This month’s ingredient: Torch Ginger
(Aliases: ginger flower, red ginger lily, torch lily, wild ginger, rojak flower, bunga kantan)
What is it?
The long-stemmed bud of the ginger flower looks spear-like before it blossoms into a waxy-petalled ginger flower, its pale pinky-red inflorescence resembling a torch. Though technically a herb, this member of the perennial ginger family is often referred to as a spice.
Due to the waxiness of the petals the flower is not very aromatic, but when cut, the bud releases an aromatic, floral, grassy fragrance with citrus notes and a hint of pepper.
Where to find it?
At larger wet markets like Tekka in Little India or Geylang Serai. To ensure it’s fresh, look for a plump bud with no dryness or bruising. Ask for it in Malay: bunga kantan.
The ginger bud can be thinly shredded and used in salads and sauces. It is an indispensable ingredient in Nyonya (Chinese-Malay) cuisine, where it is halved lengthwise and used in fish-based curries and soups to mask strong fishy tastes, as in the famous Penang asam laksa – a sour, fish-based noodle soup notably different from the Singaporean laksa due to the absence of coconut milk.
A traditional Southeast Asian belief is that that a daily intake of raw ginger inflorescence can reduce diabetes and hypertension. Women eat it together with the ginger’s bitter leaves to relieve postpartum flatulence.
Ginger root, or rather ginger rhizome extract, has many healing properties:
• High in antioxidants, it may help prevent some forms of cancer.
• An antiviral herb with antibacterial properties, it is used as a decongestant and expectorant to fight respiratory problems and sinus infections.
•It relieves indigestion, reduces flatulence, relieves nausea (including morning sickness) and alleviates intestinal cramps and gastrointestinal problems.
• Its anti-inflammatory properties can help arthritis.
Try it in town
There is bound to be a rojak stall at your favourite hawker centre serving ginger flower bud as part of the sweet, sour, spicy, crunchy sauce-laden rojak salad. Made of raw cucumber, pineapple, mango, green apple, youtiao (Chinese fritters), peanuts and bean sprouts, this salad has a belacan, sugar, tamarind, chilli and lime juice dressing.
Torch Ginger Dipping Sauce
Serve this exotic pink dipping sauce with a platter of grilled seafood as an appetiser or with fresh oysters, lemon wedges and a glass of bubbly.
½ cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons caster sugar
1½ tablespoons light soy sauce
1 torch ginger flower bud
¼ finely diced shallot
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1. Remove the first two outer layers of the torch ginger flower bud and then cut the bud in half lengthways. Finely slice the petals, discarding the white core.
2. Mix all ingredients until sugar has dissolved. Leave for 30 minutes to develop the flavours before serving.
Torch Ginger Jelly
Jelly, the classic childhood dessert, has recently made quite a comeback. This adult version looks great when made in an intricately designed mould, but still retains the fun of “wibble-wobble jelly on a plate”. It’s a delicately pale pink blushed jelly that leaves a warm sensation in your mouth. Serve with a jug of very cold double cream for a lovely contrast of tastes.
2 buds of torch ginger – waxy petals very finely sliced, inner white core discarded
2 level tablespoons grated ginger root (don’t substitute ginger powder!)
8 tablespoons sugar
600ml water (divided into 400ml and 200ml)
6 teaspoons strained, fresh lemon juice
8g powdered gelatine
1 extra torch ginger flower or bud for decoration
Handful of raspberries or physalis
Jug of cold double cream
1. Lightly grease a jelly mould or 4 pretty glasses with vegetable oil.
2. Simmer the ginger bud, ginger root, sugar and 400ml water in a saucepan for 15 to 20 minutes. The ginger root needs to cook thoroughly to denature the enzyme bromelain that prevents gelatine setting.
3. Sieve the mixture, retaining the clear, light pink liquid.
4. Add the lemon juice.
5. Sprinkle the gelatine powder into the remaining 200ml water. Stir well and add to the hot liquid, stirring until the gelatine has dissolved. If you need to reheat it to dissolve it, don’t boil the liquid – this can prevent the gelatine setting.
6. Pour into jelly mould. Leave to cool and then refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
7. Once it has set, half-fill a sink with warm water and stand the jelly mould in it for 30 seconds. Clamp a decorative plate over the jelly and invert to unmould, shaking carefully. Repeat if necessary.
8. Decorate the plate with a sprinkling of raspberries or physalis and a halved ginger bud.