What is sweet yet spicy, chewy yet crunchy, familiar yet exotic, all in one bite? What is dirt cheap and looks like a million bucks (well, maybe not a million, but a lot)? Homemade candied ginger! And this is no plain Jane ginger; this sweet treat has bits of citrusy lime zest that complement the heat of the ginger beautifully. Forget the fruitcake or tired fudge; give this out to your friends and family this holiday season.

Now before you give me your “I’m a poor college student with no fancy equipment” or “I don’t have any candy making experience” or “I don’t have time for homemade gifts” spiel, hear me out. Unlike most candy recipes, this one doesn’t involve any specialized equipment, hard to find ingredients, or exact temperatures. Plus, homemade gifts are always appreciated and worth the time.

The first step: get the ingredients. It cost me $1.29 for a pound of ginger, about $0.80 for the sugar, a buck for 3 limes, and my landlord paid for the water (isn’t she sweet?). If the ginger is a bit pricey at your grocery store, head to your nearest Asian market and hit up their produce aisle. Here in Seattle, my favorites are HT Mart on 100th and Aurora or Uwajimaya in the Central District. To summarize, for about the same price as your morning caramel macchiato you can give eight of your closest pals a thoughtful, tasty gift and they’ll be none the wiser.

No fancy equipment here, just a pot and a cookie sheet. If you don’t have a cookie sheet, I imagine a couple plates would work just fine. And if you haven’t invested in any pots yet, then you probably aren’t going to make this recipe (or any recipe for that matter).

After you’ve got the goods, here’s what happens next: ginger and lime zest are boiled in water until tender. Then sugar is added and cooked until it crystallizes on the ginger and lime zest. The whole mess is then dumped onto a cookie sheet and cooled, then wrapped festively. Or chopped and stirred into moist gingerbread. Or sprinkled on vanilla ice cream. Or mixed into nutty granola. Or nibbled on by the handful with a glass of red while watching the newest season of Top Chef. Juussst some ideas I thought up real quick.

Final step: share the fruits of your labor with your loved ones. Or not. I’m sure you’ll make the right decision.

Candied Lime Ginger

1 pound

I peeled the ginger with a spoon; just run it along the ginger taking off the thin, papery skin. This method takes off less of the flesh than a vegetable peeler or knife would. Also, don’t throw away the golden sugar left over after the ginger is candied-it is delicious. Hello, ginger-sugar topped cookies and muffins! You can also use the leftover “ginger juice” for a cocktail and rim the glass with the ginger-sugar.

1 pound fresh ginger root
3 limes
2 ½ cups sugar
Nonstick cooking spray

Break the ginger “hands” into manageable-sized “fingers” and peel with a spoon or vegetable peeler. Slice the ginger into 1/8 inch slices with a knife or mandoline. Put the ginger in a pot and add enough water to just cover the ginger.

Remove the zest of the limes in strips with a vegetable peeler. Don’t press too hard or you’ll end up with the white, bitter pith attached as well (you want only the green part). Slice the zest into ¼ inch strips and add to the pot with the ginger.

Bring the ginger, lime zest, and water to a boil then lower to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook for one hour, until the ginger is somewhat tender and pliable. Don’t worry if it seems a little firm, it will soften up more once it’s cooked with the sugar. The ginger doesn’t need much attention at this point, just set a timer and walk away.

Meanwhile, liberally spray a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

Once cooked, pour the ginger mixture into a colander set over a bowl to drain most of the liquid off (save this exilir for that cocktail I was talking about). Then put the still very wet ginger back into the pot over medium heat, add the sugar and still until the sugar dissolves.

Don’t walk away for this portion as sugar burns very easily, and we want candied ginger, not blackened ginger. Stirring often and vigorously (so the bottom doesn’t scorch), let the mixture cook until all of the water has evaporated and the sugar has begun to crystallize on the ginger. Once the sugar has thoroughly crystallized (it will look like candied ginger at this point), dump it out onto the prepared cookie sheet and spread evenly.

Let cool for 30 minutes, then store in an airtight container. The candied ginger will keep for up to three weeks (if you can manage to make it last that long).