America (while also cursing European royalty for the damage they did to the Native Americans), and Marie Antoinette for the invention of croissants. 


what can i make with ginger?

vegan spiced banana nut muffins | | balinese ginger tea | | ginger turmeric cookies | | cardamom molasses cookies | | apple chai-der pie | | gluten-free sweet potato muffins | | black tea butter cookies

other ideas:

crystallized ginger | | fried rice, stir-fried noodles (mie goreng, etc.) | | pickled ginger for sushi | | gingerbread | | ginger pork | | ginger syrup (for lattes or cocktails) | | ginger ale or ginger beer | | ginger cupcakes | | Japanese pork dumplings | | Chinese chicken rice porridge, congee



Later, we’ll take a look at uses and health benefits of the root.

Get pumped, y’all.

Nick P.



“Ginger History.”

Hubpages. “The History of Ginger: From India to the New World.” 2010 Feb 16.

Kaminsky, Steffany. “The History and Use of Ginger.” 2010 Jan 21.

“Origin and History of Ginger, Traditional and Current Uses.” 2015 Sep 20.

Turner, Jack. Spice: The History of a Temptation. 2005 Aug 9. pub. Vintage.




upcoming spices:



ginger: health benefits

Categories: food history, saturday spice

muffin of the month, january 2016: muffin history

previous monthly muffins: 

11/15, pumpkin streusel | | 12/15, gluten-free sweet potato

It’s easy to say that muffins were “invented,” but in fact, they weren’t. Bread was invented. When and how bread came to be is an entirely different blog post.

Bread is a universal food, and everything from doughnuts to muffins to biscuits to that childish “bread dough” I used to make by soaking a hunk of bread in my wet mouth, those are all variations on the world’s oldest baked good. Even beer comes from bread, an accidental discovery in ancient Mesopotamia when John in marketing mis-calculated how much flour they needed and ended up hammered on the conference room floor.


But how did American* muffins come to be?

*American and English muffins are different. One is yeasted and cooked on a griddle, and the other is superior in every aspect. That one is made of batter, then baked in the oven in cupcake pans.

As far as the etymology goes, “muffin” began appearing in print in the early 1700s (1703) and recipes showed up half a century later (1747.) Some sources say the word comes from French moufflet, meaning “soft” in reference to bread, while others say it comes from a German word muffe, meaning “cake.”

Hannah Glasse is credited with the recipe in her cookbook, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. Although the American and British breads are now completely different, a look at culinary history tells us this was not always the case. At some point between the 1800s and now, American muffins became more cake-like, sweeter, and deeper. Old American culinary sources describe muffins as small cakes**, or poundcakes baked immediately in “snowball cups.” At first, American muffins were relatively uniform: flour, rye, or bran, with apples, dates, raisins, and/or nuts. In the late 1900s, only a few decades ago, we went muffin crazy: they blew up in size and people started adding all kinds of new flavors (I guess I’m 45 years late to this party.) Modern American muffins, so ubiquitous a pastry, were the cronuts of the late 20th century.

Think about that the next time you throw your cronut against the wall to see if it makes the poof sound.


**Maybe the subject of a future Monthly Muffin, but there are vast differences between cake/cupcakes and muffins now. More on that later this year.

In short:

American and English muffins are like chimpanzees and orangutans: they come from the same ancestor but are now as different as chimpanzees and orangutans…or as American muffins and yeasted biscuits.


Cheerio, y’all,

Nick P.



Olver, Lynne. Food Timeline FAQs. 3 January 2015.

Categories: Breads, food history, muffins

non-dairy mulligatawny stew (with vegan substitutions)

I discovered something late last year: I don’t generally like stews. It just so happens that most things called “stew” are things I don’t like. Not a fan of chili (except Cincinnati Chili, oh mama), try to avoid Brunswick Stew, and really don’t like boiled meat (beef is not meant to be boiled, y’all.)




But I won’t judge you if you do like stew. I just won’t cook it for you and if you have a habit of making it, or of boiling your meat, I will not be coming to your house for dinner (unless you buy wine in bulk, then I’m there.)

Because of this, I would much rather this recipe be called Mulligatawny Soup, but I’m not gonna try and rewrite history to suit my own preferences.


MulligatawnyStew-21 MulligatawnyStew-30 MulligatawnyStew-14 MulligatawnyStew-8


While I’m not a fan of stew, I am a massive fan of anything curry, the saltier and spicier the better. And bonus points out the buttcrack for coconut milk-based curries.

So I think I can overlook the name just this once…maybe.

I first had mulligatawny stew nearly a year ago, when I was still doing the food-writer-ing-editor-ing thing in Japan. One of the recipes submitted for a cold weather-themed spread I came up with was mulligatawny stew. I had never heard of it, but I needed photos for the spread, so I tried my hand at the contributor’s recipe (she is now one half of the food section editorial pair and her culinary endeavors are by far the most inspirational I’ve ever watched.) Needless to say, my attempt was a failure. I’m not a wonderful cook now, but a year ago I was abysmal. Unless I was making pasta or roasted potatoes, I was helpless. More stories about that throughout the year (think failed naan and that time I discovered chicken gizzard.)




My soup was thin, clear, and flavorless, but looked pretty enough in the photos. I’m trying to become more attuned to flavors in cooking and how to manipulate them. I have plenty of experience with pastry and baking that I can handle ingredients deftly, but when it comes to pots and pans, I’m a baby.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t trust this recipe. I put myself down but I have learned at least something since I started cooking. I spent the latter half of 2015 playing with soups (so expect a lot of soup recipes this winter and next), so I’m getting used to how things work together in the soup pot.






Between the first time I ever made mulligatawny stew and the recipe below, I noticed the big factor is the coconut milk. First of all, I’m lactose-intolerant and as I get older, my reactions become more intense/more frequent. Second of all, when there’s curry, there should also be coconut*. I can handle butter, but if you wanted to go full vegan, you could substitute coconut oil easily. If you’re paleo, coconut oil is the way to go, as well.

You may be thinking of green curry, which should actually taste like coconut, but I’m thinking of other curries. If you can’t handle dairy, don’t substitute soy milk. I learned the hard way (creamy vegan tomato soup) that soy milk breaks up. Coconut milk is smoother and holds together. I recently attempted tikka masala for the first time and had to make a non-dairy substitution. I thought coconut milk might be too strong a flavor for the tomato gravy, but you couldn’t even tell, and the texture was amazing.




So, when substituting for cream or milk, use coconut milk, and when substituting for butter, use coconut oil or other vegetable oils (peanut works very well.)

The chicken really adds to the soup but you could substitute it for vegetables of your choice (roasted cauliflower is brilliant, and as always, I love a good potato done any way. If you’re trying to cut back on starches, go with the cauliflower or some chickpeas.)


other important things I’ve learned:

1. Let the flavorings (garlic and onions) cook slowly and for a long time to really develop those particular flavors. In fact, cook everything for a little bit longer than you expect. Second, salt should be the last ingredient.

2. Most recipes say “salt for flavor” because salt determines the intensity of the other flavors. You can keep adding spices and it won’t change a thing if you don’t have any salt. Follow the recipe, and at the end, throw in a generous handful of salt, and then taste and adjust.

3. This one takes a long time to come together, so start preparing ~2 hours before you intend to eat. Fortunately this means you have time to prepare other things while the stew is going.




This is a perfect winter soup: it’s warm, rich and creamy, with enough spice to surprise you, but not so much that it’s hard to handle. The flavor is simultaneously light and strong, the broth is buttery even if you make it without butter, and the vegetables are sweet, savory, hearty, and refreshing. Using roasted cauliflower, or topping with roasted nuts, adds another delicious dimension, as well.


non-dairy mulligatawny soup/stew (with chicken but also with vegan substitutions included)

adapted from Well Fed 2: More Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat, by Melissa Joulwan

makes 9 servings (no really, it lasts a long time unless you eat it for every meal like I do)



non-vegan version

2 yellow onions

1 large red apple

3 cloves garlic

1 lb carrots

salt and pepper

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast or thigh

oil (coconut, peanut, canola, etc.)

1 1/2 Tbsp curry powder

1/2 tsp chili powder

1 Tbsp flour or starch

pinch of cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp allspice

2 bay leaves

1/2 c unsweetened coconut flakes


4 c chicken stock

Salt, to taste

1-2 c coconut milk


for topping: toasted sliced almonds, toasted cashews, toasted shredded coconut


Dice onions and put in a bowl by themselves.

Chop apples, mince garlic, and slice carrots, and put in a medium bowl together.

In a large, deep stock pot, heat ~1 Tbsp oil.

Lay chicken on a paper towel lined plate and dry off with paper towels.

Sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper, and brown chicken on both sides. Remove meat and set aside in a bowl.

Add a little bit more oil to the pot and let it heat for a minute.

Sauté the onions, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes until they begin to soften and brown.

Add garlic, carrots, and apple, and continue to cook until everything starts to soften and turn brown.

Mix curry powder, chili powder, flour, cayenne, and allspice together in a small bowl. Add the bay leaves and spice mixture to the vegetables, and sauté for about 10 minutes until the spices become dark and fragrant.

Meanwhile, chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Add the coconut flakes, and chicken stock to the pot, scrape up any brown bits at the bottom, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat, add chicken pieces, and simmer for about 45 minutes, until thickened, tasting along the way.


When soup is seasoned and thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the coconut milk.

For serving: toast some sliced almonds, cashews, or shredded coconut on the stove in a dry frying pan, until they brown noticeably (don’t worry about burnt nuts, they add flavor), and put on top of the stew. Warm up some naan the same way, in the same frying pan, or roast some seasoned chickpeas in the already-hot oven. Alternatively, put out some yogurt (dairy or non-dairy) to eat on the side or add to the stew for a contrast to the warmth of the soup.


vegan variation

instead of 2 lbs of chicken, use one head of cauliflower or 2 lbs white potatoes

instead of chicken stock, use vegetable stock



If using cauliflower, preheat your oven to 450 – 500 F, or preheat your broiler. Chop the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces, spread out on a baking sheet, coat lightly with oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.

When oven or broiler are ready, roast/broil cauliflower until it starts to blacken on top.

Meanwhile, heat the oil and cook the onions, carrots, apple, and garlic the same way as the non-vegan version above.

Add the spices, flour, and bay leaves as above and cook until darkened.

Add coconut flakes and vegetable stock, and scrape up any brown bits from the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, until thickened noticeably.

If using potatoes, chop them into bite-sized pieces and add them to the soup.

If using cauliflower, add them to the pot about 20 minutes before the soup is done.

Simmer as above, turn off the heat when the soup is done, and stir in the coconut milk.

Garnish and serve as above.



Nick P.

Categories: alternative diet, curries, potatoes, savory, soups, Vegan