Napa slaw with baby ginger

I’ve heard it said – in a writing workshop, no less – that you should never start a blog post like this:

I went to the farmer’s market and look what I bought!

Yawn. It’s predictable.

But, listen.

Olympia is crossed by the 47th parallel, far north of the equator, where CSA boxes overflow with more chard, beets and radishes than you’re ever likely to eat in one season. When I round a corner at the place I’m not supposed to mention, on my way to buy a bunch of green onions, I’m not supposed to see this.

Meet baby ginger. These weren’t pulled from a box that arrived from Kerala. They were grown somewhere in Washington. I found them sitting unceremoniously on a wooden table, the edges of the leaves just starting to brown. What luck! To find the immature version of the rhizome that usually travels halfway around the world before it lands in a curry or a mug of medicinal tea.

The grower cut off a little of one of the stems, handed it to me and told me the few stalks on the table were the last of it.

That squared with an article I read later in the Washington Post that profiles a Virginia couple who grow the crop. The growing season for baby ginger is long, from March to October, but not the harvest season. It takes six months before the first pale rhizomes can be pulled from the soil, cleaned and taken to market. If we had the weather for it in the U. S., mature rhizomes wouldn’t be harvested for another two months. Ginger is also finicky about water (it requires a lot) and soil temperatures. I’m glad someone nearby was willing to take it on.

The ginger stem tasted pleasant; it was chewable, lacking mature ginger’s fibrous quality. It could be sliced into a salad, I thought. Less a spice than aromatic produce.

When I got home I discovered that the root portion of the plant (which, in its supple, thin-skinned glory, doesn’t need to be peeled) tastes stronger. Still, it’s nothing like its older sibling. Baby ginger is ginger deprived of its bludgeon. It’s mild and versatile. And if you have the heart and the pocketbook to use your whole handful all at once, it’s said to make one heck of a chip.

If you can’t find baby ginger it is, of course, fine to peel mature ginger. Grate enough to give you a teaspoon and incorporate it into the dressing.

Napa Slaw with Baby Ginger

This dressing is adapted from Heidi Swanson’s recipe for
Black Sesame Otsu, which looks like supreme comfort food
for a night at home alone. Go take a look at her site if you
haven’t had the pleasure. Don’t you want to curl up with that
big bowl and the novel on your nightstand?

4 teaspoons chopped almonds
½ cup tahini
2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons tamari sauce
1 tablespoon mirin (rice wine)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
4 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon Celtic sea salt

2 baby ginger stalks, sliced in half lengthwise, peeled and chopped to yield 1½ teaspoons, chopped
½ – 1 teaspoon baby ginger root, minced
¼ head napa cabbage, thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 carrot, grated
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
toasted pumpkin seeds
a pinch of salt

Toast chopped almonds for five minutes in a dry pan over medium heat, tossing often to keep them from burning. When they are just fragrant, pull from the heat and slide into a medium bowl. Add the remaining dressing ingredients to the bowl and whisk to combine.

Place remaining ingredients in a large bowl, except the pumpkin seeds and salt, and toss with your hands until well combined.

Add the dressing and toss together with a sturdy wooden spoon until all of the vegetables are well coated. Taste and season with salt. If the slaw doesn’t yet highlight the ginger, mince more ginger, add and continue tasting until it does. Toast the pumpkin seeds, crush slightly and sprinkle over the top of the slaw.

11 thoughts on “Napa slaw with baby ginger

  1. How special is that baby ginger! A flavour I’ve never tasted but can imagine! I’ve tried growing ginger a few times but haven’t had th ebest of luck / crops and reading your post tells me why – a long season, warmth, water, etc! And what a great way to use it – simply so it’s flavour shines through

    • Ah, interesting that your experience confirms what I read. Sounds like a picky crop but after eating it this week, I see why it’s gaining popularity. So very good and much easier to use since you don’t have to peel, peel, peel.

  2. What a lovely discovery! Is the season really over? :( I’ll have to watch for it next year. Love the slaw you share here! I’ve made the Black Sesame Otsu before and can’t wait to try your version.

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