Archive for September 21st, 2009

My Southeast Asian Summer: Turmeric

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      Turmeric and its constituent components the curcuminoids, a complex of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, are getting attention and medical research dollars these days. But this blog is not about disease treatment or medical research, it’s about healthy and delicious food, and turmeric is here for its culinary qualities.  Both the roots and the leaves are a common seasoning in many parts of southeast Asia, and the leaves are impossible to buy in this area, which led to my experiments in growing them. It’s a tropical and needs to be brought indoors when the nights start to cool off, and during the summer it needs light shade and plenty of moisture. Initially I bought plants from an herb supplier, but since then have done better with plants I started at home.

       You need some roots from the store to get started. Put them on top of a pot of good organic potting soil and press them into the soil. Put in a warm place (a seed-starting warming mat will really speed things up,) keep moist, and within a month you’ll see small buds growing off the roots. In another month or so, you’ll have turmeric leaves to use.  It will prosper in a sunny window over the winter, but does best if it can go outdoors in the summer. Remember, part shade is important.

     To begin with the root, it can be grown in a pot but you are unlikely to get enough to use it freely. I don’t recommend the dried powder for most applications; to my palate if lacks the fresh vibrancy of the fresh root. I advise buying organic root, and you can often find it among the other fresh vegetables at La Montanita Co-op. Ask the produce manager if you don’t see it. It’s used in a lot of the seasoning pastes that I make for my southeast Asian cooking, so you’ll notice it in several of the recipes on this blog (use the search function to find them). But one of my favorite ways to use it is as a brilliant yellow-orange “juice” concentrate which I keep in a corked bottle in the refrigerator and add to water to make “sun juice.” The color alone is irresistible and cheers me up just to look at it.

     The leaves are large, glossy and handsome, and look attractive when the pot is brought indoors for the winter, but remember that any plant you’re always snipping at for kitchen use won’t look great for long. When cut they smell very like a fresh, sweet carrot, and I love to season carrots with them. Clich the link below the picture for recipes.

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