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Seared Ginger Balsamic Salmon With Hot and Sour Slaw is an easy-to-make meal. (Simple Asian Meals/MCT)

If you want to add a little spice to your life, try cooking with fresh ginger. I grate it into soups, smoothies, desserts (especially ice cream), preserves and sauces.

Though it's often called ginger root, it is not a root at all but the rhizome (underground stem) of the plant Zingiber officinale, which comes from the same family as turmeric and cardamom.

When buying fresh ginger, look for heavy pieces with smooth brown skin and no wrinkling or mold. Fresh ginger is hard and breaks cleanly with a snap. If you see pieces with fibers coming out at the break, the ginger is old.

Moisture is ginger's enemy and can cause mold to grow. Ginger can be kept in the refrigerator for two to three weeks wrapped in a paper towel and placed in a plastic bag. It can also be wrapped in foil and stored in the freezer for one to two months. It will lose its crispness but will still be flavorful.

If I have too much ginger on hand, I grate it, add enough water to make a paste and freeze it. I can then easily add it to stir-fries and other dishes.

Asian cooking authority Nina Simonds recommends burying a knob of ginger in sand to keep it fresh. She says it will even grow.

To prepare ginger, scrape off the brown skin with a spoon (or leave it on), then chop, slice, or grate the flesh with a Microplane grater.

In Chinese cooking, ginger is sliced into julienne strips, chopped or smashed and added to vegetable, fish and meat dishes. In Japanese cuisine, it's grated, shredded, or pickled and served thinly sliced with sushi. Indian and Pakistani chefs favor it in curries and rice dishes.

We think of ginger as an Asian ingredient, but it has crossed over into many cuisines. You might find it in German cookies, Australian marmalades, Moroccan tagines and American cranberry relish.

Ginger does more than improve flavor. It's also good for you. Traditionally, it has been used to relieve problems with digestion or nausea, including motion sickness. If you like ginger's warm, pungent flavor, increase the amount used to suit your taste.