It’s no secret that a number of Asian spices like cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric are revered for their wonderful flavor and powerful health benefits. Historically, these spices were so in demand that they warranted their own shipping maps, The Spice Routes.
From those routes, the Western world got hold of such wonderful things as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and turmeric, all of which have distinct tastes and offer great health benefits. From them, we’ve made teas, coffees, curries, candies and countless other treats. But, in all this time, has something just felt like it was missing?
Raise of hands out there: How many of us have heard of galangal? A member of the elite group of rhizomes (root-like underground stems) that include ginger and turmeric, it looks like just another unattractive lump of dusty brown knobs, but in actuality, like old brothers and sisters, galangal has its own personality.
Just Who Is Galangal?
Galangal is a tropical plant by nature and comes originally from the Far East and the South Pacific, enjoying the warm weather and earthier vibe. In the States, it can sometimes be found in toasty, coastal areas like Florida and California. However, by and large, its flavor (which we’ll soon get to) is more often associated with Malaysian, Indonesian, and Thai cuisine.
Its Particular Taste
As a spice, galangal is noted for earthy tones, with a bit more peppery spike than ginger and undergarments of suggestive citrus. At its most masculine, it has been called “woodsy” and “piney”. Its claim to quiet fame has been a key role in some well-received curry pastes. However, despite galangal’s own unique characteristics—the citrus, the spice, some say musky mustard overtones—it is often overshadowed by the more readily available (some say easier) ginger, which is unwittingly substituted for it.
Where To Get Some of That
And, it is true that galangal has been a bit more bashful, in the dark and dank corners of the spice market for most its life. It has a harder interior than the likes of ginger and turmeric, such that it takes a little more milling, but it can be found in powder form in any respectable spice section (think Whole Foods). As for finding it fresh, which is obviously the better option, that may be a bit more of a challenge; however, Asian markets are likely to have it frozen. And, of course, it can be ordered online.
Like other popular roots and rhizomes of the East, such as ginger and turmeric, galangal is full of beneficial health properties. It can be used to treat common ailments along the lines of nausea, motion sickness and flatulence, with even more benefits such as protecting the heart and overall body. Historically, it was used as an aphrodisiac because it naturally has a pheromonal fragrance that was once included in perfumes and snuffs.
Introducing Galangal to the Family
Obviously, it makes no sense to go to all the trouble of procuring galangal and bowing to its powers if there is no means in which to use it. Thus, there need to be a few recipes with which to experiment with the spice before venturing out and letting personal relationships blossom. Every courtship has to start somewhere, right? Well, here are some great options, some fine dinners over which to build a love for galangal. Overall, you can use it anywhere you’d use ginger or turmeric (for the most part).
Here are some ideas:
Irinian Eggplant and Chickpeas Stew with Coconut Almond Sauce
Filled with ethnic spices of all kinds, this would make for the perfect flavor base for galangal.
Spicy Raw Thai Salad
Featuring veggies and other nutritious ingredients of all kinds, this one is a win for a mouthful of flavor and a satisfied stomach too.
Spicy Romaine Summer Rolls With Peanut Sauce
Galangal and ginger can both be used in peanut sauce, which is a great sauce to try in place of others you might have on hand. In this recipe, it’s paired with hearty veggies, all wrapped up into a light, sweet romaine leaf.
Noodle lovers will love this dish, which features gluten-free rice noodles, zucchini, carrots, and a host of delicious spices. Galangal could be used in place or in addition to the ginger, and would make for a spicy, yet healing meal.
Lead Image Source: Thomas Wanhoff/Flickr