Asian Roots; Spotlight Galangal

Asian Roots; Spotlight Galangal

Excuse my delay in writing  a new post; exam season is just about finished in the land of Indonesia, and it every bit as stressful as you’d expect in an Asian country. Marking tests takes it out of you mentally more than physically, and for some reason this makes my desire for writing to diminish.

So let me introduce you to my next series of informative blog posts; Asian Roots. In many ways it is a continuation of essential Indonesian ingredients, but the ingredients I’m spotlighting are a little more relevant in a broader Asian perspective, so you could view it as essential Asian ingredients, but I’ll be focusing on roots.

Initially there’s only three types of roots which I will be discussing; ginger, galangal, and tumeric. Many people will be fairly familiar with the first, and almost as much with the final one, though I’d imagine this will be only in a ground form. Ground versions are good, and quite essential to Indian food, but outside of that country, the trio are used primarily fresh and often in combination.

Over the course of the next three weeks, I aim to inform you all about these scary, yet really not so intimidating “Asian roots”. This series will then culminate in the trios, in my opinion, ultimate useage. The making of the world’s most tasty dish; Rendang.

Let’s kick off with the least known of the three, any my personal favourite; galangal. Pronounced “guh-lan-gal”, it is also known as “laos” and “langkuas” in Malay based languages. Like tumeric and ginger it is a rhizome, and can be confused with ginger.

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Galangal – lighter in colour than ginger – photo credit to Food Republic

It is often referred to as Thai ginger. This is simply because it is to Thai cooking, what ginger is to Chinese. It is part of the Thai holy trinity in cooking. Together with lemongrass and kafir lime leaves, it forms the base for the majority of their soups and curries.

There is definitely a small flavour overlap with its more famous cousin, but ask any Southeast Asian Ibu, and they’ll tell you that you can’t substitute the two with each other. While there are some similarities, they are only slight and really, in many ways, they are polar opposites

In appearance, they are of similar size, though galangal is often slightly larger. Ginger is somewhat darker in colour, galangal is whiter, and tumeric is often a light yellowy red.

In terms of flavour profile, ginger and galangal are truly poles apart. I’ve seen some recipes which suggest you can substitute one for the other, but this is a bigger lie than the £350 million Brexit NHS pledge (Remainer and proud – slightly bitter too). Ginger is hot and spicy, whereas galangal is cooling, fragrant and pine like. Comparing them is like fire and ice.

To prepare, you can treat galangal in a number of ways. Just bear in mind whether or not you intend it to be edible or not. The texture is extremely wood like, so if you intend to let people eat it, it must be heavily processed beforehand. Pounding or processing it into a paste is the best way to incorporate it into your meal. Most Southeast Asia recipe’s that use it will have it in paste form. If not, cut it into a disk and use it much like bayleafs or kafir lime leaves; to flavour your dish and be discarded at the end. If you are making it into a paste, then be sure to remove the skin, if as a disk, then there’s no need. It’ll be discarded anyway.

When it comes to storing galangal, I typically prefer to buy it fresh and when needed. It can be stored for a week or two in the fridge. There are some people who suggest buying it, cutting it into disks and freezing it. I’m not saying this method is bad, but I just don’t think you get the same zing out of it after freezing.

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Cut into disks like this to flavour soups and curries. Just insure to remove them before serving, as they’re next to inedible. Galangal is also best frozen in this form. Photo credit: Jacquelyn’s kitchen.

 If you wanted to start cooking with this cool root, then I’d suggest using it in a simple stir-fry. The following one is just an example, and is actually one of my go-to stir-fry recipes.

Spice paste

3 tablespoons lemon grass – finely chopped

1 inch piece of galangal – finely chopped and skin removed

4 chopped garlic cloves

3/4 teaspoon of ground tumeric

Stir fry ingredients and sauce

Any vegetables you desire – usually choose green beans and carrots.

Any meat or substitute ( I often use tofu or tempe – a fermented protein substitute)

1 1\2 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoon oyster sauce

1 1\2 teaspoon fish sauce

Salt to taste and if needed.

Directions

1. Blitz the spice paste into a paste (simple right?).

2. In oil, stir fry veggies and meat until about half done.

3. Add in spice paste and cook it out. Ensuring to cook the other ingredients thoroughly.

4. Add in the seasonings.

5. Enjoy with rice.

It’s a simple recipe set right in southeast Asia, with a lot of inspiration from Cambodia. It’ll give you a good example of galangal’s interesting flavour. Aside from this recipe, it you really wanted to try experimenting with galangal, then a simple look into any Thai cookbook would give you untold inspiration.

So to recap, galangal; it’s got a cooling, piney taste. It’s very woody and can be frozen. It’s essential to Thai cooking, but certainly very present in Southeast Asian cuisine. Stay tuned for more on ginger and tumeric. 

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