Fresh Turmeric

I have been buying fresh turmeric lately, and keeping my fingers crossed, hoping that it will keep appearing on my local grocer’s shelf. I used to drive across town to pick it up at the Indian grocery, but I don’t want to write about things that are too hard to find, because I know it frustrates readers to hear about exotic ingredients that you can only get at special stores. So, now that it seems to be coming in regularly from Hawaii, I feel that I can sing its praises.

Yes, it comes from the Islands, bringing warm, tropical energy to my latest cooking obsessions. If you have not seen it, it looks alot like fresh ginger, at about 3/4 scale.

These fresh tubers occupy that wonderful intersection between gourmet, authentic food and health nut food, which makes them a double bonus food. Anyone who loves Indian food will enjoy the superior flavor that fresh turmeric imparts to a recipe. It’s much sweeter and less bitter than the powder. The health nuts, well, they have good reason to seek out the golden roots.

Whole Roots

Yes, turmeric is making a name for itself by having lots of well-researched health benefits. It’s a potent anti-oxidant, and eases aches and pains, in one Italian study, Italian arthritis sufferers reported a 58% decrease in pain, and their blood level of inflammatory marker CRP was reduced sixteen fold. I’ve been taking turmeric capsules for years, just for this reason.

More seriously, turmeric appears to prevent destructive plaque from forming in the brain, and be protective against Alzheimers. People in India, who eat turmeric every day, have 1/4 the rate of Alzheimer’s of the US population. It stops and slows tumors from growing, and if taken before chemotherapy, makes tumors more vulnerable to the treatment. It also helps delay liver damage caused by heavy drinking in rats, which I choose to extrapolate to think that it will protect my own liver from the occasional couple of drinks. It also has been shown to reduce the levels of cancer-causing chemicals created when meats are grilled over high heat, so if you grill meat, go with Tandoori spices. It’s anti-fungal, antibacterial, and more. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it’s a treatment for depression.

Now that turmeric is one of the requested ingredients of the health food aficionado, natural food stores are making the effort to seek it out. If you come across it, buy it. It can be frozen, as is, and shredded with a microplane right into the saute pan. Use it in your favorite curry recipes, and start with the standard conversion of three times as much fresh as dried. You may want to add even more, after you taste it.

I love eating curries and Indian food, but to be honest, I don’t eat them every day. So, I stock up on the turmeric roots and grind them up with all my kale and cukes to make juice-and sweeten the mix with an apple or two. You can make a lively tea by steeping slices of the root in boiling water, add a slice of ginger, for a little kick. Experiment with adding chopped turmeric to stir fries, soups and salsas, where the earthy taste and golden hue will add a new twist.

Red Lentil Dal

Red Lentil Dal with Fresh Turmeric

In this recipe, you will actually use individual spices, instead of curry powder. It’s worth the effort to buy them and use them, I promise. If you don’t cook with them often enough to buy a whole jar, try to find a place to buy in bulk, and just get a little baggie. Asafetida is probably hard for some of you to find, so it’s optional. It’s a powder, made from the dried resin of a plant, and it’s always described as tasting like garlic and onions. I never get the garlic/onion thing, but it does make your curry taste more like it does in a real Indian restaurant, so use it if you can.

Makes about 8 cups, serves 4-6 as a main course

1 teaspoon cumin seed, whole1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh turmeric, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
3 jalapeno, chopped
1/2 teaspoon asafetida (optional)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 small cauliflower
1 medium potato, diced
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
5 cups water
1 tablespoon jaggery or raw sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt, to taste

In a soup pot, heat canola oil. Add mustard and cumin seeds and bring to a sizzle. Add onion and saute until softened. Add turmeric, ginger, and jalapeno and cook, stirring. When softened and fragrant, add the asafetida, cumin and coriander and stir, cooking until fragrant, just a couple of minutes. Add cauliflower and potato, lentils and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover tightly. Simmer for 30 minutes, checking and stirring halfway. When lentils are falling apart, take off heat and stir in sweetener and lemon. If you want it smooth, puree all or part of the soup. Salt and adjust seasonings to taste.