Now is the season for young ginger, also known as spring ginger. Young ginger has smooth, pale skin with pink and/or green tips, the flesh is juicy and tender - unlike the more fibrous regular ginger - and the taste is mild.
Burmese young ginger salad (pictured)
I've only eaten this salad at Burmese restaurants in San Francisco and Hong Kong, never in its country of origin. There's also a delicious (and similar) Burmese tea leaf salad, but I haven't figured out which type of tea leaves to use, or how to prepare them.
This salad is easy to put together, but is quite time consuming to make: the legumes need to be soaked, dried then fried, and the dried shrimp, garlic and shallots are also fried. I prepare more than I'll need of all the fried ingredients, then wrap them tightly in cling-film before storing them in an airtight container, where they'll keep for a couple of weeks. If they get soggy, heat them in a 180 degree Celsius oven for about five minutes to re-crisp them. The quantities given for the fried ingredients will make about two portions (enough for four people) of this salad, which is served as a refreshing, light appetiser.
60 grams dried soya beans
60 grams yellow lentils
1/2 tsp baking soda, divided
80 grams dried shrimp
8-10 large garlic cloves
8-10 large shallots
Cooking oil, as needed
About 25 grams pickled ginger (see the recipe below)
About 30 grams roasted shelled peanuts
About 10 grams toasted coconut (use unsweetened, medium- or long-flake coconut)
1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
4 cherry tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
1 red bird's-eye chilli, seeds and stem removed, then very thinly sliced
1 lime, cut in wedges
Start preparing the legumes at least one day in advance. Rinse the soya beans in several changes of water then put them in a bowl with enough water to cover them by about 2cm. Stir in quarter of a teaspoon of baking soda (this helps to soften the soya beans). In a separate bowl, do the same thing with the lentils. Leave them to soak for several hours or overnight. Drain the soya beans, rinse them thoroughly with water, then lay them on a clean dishtowel to dry. Do the same thing with the lentils. They need to be as dry as possible or the oil will splatter too much when they're fried.
Pour oil to a depth of about 5cm in a pan and heat it. Place one of the soya beans in the oil - it's hot enough when it starts to sizzle. Fry the beans in several batches; don't crowd the pan. Adjust the heat so they don't cook too fast - each batch should take about 10 minutes. The soya beans will still be a little chewy. Drain them on paper towels. When the soya beans are cooked, fry the lentils in the same oil, again, in batches. They take about eight minutes to cook; when they're ready, they'll be crisp. Drain on paper towels. Use the same oil to fry the dried shrimp until crunchy; drain on paper towels.
Peel the shallots and slice them about 3mm thick. Put them in a small saucepan and add just enough fresh oil to cover them. Place over a low flame and cook until medium golden (about 15 minutes). Watch carefully at the end because they burn easily. Drain the shallots on paper towels. Peel the garlic cloves and slice them about 2mm thick (this is easiest to do with a Japanese garlic slicer, which is like a miniature mandolin). Put the sliced garlic in a small pan, add enough fresh oil to barely submerge the slices and place over a low flame. Cook the garlic slowly until pale golden (about 10 minutes) then remove from the heat. Drain the garlic on paper towels. The shallot and garlic oils are delicious and can be saved to drizzle over noodles or rice. Cut the pickled ginger into fine shreds.
To serve, pile the pickled ginger into the centre of the serving platter. Add piles of about the same size of the soya beans, lentils, shrimp, peanuts and toasted coconut. Add slightly smaller piles of the fried shallot and garlic, then put the chilli, cherry tomatoes, sesame seeds and lime on the platter. At the table, squeeze lime juice over the ingredients and mix thoroughly before serving.
Pickled young ginger
Most of the pickled ginger sold in supermarkets is sliced but I like to pickle it in larger pieces.
About 750 grams young ginger
About 50 grams salt
About 500ml rice vinegar (use a type that's very pale in colour)
About 50 grams granulated sugar
About 60ml filtered water
Use a teaspoon to scrape the skin from the ginger - it should come off easily. Trim off any cuts and bruises from the ginger, then rinse with water and pat dry with paper towels. If the ginger 'hands' are very large, cut them into smaller pieces that will fit into a glass jar (choose one that's tall and narrow, rather than short and squat, so there's less surface area). Put the ginger into a bowl, sprinkle lightly with salt, then refrigerate overnight, or until the ginger has softened slightly (mix it occasionally so it's evenly salted). Rinse the ginger thoroughly and pat it dry with paper towels. Put the ginger into the jar. Dissolve the sugar in the water then mix this with the rice vinegar. Pour the mixture over the ginger - it should be completely submerged; if needed, mix together more rice vinegar, salt and water and add to the jar. Cover the jar and refrigerate for a few days, then taste the vinegar. If it's too sour, sprinkle more granulated sugar into the jar, seal it and shake it to dissolve the sugar. The ginger and liquid will turn pale pink. Leave for at least a week. This keeps for many months in the fridge.
Styling Nellie Ming Lee