• Ruwanmali Samarakoon

Dishes with a sunny disposition

Turmeric (botanical name: Curcuma longa)


Turmeric is known for its beautiful yellow colour and many uses. Aside from its culinary use, it has been used for thousands of years as a dye plant as well as an ingredient in Ayurvedic preparations for its cleansing, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic benefits. Although it has also long been used in South Asian traditions as a beauty aid, this has gained recent popularity in North America.


What to know: Turmeric is often confused with saffron, however these are two very different spices, each with unique flavours. They may only be substituted where the colour is concerned and even then, they have inherently different hues. Turmeric is a rhizome part of the ginger family, while saffron are the dried threads or stigmas of the crocus flower. The root of turmeric is bright orange, and it goes through a complex process (peeled, cured, dried and then ground) before arriving as a powdered spice in markets. For most purposes, the powder works best as turmeric in its whole form is very hard.


Turmeric is native to India, and there are two main kinds of ground turmeric: Madras and Alleppey. Madras turmeric is bright yellow to orange colour and is more commonly used as an ingredient in South Asian cooking. Turmeric has an earthy taste, slightly bitter, and harmonizes well with other spices. Because it is typically used sparingly, it can go unnoticed once blended with other more pungent spices, nonetheless it is an important part of spice blends added to meat and vegetable curries and rice dishes.


How you can cook with it: my mother regularly added turmeric powder to a variety of curries and dishes. It is one of the most versatile spices and can be added to chicken, some fish dishes, lentils, legumes, some vegetable dishes, and beverages. If this spice is new to you, try first adding a pinch or two to stir-fries, sautéed vegetables, chicken dishes, rice pilafs or soups. Just be careful when using it to prevent staining your clothes and cooking surfaces.


My favourite dish with turmeric is yellow dal curry made with split red lentils. This is a wonderful example of Sri Lankan comfort food, and it is lovely with rice, warm roti, or plain bread. It is simple to prepare, surprisingly satisfying, and nutritious. I have this recipe and variations of it in my upcoming cookbook.


Alternatively, cup of hot sweetened turmeric milk or tea is a wonderful beverage to cleanse and calm the body before sleep. I give turmeric milk to my daughter a couple times a day during the cold season, otherwise a few times a week at night before bed and she loves it.


Wellness benefits: Cleansing and purifying; anti-inflammatory; antiseptic; and beauty aid for a beautiful and healthy complexion.


How to keep it fresh for longer: Turmeric powder should be stored in an airtight container in a cool dark place away from humidity and heat. Stored in this way, turmeric powder may be kept for over a year. (A general rule for most all spices is that they begin to lose flavour once ground, so it is often wise to buy in small quantities, use frequently, and replace when you sense a depletion in flavour.)


Turmeric Milk for Two


Add 2 cups of whole cow’s milk to a small saucepan, and add ½ tsp ground turmeric (you may add a little less depending on your personal preference and familiarity with this spice), ¼ tsp ground cinnamon, a couple scrapes of a fresh nutmeg, pinch of ground clove, half a vanilla pod or a ¼ tsp pure vanilla extract. Stir and bring to just a gentle boil, then remove from the heat. Pour into cup(s) and add bee’s honey for sweetening.


What is your favourite sunny turmeric dish or recipe?


(Photo: Whole turmeric and turmeric powder)

Photo credit: @natasha.asselstine

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