In Season: Ginger

We call it ginger root, but the part we use for cooking is actually the rhizome of the ginger plant. Most of the ginger we use is grown in China and other parts of Asia, but it can be grown right here in Georgia.

Just ask Corinna Garmon of Garmon Family Farm in Whitesburg, near Carrollton. Her local Publix saves all the organic produce it would otherwise have to discard and gives it to Garmon to feed her ducks and chickens. One day there were a few ginger rhizomes in what she collected. Wondering how it would do, she planted it in her greenhouse. To her delight, it did very well.

“It takes all summer to grow, but when we took the ginger to market, our customers loved it. I sold every bit I had,” Garmon said.

Those lucky customers were shopping at the farm’s booth at the Wednesday morning Dunwoody Green Market. The market, which is closed for the winter, plans to reopen April 13. Along with several other vendors at the market, Garmon Family Farm also offers a community supported agriculture box program there as well as at their farm.

Ginger requires fairly high soil temperatures to take root, so using her greenhouse gave the rhizomes the warm start they needed. Garmon broke up the rhizomes into tiny bits and put them directly into the greenhouse beds. Her two-by-five-foot row grew a surprising amount, but it was not enough to sell to her restaurants customers as well as satisfy her Dunwoody market clients.

“This year I’m going to start my ginger in pots in a heated section of the greenhouse and transplant it into the beds. I will probably plant out the whole 100-foot row. We’re always looking for things that will grow well in the greenhouse in the heat of the summer in Georgia. The ginger just loves the heat,” Garmon said.

Ginger planted in May should be ready for harvest in November.

If you want to experiment with ginger at home, remember it’s a tropical plant and won’t survive our winter. “I’d recommend they grow it in a pot and as it matures, they can dig around the outside of the plant and break off little knobs,” Garmon said. Then you can bring the pot inside in the winter. The ornamental “gingers” we grow outside in our Georgia gardens are not the same genus.

What little ginger she saved for herself, Garmon used mostly in tea. She did cook with a little and found that it wasn’t as strong tasting as what is generally available in the market. “Our ginger was only a year old and it was very, very tender. What you see in the stores is two years old,” she said.

When choosing ginger rhizomes, look for those with firm, unwrinkled skins. The older the rhizome, the sharper the flavor is likely to be; but it’s almost impossible to tell how old the rhizome is by looking at it. For that, it helps to know the grower.

Store unpeeled ginger in the refrigerator, wrapped loosely in ventilated plastic. It should keep for two or three weeks. Stored on the countertop, it dries out quickly. If you buy more ginger than you can use right away, peel and slice it and store it in sherry in a jar in the refrigerator. That works really well for many Asian dishes; if the recipe happens to call for sherry as well, you’ve got ginger-flavored sherry at your fingertips. You can also peel and freeze ginger in recipe-size pieces, such as 1-inch chunks. Then grate or slice it as called for in the recipe.

Did your mom feed you ginger ale when you were home with the flu? Mine did, and as Garmon found, ginger is commonly used any time for an upset stomach. Studies have found that ginger helps ease nausea and reduces sweating, but talk to your doctor before taking ginger medicinally.

At local farmers markets

Local markets with winter hours

Dacula Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturdays.

Decatur Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturdays; 3 -6 p.m. Wednesdays.

Dunwoody Green Market, some vendors take pre-orders and deliver on Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m.-noon.

Emory Farmers Market, noon-5.p.m., Tuesdays during school year.

Morningside Farmers’ Market, 8-11:30 a.m. Saturdays.

For sale

Vegetables: arugula, carrots, celery, chard, cilantro, collards, frisee, herbs, kale, lettuce, mache, parsley, pea shoots, radishes, radicchio, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, turnips

From local reports

Ginger Chicken Curry

Hands on: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4

Use any prepared curry paste you like in this recipe. The proportions here are for Masaman curry, which is fairly mild. If you are using a fiery red, yellow or green curry, you may want to use less. No curry paste on hand? This dish is delicious even if you leave it out. Serve over brown rice.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots (2 large)

1/4 cup peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger, about a 3-inch piece

2 tablespoons Thai curry paste

2 cups sodium-free chicken broth

1 (13.5-ounce) can light coconut milk

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 cups fresh snow peas (about 1/2 pound), trimmed, strings removed

1 large lime, cut into wedges, for garnish

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Sear the meat until lightly browned all over, about 5 minutes total. Do not crowd the pan; cook chicken in batches if needed. As chicken pieces brown, remove from pan and keep warm.

Reduce heat to medium. Add shallots and cook until just tender, about 2 minutes. Add ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add curry paste and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in broth, scraping up any browned bits that are stuck to the pan. Add coconut milk and fish sauce, increase heat to medium-high, and return chicken to pan (along with any juices on the plate). Stir and simmer until  chicken is just cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Remove pan from the heat. Stir in snow peas. Cover the pan and let sit for 5 minutes. The peas will just heat through. Garnish with lime wedges and serve over rice.

Per serving: 315 calories (percent of calories from fat, 41), 35 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 16 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 68 milligrams cholesterol, 348 milligrams sodium.