Galangal, a plant in the ginger family, is used in Southeast Asian and Arab cuisine where it is used in soups, stews, and curry pastes for its citrusy, piney flavor. Like ginger, galangal is a rhizome (a subterranean creeping stem of a plant), but galangal is brighter, sharper, and more complex in taste than ginger. Differences between ginger and galangal do not stop at flavor, however, physically, the two are quite unique. Galangal is denser and has thinner skin than ginger, so it is not necessary to peel galangal before using. There are four different types of galangal: greater galangal, lesser galangal, Chinese ginger, and kencur. All four types of galangal have culinary or medicinal uses which vary depending on the country in which they are used. Sour and spicy tom yum soup requires galangal along with lemongrass and makrut lime leaves for its essential flavor; different types of tom yum may utilize different proteins, vegetables, or additional ingredients, but the core composition of lemongrass, galangal, and makrut lime leaf remains the same. Galangal is also used in many Laotian larb recipes, which utilize galangal for its piney bright flavor in contrast with the rich meat and tender rice. Greater galangal is typically used in Indonesian and Thai cuisine, and is the easiest to find in the United States. Fresh galangal is the most vibrant, but frozen galangal can also be used. Look for galangal online or in Southeast Asian grocery stores.
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