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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Click here for recipes!

Sun Juice

8 oz organic turmeric root
2 ox organic ginger root
1/3 cup light agave nectar (dark nectar will spoil the color)
juice of half a lemon

Scrub the turmeric and ginger roots and put them in the blender with a pint of water. Blend until thoroughly amalgamated. Strain the blended mixture into a bowl through cheesecloth, making sure to squeeze the cheesecloth until the pulp is pretty dry. Set the pulp aside for composting, and to the strained juice add the agave nectar and lemon juice. Stir well, pour into a clear bottle and cork tightly. Store refrigerated. To make the drink, pour a quarter cup of the concentrate into a glass, add a cup of water, stir, adjust the amount of concentrate to your taste, and drink. The concentrate will last at least a week in the refrigerator, but since it’s raw I wouldn’t keep it much longer than that. However, it’s popular around our house and I haven’t been faced with the problem of excess storage time.

Grilled carrots with turmeric leaves

Purple carrots are prettiest here, with their dark rims and glowing orange centers. My carrots were overrun with feral poppies this year (I adore poppies and can never stand to weed them out) so I got purple carrots from Chispas Farm at the Downtown grower’s market.

I bunch purple carrots, tops off, trimmed, and scrubbed well.
1″ cube ginger, peeled and finely chopped
a section of turmeric root about 1/2″ thick and 1″ long, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon Thai sweet soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil (Yes, I know it’s not authentic, but it’s healthy and works fine here)
salt to taste
1 large turmeric leaf, about 4″X6″, or 2 smaller leaves, washed and midrib removed, cut in fine slivers and then crosswise into tiny squares

Cut the carrots crosswise into thin “coins.” Combine all other ingredients except the turmeric leaves, and combine them with the carrot coins, using clean hands to make sure that the carrots are coated fairly evenly. Heat the griddle of your grill or a large heavy skillet, and when hot put in the carrots. Stir enough to prevent burning and cook until done. Add a few drops of water here and there to help make steam and cook them evenly, but don’t add any toward the end of the cooking time, because you want a little gold (not burned black) crust to form on some pieces. Taste for doneness; the carrot coins should have lost their crunch but should not be withered. Turn into a serving bowl, toss the turmeric leaves over the top, and serve with nearly any Southeast Asian dish.

        You can use the leaves in other ways too. I like a very finely slivered handful added to Asian salads, whether or not they include  meat. The carroty vegetable flavor goes will with nearly any salad material. Just don’t use too much. A large leaf is plenty for salad for two. It’s worth learning the trick of slivering leaves almost hair-thin, because if you don’t chiffonade it thinly enough the texture can seem tough.

 Happy eating! Below, you see the carrots in process on the grill, with red onions in the grill-wok alongside.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Heather!
    I have been home sick since wednesday but am starting to breath again. i am making lots of fresh organic ginger root tea and adding pepper,licorice root, fennel and cumin. This is a made up recipe. Kim heard that black pepper increases the effectiveness of turmeric, which I am taking in powder form,as the coop has not had the root, of late.
    Your website is beautiful, thoughtful and balanced and I am enjoying it thoroughly. Thank you for the recipes and gardening encouragement. Perhaps someday you could look at my yard and make gardening suggestions. This year I grew chard,a pepper plant and basil but in pots. I want to extend out into the yard but it is filled w/ bermuda grass. Anyway I am babbling on sinceI’ve been alone for days ( Kim is out of town and I can’t really be around others w/ this cold) so I will sign off. Thanks again for your wonderful work of love.


    • Posted by wooddogs3 on October 11, 2009 at 11:16 am

      As of yesterday, the Co-op had the fresh root again. Black peppercorns contain a component called bioperine which does, in fact, increase the availability of the curcuminoid compounds in turmeric (well-designed studies verify this) and bioperine is now added to many commercial curcumin supplements. I still prefer the fresh root, and I love freshly cracked black pepper on my food, so the bioperine is there somewhere.
      There is another form of turmeric called white turmeric, which in Thailand is eaten fresh in thin slices as part of raw-vegetable assortments. I did find the fresh root in one market in San Francisco, and am trying to sprout it. I’ll keep you posted.
      I hope you feel better soon, and I’d love to come look at your yard as soon as you feel up to it.


  2. I’m intrigue by your turmeric plant, I garden in Rio Rancho and I’m planning (try) to grow some gingers in pots this year.


    • Posted by wooddogs3 on January 24, 2010 at 6:33 pm

      I did grow some ginger because I heard that the leaves could be used as a seasoning, but wasn’t impressed; they taste like a tougher, grassier version of the roots. I hope to try the torch ginger someday, because the buds are supposed to be a wonderfully flavored seasoning, but haven’t found the room or a starter plant yet. Good luck with your gingers, and keep me posted.


  3. Thank you for your great article. I also must say that your layout is a pleasure to view. Keep up the good work.


  4. Love this article! Thanks for all that you do for lovers of fresh herbs and food!


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