I know most people think this about their mothers, but my mom really is a great cook– she’s never taken any lessons (as far as I know) and is one of those people that can look inside a sparsely stocked refrigerator and pantry and whip up something amazing from a seemingly random set of simple ingredients. We didn’t really eat out much growing up, but when we did, she could just have a taste of something and, for the most part, be able to recreate it at home from scratch, often creating a healthier, even better tasting version. For example, one of my favorite Korean-Chinese dishes is Kkanpunggi (I would insert the hangul here if I could figure out how to get Korean characters to stick in an English WordPress site), a sweet and spicy dish of battered, deep-fried chicken (or shrimp). Since the chicken is battered and deep-fried, many restaurants use dark meat, but after one taste, my mom later made her own version that tasted as if it came straight from the restaurant, only better because she used boneless, skinless, white meat and definitely no MSG.
My latest, favorite food from my mom is black ginger tea. Ironically, several years ago, I had discovered the black ginger tea at Santana Row’s Fantasia Coffee & Tea, but had been unable to get the flavors quite right when I tried to make it at home. (In retrospect, my primary mistake was trying to use ginger tea bags rather than fresh ginger.) I gave up on that little project a long time ago, but when I was home recently for the winter holidays, my mom made me delicious ginger tea almost everyday, especially since I was very sick when I first got home. Ginger, along with a host of other health benefits, is particularly helpful with easing nausea, one of my most frequent issues. (Hence, the frequent use of ginger ale to ease a queasy stomach– jump to 1:40 in this MythBusters clip from Season 3 Episode 26, Seasickness – Kill or Cure clip of using ginger pills to combat motion sickness.) In addition to GI symptoms, because compounds found in ginger interact with serotonin 5-HT1A receptors, it may even help treat anxiety itself.
So, my mom showed me how to make her version of black ginger tea while I was home and as usual, there was no measuring of ingredients or exact cooking times, but somehow, it always came out tasting the same every single time and with a perfect blend of flavors. I usually cook like that too– without measuring out ingredients or setting timers– with relative success, if I’m to believe my friends who have wolfed down my food during the many “dinner parties” I’ve hosted (nothing fancy– really just my friends coming over to eat and hang out). However, for this tea, it took a little bit more precision to recreate what my mom seems to be able to do without even one procedural taste test. So, for those lesser beings like me, here’s a how to make an amazing cup of black ginger tea.
- Fresh ginger, grated/crushed (see directions for specific details on how to prepare the ginger)
- Black tea (no need to get fancy– my mom had Red Rose Tea in stock and any generic black tea like that will suffice)
- Hot water (unlike green or white teas, black teas can take boiling water)
- Sugar, honey, agave or whatever your preferred sweetener, if desired
- Fresh lemon juice, if desired
- Put a tea strainer or infuser inside your tea cup. I use my Bodum YO-YO Mug and Tea Strainer. (Bodum makes a variety of similar items for brewing coffee and tea that will more than do the job, like this Assam Tea Press I use when I want to brew more than one cup. I know these items seem a bit expensive, but I’ve been using mine for more than 10 years and will probably continue to use them for many more.)
- Cut a few of slices of fresh ginger (make sure to remove the skin first) and then, for best results, use a flat grater (it may actually have a section that is specifically for grating ginger) placed on top of the cup so that the grated ginger just falls into your infuser/strainer. If you don’t have this type of grater (a “traditional” Korean hand grater is cheap and should be readily available at most Asian grocery stores/supermarkets), you can use a garlic press to achieve similar results (I did this before I got my own grater). Either way, this seems to be more effective in releasing the ginger’s juices and infusing the water with its flavor rather than simply using sliced ginger.
- On top of the ginger, add a tea bag or your loose tea into the infuser, add hot water, and let it brew for about 2-3 minutes, depending on the recommended brewing time as well as your personal tastes. Different teas will suggest different brewing times and in general, you should follow them since leaving the tea bag or leaves in too long will make it bitter. In this case, the tea I am using suggests a brewing time of 3-5 minutes, but I don’t want to overpower the ginger flavor, so I actually let the ginger steep alone for 1-2 minutes before adding the tea.
- If desired, add sugar, honey or whatever sweetener you prefer. Don’t use too much since you don’t want to overpower the other flavors (this is ginger tea, not sweet tea). I think my mom uses agave nectar since it’s next to impossible to find sugar, especially white sugar, in my parents’ house. To add some citrus flavor to the tea, you can also add a bit of fresh lemon juice or try one of these honey sticks with lemon I’ve seen stocked at Target and Cost Plus World Market, which is just a straw filled with lemon-infused honey that you can cut open on one end, stick in your tea cup, and stir.
And that’s it– enjoy!