Yellow fervor

Turmeric gives food a beautiful yellow hue, wonderful flavor, and also has anti-inflammatory qualities, other health benefits.

risotto (photo credit: Boaz Lavi, courtesy of Tekoa Farm)
(photo credit: Boaz Lavi, courtesy of Tekoa Farm)
When I was a little girl, my mother’s spice chest contained little jars of Italian-style spices, such as oregano, basil and sage, garlic salt, paprika and black pepper, but never turmeric, which was considered Asian and far too exotic in the American Jewish kitchen in those days. Little did we know that it was what gave American mustard its color, and that in India where it grew, it was – and still is – both a food and a medicine.
Today, turmeric is one of the most important spices in my kitchen. Just a good pinch of it gives basmati rice an appealing yellow hue; combined with ground coriander seed and cumin, it makes a superb addition to any kind of bean soup (with the added bonus that coriander and cumin both aid in the digestion of legumes); and it plays an integral part in curries. It can be added to a variety of vegetable dishes, soups, sauces, poultry and meat as well.
An East Indian tropical root related to ginger, the turmeric root (also known as “the poor man’s saffron”), flourishes in rich, moist soils throughout China, India and Indonesia. Most of us are familiar with it in its dried form, made by washing, peeling, drying and grinding the root into a powder.
But in countries in which it is grown, it is also used fresh, like fresh ginger. Until recently you could only find it in Israel as dried roots or powder, but today it is also sold fresh in supermarkets, imported by the Tekoa company.
Why use turmeric? According to renowned American doctor Andrew Weill, if you don’t consume turmeric and ginger daily in your food, you should take them in pill form, since they are both potent anti-inflammatories.
In China, it is used mostly for its medicinal qualities; and in India, according to Ayurvedic physician Dr.
Eran Magon, its prevalence in Indian cuisine derives from the ancient knowledge of its ability to help prevent illness.
Turmeric is a rich source of potassium and an even richer source of zinc and manganese. It contains B vitamins, particularly niacin, iron and calcium. Its active ingredient, curcumin, can help prevent and treat infections, even staph infections, and has anti-fungal properties. Some Indian women claim that it is also good for the skin. An old Moroccan tradition is to apply turmeric to burns to help them heal faster.
Studies in recent years have discovered other properties in turmeric as well, such as the fact that it contains more than two dozen anti-inflammatory compounds that are beneficial to those suffering from arthritis.
Recent research also suggests that curcumin can help in the prevention of various types of cancer, and extracts of turmeric are under study for their natural agents that block the formation of a substance that obstructs brain function in Alzheimer’s disease.
But here’s an important tip when using turmeric in any way you please: Dried or fresh, it has a very strong orange-yellow pigment that can stain your hands and anything else it touches. To remove the stain from your hands, wash several times with soap and warm water, and clean kitchen surfaces immediately.
PORCINI RISOTTO WITH FRESH TURMERIC Serves 4 A recipe from chef Yair Yosefi of Cantina in Tel Aviv.
✔ 100 gr. dried porcini mushrooms (Tekoa Farm) ✔ 4 cm. fresh turmeric root (Tekoa Farm) ✔ 11⁄2 cups risotto rice (do not rinse)✔ 5 shallots, peeled ✔ 100 gr. butter ✔ 1 Tbsp. olive oil ✔ Salt and white pepper to taste ✔ Bunch of parsley, preferably curly parsley, chopped
Peel and finely chop the turmeric root. In a small pot, mix the turmeric and porcini mushrooms with 600 ml. water. Bring to a boil. Drain and set the mushrooms and turmeric aside. Keep the cooking liquid on low heat.
Chop the shallots into small cubes. In a wide pot, heat 50 grams of the butter and the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté, stirring constantly till lightly golden. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with the butter, about 1 minute. Gradually add one-quarter to one-third cup of reserved porcini water to the rice, each time stirring constantly till absorbed. The process should take about 15 minutes, until the rice begins to soften. Save three-quarters cup cooking liquid.
Gently stir in the porcini mushrooms and the turmeric and continue cooking, adding the remaining water, a quarter cup at a time and stirring gently until the risotto is ready. Stir in the remaining butter and parsley and serve. ■