Monday, March 23, 2015

Ingredient of the Week

I've been featuring turmeric in so many recipes this month that I decided to highlight it here. Many of you will know this root in its dried powder form, often added to Indian dishes to dye the whole pot yellow. However, turmeric's uses stretch far beyond the realm of foreign cuisine. It's flavour is pungent and bitter (like mustard or horseradish), and its scent is misleading with sweet notes of ginger and orange. As long as you don't over-do the amount, turmeric can be a superstar ingredient. There are two types: yellow Madras, and Alleppey. The first is lighter in colour and used in curries, mustards, pickles, etc. The second type has a higher concentration of curcumin (the plant's colouring enzyme) and so has a darker orange colour, on top of its richer flavour and earthier aroma. Both are available dried or fresh. While in powdered form turmeric will keep for months in your pantry, I opt to use the fresh variety. A little handful of roots, bought from a health or specialty food store, will cost no more than its dried counterpart. Like ginger, it keeps for weeks or longer in the fridge. Besides for the fact that it will often stain your hands (a charming shade of oompaloompa yellow), the fresh variety wins by its capacity to cross-over into a-typical foods and drinks. Use a microplane to grate it into a little shredded pile like you see in the picture. The following are a few interesting ways to use it. *Note that I am using fresh shredded turmeric.

  • Steep turmeric and ginger into hot tea, adding honey if you like 
  • Toss it with root vegetables before roasting for a more complex finished flavour 
  • Add it to a pot of cooking rice to dye it yellow (don't worry, the pot won't colour)
  • Blend it into a salad dressing, especially thai salad dressings and ones with coconut milk/oil 
  • Add it to cooking eggs for a twist on scrambles and omelettes 
  • Make a hot broth of miso-paste, turmeric, and chives (a five minute tide-you-over snack) 
  • Add it to any flavouring pastes or marinades (ie: red-chili paste), and store in a mason jar to use over the weeks
  • Add into stir-fries 
  • Add to lentil/bean burgers before cooking 
  • Add into a Mediterranean cake batter (ie: sweet olive oil cake) for a beautiful yellow crumb

If its taste doesn't sell you, consider turmeric's variety of health benefits. It's most known to aid joint pain, but studies also show that it can prevent heart-attacks and delay diabetes. Research is currently being done on its ability to both prevent and slow cancer. Its anti-inflammatory tendencies also make it a popular ingredient in skin-care and creams. I've heard of people making face-masks out of the stuff... but no thanks on the yellow face. 

All of that said, I'm not sneaking it into every meal of the day. Really, I might use turmeric two to three times per week and in any of the above ways. Lately, I'm really digging foods and drinks with "tonic" properties. That is, ingredients that double as medicine. If you build up your kitchen alchemy shelf,  then you can play with nature's ability to enhance your mood, relieve injuries, and promote overall health. 

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