Did you know that galangal has been known to Europe since the Middle Ages? That’s hard to believe, since many of us have never heard of it. Upon first glance, galangal looks very similar to ginger; it’s a knobby, strange-looking root that has light-colored skin and protruding white stems with pink tips. Chances are, though, you’ve tasted galangal at least once in your life, especially if you are a fan of Thai food. It is a key ingredient in many Thai restaurant staples we know and love like curry and tom yum soup.
If you like to cook Thai food, then you may know that galangal can be substituted for ginger. Galangal has its own unique flavor profile so let’s learn a little more about what it is and why you should try cooking with this flavorful root.
It is not surprising at all that galangal is a member of the rhizomes family, a group of root-like underground stems that includes both ginger and turmeric. It has been described as having an earthy, pine-like flavor with citrus-y and pepper notes. It is native to Indonesia and is commonly used in Indonesian, Thai, and Malaysian cooking, where it is commonly paired with seafood. To a lesser extent, it is used in Indochinese and Singaporean cuisine.
Galangal has been used as a traditional remedy for centuries and has been known in Europe for centuries, where it was used as an aphrodisiac. Similar to ginger, fresh galangal has historically been crushed and brewed as a tea to support the immune system, promote good circulation, and to aid in easing nausea and stomach pain. Further studies are needed in order to validate these claims. As with any herbal remedy, please consult your physician before using galangal.
How to Cook With Galangal
Unlike ginger and turmeric, fresh galangal has a very hard, woody texture with a softer interior. This makes it tough to cut through, so using a sharp knife is highly recommended when working with this fresh root. Fresh galangal is used in two different ways in cooking; it is either sliced or crushed. First, you should always peel the section of the root that you want to use with a vegetable peeler. Cut the root into slices. If the recipe you are using calls for galangal slices, you can stop here. If your recipe asks for crushed galangal, then cut the slice into thinner, matchstick-like pieces in order to make them easier to crush. Then, you’re ready to put your fresh galangal to use — just remember that the cooking time for galangal is a little longer than it is for ginger.
If you are not going to use your fresh galangal all in one go, it will need to be stored properly. Galangal should be kept in a cool, dry place like the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator for up to two weeks. It can also be frozen, if you want it to keep for longer. Cut the root into 1/4-inch pieces, wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and store for up to three months.
Fresh galangal can be substituted for powdered galangal root, though the flavor is not quite the same. While fresh galangal tastes earthy with citrus-y undertones, powdered galangal has an almost entirely citrus-y flavor. When substituting powdered galangal for fresh, use a ratio of 1 teaspoon per 1/2-inch of fresh, chopped galangal. You also have the option of purchasing dried galangal, which requires soaking prior to use.
Traditionally, galangal is a key ingredient in Thai curry pastes, which are readily available in the international aisle of most grocery stores — if you don’t eat fish be sure to read the label, as many brands use fish sauce as an ingredient. Or, you can make your own. This Massaman Curry Paste, one of the heartiest-tasting varieties of Thai curry pastes, calls for a tablespoon of fresh galangal. You can use your homemade curry paste in any Thai curry recipe, like this Easy Roasted Pepper Thai Red Curry, this Thai Red Curry With Soba Noodles, or this Thai Red Coconut Curry Tofu.
It is also one of the key ingredients in tom yum soup, a Thai soup with a stock flavored by lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal. Traditionally, the recipe includes fish sauce, meat, or seafood, but this delicious vegan recipe for Tom Yum Soup, has rice noodles, bean sprouts, and long beans. Like ginger, galangal is also used in stir-fries like this like this Pecel, an Indonesian vegetable dish. You can try traditional recipes, like this Tempe Tumis Cabe Gendot, a Indonesian dish that is made by deep-frying tempeh, then frying it with lemongrass, galangal, bay leaves, kaffir lime leaves, and habanero. Galangal is also a key ingredient in most Asian peanut sauces, also known as satay sauce, which is typically served as a dipping sauce or as a dressing for dishes like this Indonesian Gado Gado.
Where to Buy
Compared to other herbs and spices that are still relatively obscure to the western world, finding galangal can be a little more difficult, but it is not impossible. You might be able to find it in larger chain grocery stores like Whole Foods that tend to carry specialty ingredients. Your next best bet is to check your local Asian grocery store, especially if it carries a lot of Thai specialty products. You’ll often find fresh galangal in the refrigerated section.
If you can’t find fresh galangal locally, there are options to order online. This X-Zampa Organic Dried Galangal is the next best thing to fresh galangal. The fresh root is sliced, dried, and then vacuum-packed to keep it fresh. Simply soak the pieces in hot water in order to rehydrate them, like you would with dried mushrooms. One 3.2-ounce bag costs $12.99. Another option is to use powdered galangal, like this Wholespice Galangal Root Powder. You can pick up a 1.1-ounce bottle for $4.09. Just keep in mind that when substituting powder for fresh galangal root, use 1 teaspoon of powder per 1/2-inch of fresh root. Galangal purée is less commonly used than fresh or dried roots and powders, but it is still useful. This Vias Galangal Purée is ideal for enhancing the flavors of soups, stews, and marinades. You can buy an 8.8-ounce jar for $11.89.
More Recipes Using Galangal
Now that you know the basics of cooking with galangal, it’s time to have fun! Like ginger, galangal is a great addition to stir-frys. Try using it instead of ginger to make the paste in this Chinese Long Bean Stir-Fry or this Shirataki Pad Thai. Make the dipping sauce from this recipe for Tofu Satay, a Malaysian dish traditionally made with grilled meat, then pair it with this Jackfruit Satay or this Cauliflower Satay. Or, pair the dipping sauce with these crisp Fresh Veggie Spring Rolls. If you want to try something a little out of the ordinary, try these Thai ‘Crab’ Cakes, which are made from jarred artichoke hearts and flavored with Thai chili peppers, lemongrass, grated galangal, and wakame seaweed.
Once you’ve made your own Massaman Curry Paste, you can use it in any dish that calls for Thai curry paste. For easy recipes, try this Creamy Thai Cauliflower Soup, this Thai Curry Red Rice Soup or this Thai Green Curry Cauliflower Rice. You can also try it out in creative fusion foods, like these Thai Red Curry Tofu Tacos, where tofu is stir-fried with curry paste and other spices. It can be used in noodle dishes, too, like this One-Pan Thai Yellow Curry Macaroni, or this Coconut Curry Linguini. Planning a party? Try it in these Green Curry Rice Paper Samosas or this Thai Green Curry Dip.
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