Galangal is a subtropical plant and likes lots of warmth, full sun, and a very rich soil, high in organic matter. Treat it rather like sweet corn: high nitrogen, frequent liquid feeds with seaweed or worm wee, and regular and deep watering throughout the growing season (but not in winter).
Galangal can readily be grown in frostfree areas, where it is usually evergreen. However, it is hardier than ginger so it can be grown in frosty areas if it gets protection from winter frost and you give it as much warmth as possible.
Here in the South Island, just north of Christchurch, my plant dies back over winter. I treat it the same as my mukrat (kaffir) lime, growing in it a large pot and bringing it indoors when it’s cold. I keep it quite dry over winter as the rhizomes are prone to rotting when not actively growing. Extra winter drainage such as stones in the base of the pot will help.
Galangal works well as a conservatory or greenhouse plant. It has few pests other than the usual greenhouse opportunists such as aphid and mealy bug.
A fresh rhizome, placed in a dark place for a few weeks, will grow a bud. Plant the rhizome just below the soil level and keep warm and moist. In a few weeks shoots and roots will grow and the galangal will be away.
I was delighted to receive a greater galangal plant as a gift. I divided it so I could rotate harvest between two plants and divide at different times.
Harvesting rhizomes is not difficult. You only need a little at a time and fresh is best, plus it’s very satisfying: simply dig into the loose potting mix and snap a piece off the outside of the clump. Wash and trim away any rotten, bruised or woody parts. Slice or grate as your recipe requires, and enjoy the pungent, inimitable, richly resinous aroma. It will put your Asian cooking in a class of its own.
A reliable source of galangal is Russell Fransham’s subtropical nursery: www.subtropical.co.nz
METHOD De-seed and soak the chillies in 100ml of water for 15-30 minutes; five chillies is mild, 10 is for the more adventurous. Add all the spice mix ingredients to a bowl, including the water from soaking the chillies, and grind into a paste. Fry the spice mix in oil on medium heat until it thickens and darkens slightly but do not burn the spices. Add the coconut milk, salt, sugar, fish sauce and chicken and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked. Stir in the coconut cream to thicken. Blanch the rice vermicelli and bean sprouts. To serve, put the blanched rice vermicelli in a bowl topped with bean sprouts, chicken, half a hard-boiled egg and some julienned cucumber. Pour over the sauce and sprinkle with Vietnamese mint.