Ginger is a fiery root with rough beige skin and hard, juicy, pale yellow flesh. It can be used as a spice, fresh or dried and ground to a powder. The fresh, juicy root has a sweetly pungent taste and a perfume-like scent that makes it suitable for sweet or savoury dishes, whereas the dried ground root is much more fiery. Young ginger can also be preserved in sugar syrup or crystallised and rolled in sugar – in both cases it is then known as stem ginger. Ginger is popular in cuisines throughout Asia and Europe.
The yam is a staple food in many tropical countries, particularly in Africa, the Caribbean and the South Pacific. Yams have brown tough skins and the flesh can vary in colour – anything from white to yellow to purple – depending on the variety.
The term ‘yam’ is often used in American to describe the sweeter, orange sweet potato.
If you are buying yams from a specialist African or Caribbean shop, ask them how to prepare the yams you are buying. They will have advice on whether the yam must be peeled before cooking and how to serve it.
Small yams can be cooked in their skins, but larger ones should be peeled, washed and blanched for 10-20 minutes in boiling salted water before being used.
Yams can be used in the same way as potatoes. Serve mashed yams with plenty of butter and seasoning as an accompaniment to meat stews or other vegetable dishes. Make yam chips or bake yams in their skins. In Africa, yam is pounded into a very stiff paste called fufu, eaten by hand in pinches from the serving tray, rolled into balls and dipped into a stew.
Yogurt is basically a form of curdled milk much like sour cream and creme fraiche but with less fat.
Bacteria in the milk ferments and coagulates to thicken the milk to a creamy texture, adding a tangy, slightly astringent flavor. In commercial manufacturing, the friendly bacteria is added, but if you were to heat fresh milk and keep it at about 100 degrees F. for a few hours, it would naturally turn to yogurt.
Yogurt can be made from any variety of mammal milk, but is most often made from cow, buffalo or goat milk. Kefir is an alcoholic version of yogurt originally made from fermented camel milk, but now made from cow milk. Available in some natural food stores, kefir has an alcohol content of about 2.5%.
There are several types of yogurt with differing fat levels readily available in the market. Plain yogurt is generally made from cow milk and is unflavored and unsweetened. Flavored yogurt generally has fruit or flavoring added, along with plenty of sugar. The sugar is added not only for sweetness but to aid in preserving the fruit. Frozen yogurt is the yogurt version of soft ice cream. It is generally stabilized by the addition of gelatinwhen made at home.
All types of yogurt can be found in regular, low-fat and non-fat so you can choose your fat content.
Pronounce it: fig
Although not juicy, the fig is an incredibly luscious fruit, with a delicate aroma and sweet flavour. Originally from Asia, figs are now grown across the Mediterranean and there are hundreds of different varieties, grouped into four main colours: white, green, red and purple/black.
Figs have an oval or squat pear shape, and thin skin that encloses hundreds of seeds (actually miniature fruits themselves) held in a succulent, softly fibrous red or purple flesh. Figs are very delicate and need gentle handling. You can also buy them dried.
Dried are available year round.
Choose the best
Go for plump examples that feel soft (but not too liquid) with no bruising or splits. At the peak of their ripeness they will have a faint bloom. If they smell sour, they’re past their best.
Gently wipe the skins with a damp cloth, trim off the stem if it’s hard, then either keep whole or cut in half from top to bottom. Alternatively, you can make a fig ‘flower’. Make a deep cross at the top end of the fig, cutting almost but not all of the way through. Then squeeze at the base with your fingers – the four quarters should open out like petals.
Figs are best at room temperature, so take them out of the fridge an hour before you eat them.
If you buy slightly under-ripe figs, keep outside the fridge to ripen up. Otherwise, store in the fridge, each one loosely wrapped in kitchen paper. Figs perish very quickly, so eat within one or two days of buying.
Eat raw, drizzled with honey, a scattering of toasted nuts and some clotted cream, or in a salad with Parma ham or goat’s cheese and rocket. Alternatively, halve and grill (2-3 minutes); roast whole (8-12 minutes); poach whole (5-8). You can also use dried figs in baking or as a snack.