A long time ago, a friend turned up unannounced for a visit at our herb farm. He carried a gallon plastic pot holding a pretty green ginger-like plant, which he called “galangal”.
A gift to his wife from her Indonesian relatives, the plant had arrived as a tiny slip of a thing several months before and clearly prospered in our hot, humid Gulf Coast climate. Quickly established in our garden soil, it has never looked back.
Fast forward to 2008 — Good friend Leo offered to prepare his special green beans dish for a little dinner party at our house, but we lacked the key ingredient which he called “Laos Powder”. He mentioned that it was also called “Galangal”.
I took him out to the garden straightaway to show him our flourishing galangal — which goes dormant in the winter but gloriously returns every single year. I had no idea the roots were used as a seasoning and my galangal would have continued as an ornamental if Leo hadn’t come along to cook dinner!
We found ground galangal at a spice store in Houston, Leo cooked the green beans, and I was hooked. Galangal now is a staple among my spices.
Since learning from a famous herb mentor that “All herbs go with all foods”, I reach for the galangal often.
It’s a great addition to fruit pies and cobblers, along with the more conventional seasonings like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and also in quick breads like banana or zucchini bread. I add it to shortbread, too, and it combines well with the vanilla and almond flavors more commonly used. Galangal is slightly floral, but it also has a really subtle mysterious gingery flavor that suits vegetables, fruits, and desserts alike. I’m usually asked what the secret flavor is — the cook’s favorite question!
And for the philosophically-inclined, this whole galangal experience reminds me of Teilhard de Chardin’s statement: “Everything that rises must converge.” This is the great thing about life, and friends, and cooking together, and talking plants and people: a person can’t really plan for a mystery plant in a plastic pot, and a new friend with Indonesia in his history, and an herb mentor’s ideas, and a new recipe for green beans.
Everything that rises must converge.
Log House Herb Farm
Herb Consultant, Educator and Speaker
Magnolia, Texas USA