“I’ve often thought that if spices were school children, turmeric would be the one that’s always tugging the teacher’s sleeve and demanding attention.”
(Dee from Cook it eat blog it Brum)
A Healing Rhizome
When you do a Google search on turmeric, what first pops up are articles about this root’s or rhizome’s reported health benefits -- from curving heartburn, to staving off diabetes to its anti-inflammatory properties, to name just a few. Yes, you should be eating turmeric because it’s good for you but what about the flavor profile?
Earthy Flavor, Brilliant Color
Sarene has long thought of it more as a colorant than a flavoring. (Be careful—it stains everything it meets. For counters, Soft Scrub with bleach works well, we can tell you from experience.) It seems she was missing out. Max Falkowitz, editor of Serious Eats, says this about fresh turmeric: “Done right, it’s an ingredient that can change the way you cook ethnic food. The aroma is intense: earthy, pungent, redolent of dried citrus peel and dusty streets soaked in sunlight. The flavor, though subtler, warms the tongue, the missing link between black pepper and chile.”
Dried and ground turmeric is a brilliant golden yellow with a clean, earthy, and, yes, somewhat bitter flavor. Native to India or Southeast Asia, it’s often used for imparting color in a dish and in excess, it can be bitter-tasting. But fresh - well - it stays on your palate in a pleasing, cleansing way, bites like an apple, and has all the flavor of dried with no bitter aftertaste.
An Indispensable Cuisine Component
In "The Food of Morocco,” (HarperCollins, 2011) Paula Wolfert includes turmeric in the 10 most frequently used spices in Moroccan cookery. It’s sometimes mixed with saffron in tagines and soups, where it enhances the flavor and color.
In cooking, turmeric is used in curry powder, garam masala, ras el hanout. In Southeast Asia, it flavors curries, noodles, rice and fried meats. In Indonesia, it’s partnered with chicken, coconut, and rice, be it in sautéed dishes, braises, or forms of pilaf, writes Falkowitz. Here you can see that it offers a lovely hue and flavor to this Thai-inspired turmeric fried rice from the blog Everyday Maven.
“Turmeric is the most prized spice in an Indian pantry, especially in Southern India,” writes Komali Nunna in “Entertaining From an Ethnic Indian Kitchen.”
Called zardchubeh in Persia, “it’s used in virtually every Persian stew, and the mustard color that it gives to food is a memorable feature of Persian cuisine,” writes Louisa Shafia in “The New Persian Kitchen” (Ten Speed Press, 2013)
Shafia adds that in Persian cooking, turmeric is used in small amounts because it has an earthy, bitter aftertaste. “When cooked down slowly, however, it adds a warm background note that subtly enhances the overall taste of the dish,” she adds. Her turmeric chicken with sumac and lime exemplifies this judicious use of dried turmeric resulting in a simple exotically flavored chicken entree.
Tea Time with Turmeric
We’ve seen recipes for turmeric being used with eggs for omelets, salad dressing and teas too. In addition to store-bought turmeric teas such as Numi's, there are many recipes online that use fresh or powdered turmeric as well as a myriad of choices in "Jerusalem: A Cookbook" and "Plenty More", all listed below.
Keeping it Fresh
Look for fresh turmeric at well-stocked Indian grocers (it looks similar to ginger, but thinner, more fingerlike). To use fresh, peel it and cut into matchsticks or grate into a dish. If fresh isn’t available, Falkowitz suggests buying dried whole turmeric and finely grating it.
Turmeric Recipes from “Jerusalem”
Mejadra, page 120
Maqluba, page 127
Cannellini bean and lamb soup, page 135
Jerusalem mixed grill, page 174
Chicken sofrito, page 190
Fish and caper kebabs with burnt eggplant & lemon pickle, page 221
Grilled fish skewers with hawayej & parsley, page 224
Fricasee salad, page 227
Quick pickled lemons, page 303
Turmeric Recipes from "Plenty More"
Spiced Cashew from Fancy Coleslaw page 8
Legume (Noodle) Soup, page 80
Alphonso Mango and Curried Chickpea Salad, page 93
Lentils, Radicchio, and Walnuts with Manuka Honey, page 126
Indian Ratatouille, page 128
Iranian Vegetable Stew with Dried Lime, page 134
Squash with cardamom and Nigella Seeds, page 160
Fried Upma with Poached Egg, page 198
Eggplant Pahi, page 214
Fava, page 221
Spice-stuffed Potato Cakes, page 232
Crespéou, page 238
Fritter Roulette, page 245
Cauliflower Cake, page 246
Spicy Scrambled Eggs, page 253
Welcome to Tasting Jerusalem
If you're new to the group, here are our “rules” (there really aren’t any except to cook and share your experiences.)
- How often will we cook: We’ll pick a new set of recipes monthly to allow us all to fit in the cooking when we can and to find any ingredients that might not be available at your typical grocery store stop.
- Do I need to cook all the recipes?: We offer up several recipes to fit your taste buds, menus, schedules – cook as many or as few as you desire. But once you start cooking from this book, you probably won’t stop!
- What do I need to participate: Jerusalem: A Cookbook Plus an interest in cooking, willingness to try new flavors, and an electronic device that communicates via the Internet. We will always post the month’s information in a blog post via omgyummy.com so you can subscribe to Beth’s blog to be guaranteed to receive it or just check in frequently via the Facebook page or Twitter hashtag #TastingJrslm
- How to share what you cook: Tasting Jerusalem is open to anyone. You do not have to be a blogger or food professional of any sort. But if you have a camera, we encourage you to share photos of your dishes on Twitter or the Facebook page or Instagram, using the hashtag #TastingJrslm – we all love to see the results of your kitchen adventures. New to these types of social media? Just drop me an email beth (at) omgyummy (dot) com – I’ll be glad to help you get started.
- What recipes can be published and how to publish: We expect to cook through most, if not all, of the recipes in the cookbook over time. As such, for those of us blogging or writing about our experiences in any way, it’s important that we don’t include the recipe in our blog posts, unless Ten Speed Press has approved its use. The goal of the group is to learn together and enrich our experience using this cookbook, not create an online version of it. We are in touch with Ten Speed Press to find out which recipes we can post. For an example of another group that writes about their cooking but doesn’t post each recipe, please visit French Fridays with Dorie. If you legitimately change a recipe, rewrite the headnote and instructions, and choose to share it, please say you’ve adapted it, giving credit to the source including a link to purchase the cookbook.
- What if I have questions? Sarene and I will be monitoring the Facebook page and Twitter hashtag #TastingJrslm almost continuously so just leave us a note there. If you see a question and know the answer, jump on in before us. Part of the fun of the group will be each of us sharing our own knowledge, perspectives and ideas.
- What to include if you write a blog post: If you do post about what you cook, please let us know – we will link to it. And feel free to post it on the Facebook page and Twitter with the #TastingJrslm hashtag. We’d also appreciate it if you would include this verbiage in the context of your post:
“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ten Speed Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to omgyummy.com, following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups' dishes on Pinterest."