Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ginger-Garlic Paste & Confessions of a Lazy Cook

I’d like to start us off with a confession: I am lazy when it comes to peeling things.  

I have no excuse for it.  There’s no one to blame but myself.  The truth is that anything more involved than a banana does not make it onto my radar too often.  Carrots, potatoes, parsnips, radishes...  If I can’t ignore the skin or slide it off after the thing is cooked, I really can’t be bothered.  I’ll spend hours — occasionally an entire weekend — in the kitchen in a fervor of showtune-fueled culinary bliss, but five minutes to peel something stokes an irrational impatience in me.   

It’s some kind of pathology, I’m sure.

In our house we eat Indian or Italian-inspired food as many as three to four times a week.  In the early days, when I had no clue at all what I was doing, most things ended up as unintentional Indo-Mediterranian or Mexican fusion dishes.  My butter chicken was really just a cacciatore with too much chili pepper.  My spinach paneer tasted like a soggy spanakopita.  It came down to three main problems:

1.  Every recipe lied about how long it took to make, sometimes by as much as half a day;
2.  The order of things was all wrong compared to how I was used to cooking (I'll discuss this in a later post); and, most importantly,
3.  I thought dried garlic, ginger, and onion powders were adequate substitutes for fresh minced onions, garlic paste, and ginger paste.

When I finally did figure out the problem with #3, I was mortified.  Not just two different things to peel, but have you seen garlic?  You’ve gotta unwrap every single blessed clove!  What kind of free time do people think I have, anyway?  I’m ashamed to admit that it resulted in collections such as this:

Mmmmm, preservatives.

None of these taste right.  They're all just an approximation of the real thing.  A few even have sugar added.  These are the “processed cheese food product” of the ginger and garlic world.  I have used these up until recently, though not as recently as you might hope given these are all still in the house.  

(I hoard condiments.  I hope my secret is safe with you.)

Then, about two months ago, I got the strange notion that if I waited for a patient day when I could summon up a whole half hour of willpower I could make a slew of my own ginger and garlic pastes (separately, because I don't use both in every dish although many dishes call for both) and freeze whatever I didn't think I could use in the next 2-3 weeks.  Let me tell you, the difference was life-changing.

While this might be my first recipe here and an obvious place to start, it was not in fact obvious to me.  So this isn't a recipe so much as a reassurance that it's not that hard.  You can do it if I can.  It won't even take a whole half hour, and you only have to do it every month or two if you make enough in one batch.  Go ahead, try it.  You don't just have to use them in curries, you can use them to make garlic bread or ginger-molasses cookies.  

Note for people in a hurry:  For the concise version, skip to the very bottom.

How to Make Ginger & Garlic Pastes

Total Real Time:  It took me about 45 minutes to do three heads of garlic and one palm-sized piece of ginger, including photos and chatting with Doc when he came home from work.  

Step 1: Gather the troops.

I started with the garlic first.  As long as you wipe off your materials between it doesn't matter where you start.  Either way, you need to peel both items (ugh).  I used a paring knife because my peeler is a dollar store nightmare.  

Tip #1:  To peel garlic faster, separate each clove, place it on the cutting board under a cheap broad knife (NOT a ceramic knife, it could break!), using the heel of your palm to crush the crush the clove under the knife:

Not shown: my meaty man hands.

I don't use my expensive knives for this because of reasons.

 Once the garlic clove is crushed, it's more a matter of brushing off the papery bit rather than peeling.  Brushing I can do.  Next I chopped off the woody stem nub and popped them all into the food processor.

Smells like heaven.

The food processor is the easiest method I've found, but I understand not everyone has one.  If you don't have one, you have two options -- three if you're patient and need an arm workout.  You could mince them as fine as you can and call it a day, roast everything in the oven and then squish it into goo with the back of a spoon, or crush them with a splash of oil with a mortar and pestle (the oil is key, otherwise you just end up smearing bits everywhere).

Tip #2:  Keep a small bowl of lukewarm water by the cutting board when you peel garlic.  Why?  Because somewhere around the fifth clove your hands will be covered in sticky garlic juice and you'll be trying frantically to brush off bits of papery peel.  Use the finger bowl to get stuck bits off quickly.

Only slightly less maddening than that tune that's been in your head all day.

Tip #3:  When it comes to peeling ginger, the fewer little knobbies on the root, the easier your time will be.  You can see here I picked one that was almost totally smooth:

Always cut away from you and if possible use a peeler.  Do as I say, not as I do.

As I said, it doesn't matter which you process first so long as you wipe down your stuff between.  If you wash it out with soap and water rather than using a paper towel, be sure to dry everything completely.  Water in your paste will make it go bad faster.

When working with the ginger, cut it into rough chunks before putting it in your processor.  This helps protect the motor and speeds the blending up.

Be as rough as you want.  Nobody's judging you.

Here's the bit I never would've guessed on my own.  You must use oil to help the ginger and garlic go from a grainy mess to a paste.  Trust me on this.  What kind of oil you use is totally up to you.  Don't go overboard here.  Start with less and gradually add more until it's a goo. 

This is too chunky.  It needs more time and a small splash more oil.

Ahhh, that's better.

How much you make is totally up to your patience and your needs.  I found that three heads of garlic and about a five-ish inch piece of ginger each yielded me half a cup.  I freeze what I don't plan to use, so I don't care if I make a huge batch.

Tip #4:  Ginger and garlic pastes look nearly identical.  Use a dry-erase marker to label your containers to save you from accidentally making maple-garlic pancakes.

Whatever, they all look alike anyway.

Not a slur.

And that's it!  Some people add turmeric (that yellow spice that stains everything you own if you cook with it) or vinegar to help preserve the pastes for longer.  I don't because turmeric and vinegar both have distinctive tastes that I don't want to have to battle in my dishes.  I've got enough problems.  

The Busy Person's Version
  1. Peel garlic cloves and place in a dry food processor.  
  2. Pulse until grainy chunks form, about 30-90 seconds.  
  3. Add a small amount of oil and pulse for 10-15 seconds.  If necessary, add another splash of oil and pulse again until a paste forms.
  4. Freeze whatever you don't plan to use in the next week or two.  Large batches are encouraged.
  5. Repeat with ginger that has been peeled and cut into chunks.


  1. I have found that the easiest way to peel ginger involves neither a knife nor a peeler. The key to easy peeling... a SPOON! No, really, a spoon. Try it and see what you think. ~CJ~