Kansha is Japanese for "appreciation," and in the kitchen, I think of it often. One way of demonstrating appreciation is to use food fully, avoiding waste as you cook, and despite its popularity, ginger is often sorely underappreciated: The trim and peels from ginger are almost always thrown out when they are delicious and surprisingly versatile, in sweet, savory, spicy, and restorative forms.
So, for the next time you end up with some ginger scraps on your cutting board, here are a few delicious ideas for a no-waste, kansha kitchen. (Just make sure that you're cleaning the peels by rinsing, possibly scrubbing, and patting dry the ginger before peeling it.)
Make kimpira (spicy stir-fry): Named after a character in a 17th century play known for his fiery ways, this slightly sweet, tingly-hot stir-fry is a lovely starter or dish to complement rice. Combine thin slivers of ginger peel with slightly thicker slivers of carrot. If you have some celery or daikon peels on hand, sliver and add them too. Heat a skillet over high heat and drizzle in a few drops aromatic sesame oil. Stir-fry the ginger and carrots, keeping them vigorously in motion for 1 minute or so, until wilted. Add a splash of saké or wine, and then add a spoonful of water. Lower the heat and cook until there is little or no liquid. Sprinkle in a pinch of sugar and toss to distribute. Drizzle in some soy sauce and toss again. Stir-fry over high heat for a final 30 seconds to glaze. Sprinkle generously with shichimi tōgarashi, a Japanese 7-spice blend, or a chile powder or blend of your choice. Serve hot, or, as the Japanese often do, at room temperature.
Make kanro ni (syrup-stewed sauce): This is a fabulous dessert sauce, a rich ginger syrup given a little savory depth with a dash of soy sauce. Simmer together equal quantities of sugar and water until dissolved. Add finely minced ginger bits or peels (about a ¼ cup minced bits per 1/3 cup syrup) and simmer for 15 minutes, adding water as necessary to keep from scorching. When the ginger bits are tender and the syrup has reduced, thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, stir in a drop or two of soy sauce, and remove the pan from the stove. Transfer the glazed ginger bits with syrup to a glass jar and store in the refrigerator. Bring the sauce back to room temp, or zap it in the microwave if it's crystallized, and spoon it over ice cream, yogurt, pound cake, or lightly poached peaches or pears.
Make Tsukuda ni (soy-stewed condiment): For a savory glazed ginger relish, place a handful of chopped ginger peels and trim, slivered, in a small pot with cold water to cover. Add a few drops of vinegar, which will help tenderize them. Bring to a boil, adjust heat to maintain a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Add a teaspoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons soy sauce. Cover the simmering ginger bits (ideally with a circle of parchment) and cook until most of the water has boiled off, leaving the ginger bound by a rich glaze, about 5 more minutes. Let cool, covered, in the pot. The condiment, named after a district in Edo (the former name for Tokyo), is served with steaming hot rice. It's also fantastic served along poached fish or chicken. Yum!
Make shōga yu (ginger "tea"): Recipes often call for ginger to be grated, but protecting your fingers and knuckles leaves you holding a fair-sized chunk afterwards. Other recipes call for ginger juice, leaving you with fibrous pulp. Either way, you've got the makings of ginger tea.
Make a tea bag for your trim: Take a double-thickness of cheesecloth (or even sterile gauze pads!) and place your ginger pulp and trim in the center. Add lemon and/or orange peels if you want a fruity brew. Bring up the edges to make a pouch and tie up with kitchen twine. To extract maximum flavor, place your tea bag in a small saucepan with several cups of cold water. Slowly bring the water to a boil over low heat; simmer for 10 minutes. Enjoy the soothing tea hot, or let it cool and then chill it to as a refreshing drink over ice.
Treat yourself to a double bonus if you can find shiny, pink-tipped, pale gold knobs of new ginger in Asian markets:
Make gari (pink-pickled ginger): For those who frequent sushi bars, gari (literally "crunchy") should be a familiar item. The thin slices of sweet-but-fiery pickled ginger will turn pale pink naturally if you prepare them properly.
Make a sweet-and-sour brine: 1 part salt, 4 parts sugar, 16 parts vinegar. Heat in a saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Transfer to a glass jar. Fill a saucepan with fresh water and set aside. Don't peel ginger (clean if there's dirt), and using a mandoline or sharp knife, shave tissue-thin slices with the grain.
Bring the water in your pot to a rolling boil, add the ginger slices all at once and stir. Wait until the water returns to a boil and drain immediately. Do NOT shock in cold water! Instead, transfer immediately to the jar holding your sweet and sour brine. When steam no longer rises, close the jar tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 2 months. The pink color will gradually deepen.
Make ginger-miso sauce: After you have consumed the pink-pickled ginger, use the remaining liquid to make a sauce. Whisk it into 3 tablespoons light, sweet Saikyo shiro miso. Use the ginger-miso sauce to nap salt-broiled fish or roast chicken.