For more than 5,000 years, ginger has been valued both as medicine and food. The humidity-loving tropical plant was domesticated in Southern Asia during prehistoric times. Early practitioners of traditional Ayurvedic medicine used ginger as a cure-all, while fifth-century Chinese sailors ate ginger to soothe stomachaches and fend off scurvy at sea. Arab merchants brought dried ginger to the Mediterranean region, where it was regularly added to sweets. By the Middle Ages, ginger was one of the most commonly traded spices in Europe. A pound of it sold for the same price as a sheep!
Ginger's botanical name, Zingiber, is thought to come from the Sanskrit word for "horn-shaped." The edible, knobby part of the plant grows underground, even though it is technically part of the plant's stem. Today, the largest producers of dried ginger are India and China, but some of the world's finest crop is produced in Jamaica. In the United States, nearly all the fresh ginger is grown in Hawaii, where the main harvest runs from December to June. When ginger is first pulled from the ground, it is juicy and mild tasting with almost no perceivable skin. As it matures it forms a fibrous outer coat, loses moisture, and becomes more pungent. Look for new crop ginger at farmers' markets. It will look pinker and glossier than the ginger we are used to seeing in supermarkets.
Ginger has remarkable culinary range -- it's as tasty in cakes as it is in stir-fries. It complements other flavors without overwhelming them, and it brightens just about any dish with its refreshing citrus notes. Not to mention that ginger beer plays an essential role in classic cocktails. What would the Moscow Mule be without it? One of my favorite drinks, the Dark and Stormy, relies on its sweetness and kick. Inspired by this combination of flavors, I came up with a recipe for Dark and Stormy cookies. Strongly spiced with grated fresh ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and even some black pepper, they might just become your new favorite medicine.
Dark and Stormy Cookies
These cookies are moist and chewy, and they can be used to make spectacular ice cream sandwiches. Use your favorite dark rum, or simply substitute additional lime juice, if you prefer.
Makes about 20 cookies
2¾ cups all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 tablespoon dark rum
1½ tablespoons finely grated, peeled fresh ginger
1 large egg
¼ cup vegetable oil
Granulated sugar, for rolling
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and salt into a medium bowl.
In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, molasses, rum, ginger, egg, oil, and the zest and juice of the lime. Using a wooden spoon, stir until the mixture is well combined and has tiny air bubbles at the surface. Add the flour mixture, and stir just until there are no visible streaks of flour.
Sprinkle a handful of granulated sugar on a small plate. Shape dough into golf ball-sized balls, roll them in the sugar, and place them 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake cookies for 13 minutes, or until their surfaces crack slightly and their edges begin to darken in color. Let cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets. The cookies will feel soft when they come out of the oven, but they'll firm up as they cool.
Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.