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LIANE HANSEN, host:

I'm standing in a very warm, beautiful kitchen. Copper pots and frying pans hanging from the ceiling, sunlight is pouring through the window. Bonny Wolf, NPR's food essayist is at the stove preparing a few dishes. This is her house near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. And she's been kind enough to invite over the entire WEEKEND EDITION team. Let's hear you.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

HANSEN: And we're all here because it's time for another edition of Calling All Chefs, a recurring WEEKEND EDITION series where we ask you for your best recipes. Now, this time around, we asked for dishes that used ginger. Why ginger? Well, because this is my 20th anniversary, and I love ginger in all its forms. So, let's get started. Bonny, you've got a big green binder.

BONNY WOLF: Recipes came from all over the country. A whole group of recipes came from an office in Minneapolis. Here's one from Louisville, Kentucky; Lewiston, Maine. There were almost 200 recipes. One person wrote, the cookie jar at our parents' home wasn't right unless it contained these wonderful soft gingersnaps. And this person said she only found out the secret ingredient when her mother was on her deathbed.

HANSEN: Well, I want to thank you, first of all, for going through these recipes and trying them and tasting them. I mean, you're a real good sport to do this. So you picked what, three?

WOLF: Three.

HANSEN: That you think are going to satisfy ginger jones here?

WOLF: I certainly hope so. Okay.

HANSEN: I came hungry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WOLF: We are going to start with ginger butternut squash soup with an orange creme fraiche and topped by fried strips of orange and ginger.

HANSEN: Wow.

WOLF: Okay.

HANSEN: Okay. I can smell the ginger.

(Soundbite of eating)

HANSEN: Mm. This is very good. Very good.

WOLF: Do you taste the - you can taste the ginger?

HANSEN: I can taste the ginger. Yeah. I mean, it's nice because the butternut squash taste is about at the same level as the ginger. I'm not a real big fan of butternut squash, but this makes it taste really good. This is tasty. Who sent this in?

WOLF: This was sent in by Dee Ferris from Richmond, California.

HANSEN: Okay.

WOLF: Next.

HANSEN: Looks good. Next.

WOLF: Salad. We have ginger orange pickled beets that were sent in by Joanna Grammon of Stevenson, Washington.

HANSEN: I am someone who happens to like beets. I know there's a lot of people that don't - had bad childhood experiences with them.

WOLF: Apparently, some people in this room. But...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Raise your hands. Who's had a bad beet experience? No? Okay. They're good pickled beets. But I'm not really tasting ginger. I have a - it looks like I've got a piece right here. So, yeah, that was definitely ginger.

WOLF: But if it's not permeating the...

HANSEN: But I think you have to actually chew the ginger strip...

WOLF: Uh-huh.

HANSEN: ...to be able to taste it.

WOLF: The other things in it are, you cook the beets and then slice them about a quarter of an inch thick. And cook them - cover them with rice wine vinegar, a little sugar, water, salt, black pepper, orange juice, garlic, a third of a sweet onion cut into rings. And then an inch and a half of ginger root peeled with a potato peeler, so it's thin, which is actually quite a lot of ginger.

HANSEN: Yeah, it is. But I'm surprised that you really...

WOLF: Yeah.

HANSEN: Unless you pick it up and put it with a piece of beet.

WOLF: Okay.

HANSEN: I would've just taken all the ginger out and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: ...had ginger root with beet juice. Okay. Bonny, maybe you can give us a little history of where ginger came from. I just know that I like it, but I don't know much about it.

WOLF: Well, it's actually, it's ancient. It was thought to have originated in Southeast Asia, but has been cultivated since ancient times. And it was apparently among the most highly prized of the eastern imports to the Roman Empire. But they used it only for medicinal purposes. And then in England in Anglo-Saxon times and then later Medieval times, it was almost as common as pepper. But by the 18th century, it was mostly used in baked goods, which is how it's very often still used now.

(Soundbite of dishes)

WOLF: Now, dessert. This is a ginger pear upside-down cake.

HANSEN: Are these Bosc pears?

WOLF: They are. And they were specifically called for in this recipe, which was submitted by Kimberly Culbertson from Hillsboro, Oregon. And she says, this was inspired by my neighbors Celeste and Jory(ph), who had a fantastic harvest of Bosc pears. They had so much, there was enough for them, us, their friends and lots of others. It was a lovely gift, and we thank them.

HANSEN: It's creamy, but I'm not tasting the ginger.

WOLF: Really?

HANSEN: Mm-hmm.

WOLF: The batter has an inch of ginger root peeled and grated, which is a goodly amount of ginger.

HANSEN: Yeah. There's - I just got a quick taste, but it just came and went. But if you take a, you know, a bite of the pear and a little whip cream and a little cake, and you eat it, I would not know that there's ginger in here.

WOLF: I actually have a little something for you to have as an after. This was one of the many cocktails that was submitted. And this one came from Jessica Riley, who is a bartender in Chicago at a sushi bar. And she says she was informed by a few customers that she should submit her ginger martini recipe, because it's simply amazing.

(Soundbite of stirring)

HANSEN: And it's a ginger martini?

WOLF: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: That is nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: This, you can taste the ginger. I mean, straight out, you can taste the ginger. And then there's that nice lemon.

WOLF: Lime juice, pineapple juice, triple sec, vodka and ginger juice I squeezed myself, which is why I'm naming this cut Liane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Labor intensive. Okay. My favorite is actually the ginger martini. That blew me away. Right away from the first sip it just - yes. This is it. So�

WOLF: Pure ginger.

HANSEN: Well, there you go.

WOLF: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: And it's a little easier to make than the upside-down cake and the beets and the soup, all very good. Thank you, everybody. But I have to say the ginger martini. Congratulations to Jessica Riley. We're going to call our winner.

Ms. JESSICA RILEY: Hi.

HANSEN: We've moved out of the kitchen to call our ginger recipe contest winner, Jessica Riley. She's a bartender at Mizu Yakitori in Chicago. So, you came up with this drink? This is your drink and you put it on the menu?

Ms. RILEY: Me and the owner kind of both did. We, in the beginning we were using infused ginger vodka. And then one night we were really, really busy at work and a lot of people were ordering the ginger martini. So, we ran out of our infused - because we infuse it ourselves with the ginger. But we went in the kitchen and asked the chef to get us some fresh ginger juice to use instead. The kick of the ginger was just more. You can taste the spiciness and then the sweetness of the drink also. It just went really well together.

HANSEN: It really did. But isn't that time-consuming work, getting ginger juice?

Ms. RILEY: No, we leave that to the chef.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RILEY: We have tons and tons of ginger that we use 'cause we're obviously a Japanese restaurant. So, we had tons of ginger, so, yeah.

HANSEN: I can tell this is a big seller.

Ms. RILEY: Yeah, it is. For people who love ginger, once they order one they always order two - even if it's a Monday night.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Really? It was just absolutely delicious.

Ms. RILEY: Well, thank you very much.

HANSEN: All right.

Ms. RILEY: We're all very proud of it at the restaurant. We have great food and we have great drinks, too. So�

HANSEN: Jessica Riley. She's the winner of our Calling All Chefs ginger contest, and she's a bartender at Mizu Yakitori in Chicago, Illinois.

Thanks again, Jessica.

Ms. RILEY: Thank you so much.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Special thanks to our food essayist Bonny Wolf for going through all the recipes and having us over to her house. Most of the WEEKEND EDITION staff was there and tried the recipes. You can see what dishes got their vote in a video on our blog NPR.org/soapbox.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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