I am so fascinated with galangal,which is a rhizome similar to ginger, and is used much in the same way, only galangal is harder and denser than ginger.
There are two types of galangal: Greater galangal, which is native to Indonesia; and lesser galangal, which mostly grows on the southeast coast of China and in India.Although the name might be unfamiliar to most westerners, galangal had been imported in large quantities to Europe ever since the Middle Ages to be used as a medicine and a spice.
The difference between greater and lesser varieties is basically in the size, as referred to by the name. Greater galangal reaches to about 2m (6 1/2 ft) in size with long, wide blade-like leaves; and the lesser, as the name implies, produces long, slender leaves that reaches no more than one meter (3 1/4 ft) about half the size of the greater galangal. Both are tropical herbaceous plants that produce rhizomes, and both are members of the ginger family.
Flavor-wise, I'm more interested in greater galangal from Indonesia,which is the one often found in Thai cooking. The lesser type has a peppery flavor with a pine-like aroma and is mostly used in medicinal applications rather than cooking. With similarities to ginger in culinary applications, you will find that galangal is a main ingredient in making those famous tantalizing Thai curry pastes.The paste is also used to add flavor to seafood and meat dishes.In fact, galangal is frequently used in combination with garlic, chile, ginger and lemon or tamarind in many fish and shellfish southeast Asian recipes.
Both galangals have been used in Europe and Asia as an aphrodisiac and medicinallyas a carminative to relieve nausea, flatulence, dyspepsia, rheumatism, catarrh and enteritis. It contains tonic and antibacterial properties that are much sought after for making homeopathic medicine in India.
Galangal root can be bought fresh or in dried form just like ginger. When buying galangal dried, the root is sold ground, peeled, or shredded. Many cooks seem to prefer the powder root version over the fresh, mainly because of the convenience factor. If you were to use half an inch of fresh chopped galangal, the equivalent of galangal powder would be one teaspoon.
If you buy fresh galangal, it can be stored ina cool dry place for about two weeks. But the fresh can dry out easily so it needs to be kept moist. When buying dehydrated forms of galangal root, this form requires re-hydration in hot water before use. Whenever handling fresh galangal, be mindful that it can stain your fingers and clothing.
For a taste of Thai, try out this simple recipe:
Thai Coconut Soup- click link