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Spoonful of Ginger, A

by: Nina Simonds

New York NY: Knopf 1999, $30.00, Hardbound
ISBN: 0375400362

Reviewed by: Susan Miller
Fall Volume: 1999 Issue: 6(3) page(s): 23 and 24

This spoonful of food-as-medicine wisdom is packed with easily prepared, healthful, and often exciting recipes. It is not, as the title suggests, a niche, 'single-subject' book because it discusses much more than just ginger. Not only ginger, but other foods with therapeutic qualities are featured. For example, Simonds mentions a Basil-ginger Bread used to treat coughs. Unfortunately, she leaves us to imagine the recipe.

The author, who studied in Taiwan and speaks Mandarin, appears spiritually bonded with the cuisine and the culture. She shares her fascination with food as medicine in the Introduction and presents her goals writing this book. Read it, but with a good spoonful of yin/yang balance.

A Spoonful of Ginger is both an enticing recipe collection and a thoughtful essay on the spiritual aspects of cooking and the healthful properties of both Asian and Western ingredients. The approach is not the least bit preachy or dry, nor is it terribly over-hyped.

The beneficial qualities that Simonds relates to various foods have been derived from centuries of Chinese culinary wisdom. This delicious eating is largely health-giving, to boot. However, not every recipe contains ginger, nor is it Chinese. Orange Madeleines, for example, are totally French. The orange peel, we learn from Simonds, aids digestion; we know it as a common global ingredient.

The entire dessert chapter is amazing. Ditto the chapter on tofu and soy, including a useful chart of soy products, much appreciated for the sometimes confused consumer. Each health note in every chapter is bulleted with the yin/yang symbol. This most approachable cookbook can be used by cooks with just basic skills and supermarket-available ingredients.

In this book, canned water chestnuts are just fine, whereas any of Simonds' five earlier books might have required you to peel sometimes muddy fresh water chestnuts. Ingredient lists are not off-puttingly-long; and the abundant sidebars and headings are excellent. Among the more intriguing recipe titles, top picks might be Spicy Spareribs in a Pumpkin, Cinnamon-Braised Tofu, Tempeh in Sweet and Sour Sauce, and very easy Saucy Garlic Lobster. Simonds notes that while most seafood is cooling (in the yin/yang schema) lobster is warming and recommended for impotence; also for pain in the tendons and bones.

This is such a fine food book that it would be wonderful to have even for those who do not use ginger. I recommend the recipe for Strawberries and Melon in Plum Wine which Simonds attributes health-promoting qualities to the strawberries and the cantaloupe; who can argue with that! The Shrimp and Vegetable Salad with Fresh Herb Dressing is convenient. No shrimp rolls to make, just toss the ingredients in, including the cilantro, which is the 'healing' ingredient. This recipe begs for a spoonful of grated ginger; it would make it even better.
Susan Miller, M.S., R.D., is a nutrition consultant with a special interests in food history, Chinese ingredients, and cultural aspects of food.
Strawberries and Melon in Plum Wine
2 pints ripe strawberries, rinsed and hulled
2 Tablespoons sugar, or to taste (optional)
3 cups ripe honeydew or cantaloupe melon cut into balls or one-inch diamonds
1 cup plum wine
1. If strawberries are large, cut them in half lengthwise. If they are not very sweet, add the sugar tossing them lightly to coat them and then allow them to macerate an hour at room temperature.
2. Place the strawberries in a serving bowl, add the melon and the plum wine. Mix gently, then cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
3.Spoon the fruit and sauce into bowls and serve.
Shrimp and Vegetable Salad with Herb Dressing
Salad ingredients:
1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/3 pound thin rice noodles, softened in hot water for fifteen to twenty minutes then drained
3 carrots, peeled and grated (about 2½ cups)
2 and 1/2 cups rinsed leafy lettuce, drained and cut into thin julienne shreds
2 and 1/2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
1 and 1/2 cups finely chopped scallions, tops only
Dressing ingredients:
1 and 1/4 teaspoons crushed dried chiles or dried chile flakes
5 limes or 2 and 1/2 lemons, juiced (about 2/3 cup)
1/3 cup fish sauce, or more to taste
1/3 cup sugar
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1. Slice the shrimp in half lengthwise along the back.
2. Boil four cups water then add the shrimp. When the water returns to a boil, turn off the heat. Let the shrimp stay in that water only for two minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water. Be sure they are well drained.
3. Boil two quarts of water and add the softened rice stick noodles. Mix them while they cook until just tender, about ten seconds or so, then drain thoroughly and rinse them under cold water and drain again. Cut the noodles into three-inch lengths and arrange on a deep serving platter.
4. Arrange the shrimp in the center with the carrots, lettuce, and bean sprouts in concentric circles around them. Leave some noodles to be the outside concentric circle.
5. For the dressing, soak the chiles in the lime juice for two or three minutes. Add the remaining dressing ingredients and stir until the sugar is dissolved, then pour into a serving bowl. It can be used at room temperature or used when chilled.
6. Sprinkle the chopped cilantro, basil, and scallions on top of the shrimp and vegetables, then spoon the dressing over the salad. If preferred, it can be serve it on the side.

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