Look for fresh ginger, tumeric and galangal roots in the markets now. They are in season someplace in world, and we get to share. The fresh juicy roots are the ones you want. Ginger is a familiar element of Asian cooking. Galangal is a hard root that ripens to rock-hard. It is the secret ingredient in Pad Thai. It was widely grown and used in Europe until it was lost during the calamitous 14th century. Tumeric, used in Indian and Asian cooking, is usually found as a dry powder. The fresh root is a revelation, so good that it's hard to resist snacking on it as you work. Here's how to preserve a year's supply in a compact form. Scald some small glass jars with metal lids. (That just means wash them in hot water, set the hot jars in the bottom of a soup pot, in the sink, with the lids off. Also put the lids in the soup pot. Pour boiling water slowly over the jars. Pour some in the pot as you go, to equalize the temperature between inside and outside. If you are reusing commercial jars, pickle jars for example, look for heavy ones. Pour no more than a half inch of boiling water in at a time. Stand well back as you pour. Thin glass can explode from thermal shock.) The flavorful roots are not cheap, but you only need a couple of slices to flavor a whole meal. Unless you really eat a lot of Pad Thai, a year's supply of all three will fit in both hands.
Ginger is preserved in alcohol. Scrub the roots with a brush and peel thinly with a potato peeler. Save the peels. Cut the root into chunks that will fit comfortably in your jar. Use tongs to fish out a scalded jar from the soup pot. Pack the ginger in the jar, leaving enough room to cover the chunks with at least a half inch of alcohol. Pour cooking sherry, Asian rice spirits or in a pinch white wine fortified with a tablespoon of vodka over the ginger and seal with your scalded lid. To use the ginger, fish out a chunk, slice off some quarter-sized pieces, and toss in your stir-fry. The ginger-infused alcohol is also used to flavor your cooking. Just pour off some to use and add more alcohol to keep the ginger covered.
Galangal and tumeric are preserved in sherry vinegar or apple cider vinegar. If you are going to pay a fortune for one galangal root, there's not much point in pickling it in the harsh white vinegar you use for cleaning the floor. Put up your galangal and tumeric when you get home from the market. They dry out if left sitting around. Scrub, thinly peel, and slice the galangal in slices the thickness of a quarter, using a heavy chef's knife. Be careful with this, the root is hard and the knife can turn in your hand. Pack the slices into your hot jar and cover with sherry vinegar and a pinch of salt. Tumeric roots are little things the size of those shaved "baby" carrots. They just need to be peeled, cut into chunks and packed into a jar with vinegar and a little salt.
Wipe and label your three jars and store in a dark cupboard. You just put up a year's worth of seasonings. You have the makings for Pad Thai, teriyaki, curries, soups, and stir fries. No more buying shriveled, out of season ginger for your special salad dressing, tiny bottles of prepared sauces or dubious packets of "Stir fry Seasoning". Now you have a pile of ginger peels and another pile of galangal and tumeric peels. Simmer the ginger peels in a saucepan full of water. Just put it on low and let it pop up an occasional bubble for a hour or more. Strain, and you will have a powerful ginger flavored herb tea. I find it rather strong to drink straight, but diluted with some hot water, lemon and honey for tea, that's good. Other uses are to add some sparkling water for your own ginger ale or jazz up your orange juice.
Put the tumeric and galangal peels in a small piece of doubled cheesecloth and tie up with cotton string. Drop it in pot of soup and add your favorite vegetables. Pull it out before mealtime, eh?
To use galangal, drop a slice in the broth and cook. The galangal is supposed to be removed before serving. To use the tumeric, finely mince a chunk of root about a half inch long and drop into whatever you are making. Tumeric gives a nice golden color to the dish. I'm sure you can come up with creative uses for the sherry vinegar, perhaps a little in your sauce.
Cash and Carry sells an excellent sherry vinegar to fancy restaurants in gallon plastic jugs (Four Brothers brand.) They also carry Michui rice spirits in a large bottle. They supply a lot of the smaller restaurants in town. Check out the Asian shelf. Rice noodles, bean thread, all kinds of goodies. Cash and Carry also has a good selection of woks, cleavers and Asian cooking implements.
There are wonderful things to be found in the two Asian grocery stores on Meridian Avenue in the Fountain District. Watch out for embalmed food; read the ingredients. There's a mom and pop grocery store on Samish way that sells Korean condiments. I want to support them by shopping there, but everything I looked at was full of MSG and worse. The Koreans have a great racket going: buy commodity American GMO soybeans by the shipload, ferment the beans into miso, flavor it up with hot chilies and embalming fluid and sell it back to us in little tubs at a markup.
Look for: Thai Kitchen brand coconut milk (just coconut milk, nothing weird), dried spices, miso in the cooler, fresh lo main noodles, palm sugar (comes in a lump, just scrape some off to add a hint of sweetness to curries), dried beans, rice in large bags, fresh lemongrass, and more.
Many Asian dishes start with mincing up a couple of slices of your preserved ginger with garlic and scallions. Saute this briefly and add broth for soup or any combination of vegetables and or meat for stir fry. Towards the end, add a little soy sauce and some of your ginger-flavored alcohol.
In a small bowl, combine minced garlic and ginger, soy sauce, some alcohol from the ginger and a tablespoon of brown sugar. Taste it and adjust the proportions to your liking. Hot red paper flakes optional. To thicken, slowly stir in a teaspoon of potato starch into the cold sauce. It will thicken as it cooks.
Basic Pad Thai
Saute your garlic, ginger, and scallion with a little oil in the bottom of your soup pot. Add a quart of chicken broth, a slice of galangal, a little minced tumeric, sliced sweet onion and sliced carrots. Simmer until the carrots are soft. Add a tablespoon of lime juice, two tablespoons soy sauce, a tablespoon of brown or palm sugar and some hot pepper flakes. Taste it and add more seasoning if you want. Bring it to a boil and drop in some rice noodles. It's done when the rice noodles are cooked. An optional dash of Thai Kitchen (or other brand with nothing weird) fish sauce in finished soup provides a hint of unami flavor. Once you get a basic flavor balance that you like, there are endless variations.