With the beginning of each year brings forth the culinary trend projections of the year to come. Last year was likely the year of the meatball and the French macaron, and this year, in an effort to cleanse us of our past sins and transgressions, the trends will consist of the liberal use of turmeric and heirloom everything (corn, beans, grains, and not just tomatoes). While many of you will have some working familiarity with heirloom varieties, the spice turmeric may be less familiar. While hardly as sexy, tasty or alluring as Sichuan peppercorns or smoked paprika, turmeric has something else going for it – significant health benefits.
Now I am as skeptical as anyone when it comes to purported health benefits of anything, whether it be acai berries tiger’s blood, but there exist some significant research that shows this rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant called turmeric might add more than just a little color to your plate. A fairly common ingredient in Indian, Moroccan and Southeast Asian cuisine, turmeric is a close relative to ginger is usually ground down into a powder, and holds a distinctly vibrant orange-yellow color that is well known for staining fingers and countertops. Beyond its ability to dye everything a lusty ochre color, turmeric is being touted as somewhat of an essential ingredient in the fight against everything from cancer to arthritis. Dr. Andrew Weil (that guru of whole and healing foods) recently touted turmeric for promising preventive attributes and its natural anti-inflammatory properties. Weil sites numerous studies involving the effects of turmeric and its chief active component, curcumin, and how this substance holds countless therapeutic advantages. This may be news to those fully entrenched in a western-styled diet, but turmeric has been used for a few thousand years to treat all sorts of illnesses and ailments – we are just a little late to the party.
So what if it is good for you, how the hell do you use it? Well be warned, turmeric will just about turn everything it comes into contact with a bright yellow (think Indian curry) so adding it to oatmeal will make it look like a bowl of sunshine (so to speak). It has a warm, earthy flavor that is akin to ginger, but without the severe spice or kick. Turmeric is more appropriately used in savory dishes containing lentils, seafood, lamb, chicken, and onions (preferably not all in one dish). The two things to note with turmeric are: always use turmeric with some sort of fat (butter, olive oil, etc) to bring out the flavor and use turmeric sparingly. Refrain from putting a tablespoon of turmeric in your lentil soup, unless you are making a 10-gallon batch. A little goes a long, long way. Here are a few turmeric-rich recipes to try out.
Feel free to provide some of your own turmeric tips in the comments section below – this could be recipes or stain removal tips.