In the west, fresh turmeric went from being a relatively slow-moving spice available at Asian grocery stores to something of a hot trend early this year. Our modest but medicinal haldi ka doodh took off as a latte, happily blitzed with carrot for a morning smoothie, and stained the fingers of many many chefs who wanted to work with this gleaming orange rhizome.
One of our oldest home remedies, turmeric, the knobby, seemingly unassuming root garnered a fan following so quickly, that it was rather amusing to watch on (whoever wrote it off as the poor man’s saffron ought to see it now). Call it mere fad, but for me it echoed that which thousands of Indians have known to be true for quite some time now- our food culture with its evolved system of seasonal eating, fasting and incorporating natural and holistic medicine (ayurveda) into our daily cuisine makes our food habits particularly noteworthy.
White turmeric and yellow turmeric are poles apart in terms of flavour. White turmeric has notes of raw mango and ginger that fit beautifully in a Thai salad. It has a stronger taste than the more delicate flavoured bright orange ones, or yellow turmeric, which is more common. The yellow turmeric has peppery notes with a faint bit of ginger in there, but it is clearly the more fragrant of the two and stains very easily. Turmeric leaves pack quite a bit of flavour too, and can be used to either make parcels of meat or fish and steamed, or swapped for pandan in plain steamed rice. A slight balmy, but not unpleasant taste surfaces when you cook the parcels.
For this feature, I decided to make a simple pickle of both white and yellow turmeric, an Ottolenghi-inspired salad from his article on ‘one man’s exotic is another man’s everyday’ in the most recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine and a detox tea that brings together fresh turmeric, ginger and honey- an absolute classic.
White Turmeric root 250g
Yellow Turmeric root 250g
Salt 3 tsp
Limes 2, juiced
Cut the white and yellow turmeric into juliennes or long thin strips, being careful with the latter. You could wear plastic gloves to avoid staining your hands.
Add the salt and lemon juice and massage the turmeric with your hands. Let it sit outside for two days at least, before keeping it in the refrigerator.
Ottolenghi’s Pepper and Corn Salad With A Turmeric Dressing
Corn 1 ear, husked
Yellow bell pepper 1 (red works just as well, but not green)
Cherry tomatoes 50g
Endive leaves or any other bitter leaf of your choice 1/2 a head or a handful , roughly torn
Arugula leaves a little less than a cup
Salt and pepper to taste
Green chilli 1, chopped
Yellow Turmeric root 1 piece, about 4-5 inches
Ginger a one-inch piece
Coriander 1 cup, coarsely chopped, stems intact
Garlic cloves 3-4
Olive oil 1/4 cup
Lime zest 1/2 tsp
Limes 1, juiced
Salt to taste
Start by blitzing together all the ingredients for the salad dressing and set this aside.
Refresh your salad leaves by duking them in ice-cold water. You’ll have to fish the greens out and spin them once it’s time to assemble the salad.
Burn the pepper on a naked flame until it is charred on all sides. Take it off the flame and let it cool. Do not discard the skin, as this will add a nice smoky flavour to the salad. Next, grill the corn on the same flame until it is sufficiently charred on all sides.
Discard the white seeds from the peppers, and flatten it out charred side up on a chopping board. Cut into thin strips and keep aside. Using a knife, slice the cooked corn kernels off the cob and let it fall onto a plate underneath. Mix together the corn and the slivered peppers.
On a grill or a frying pan, heat the cherry tomatoes until they make popping sounds. Take it off the heat and add to the corn and pepper mix.
Spin the salad leaves and start assembling your salad. Drop a few tablespoonfuls of the dressing and toss everything together. Taste again for seasoning. A few turns of cracked pepper won’t hurt.
For the Turmeric Tea, grate 2 tbsp fresh turmeric and 1 tbsp fresh ginger. Add a few rounds of cracked pepper, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 4-5 tbsp honey and 1 tsp lemon juice. Taste and adjust the sweetness and the lemon juice. Let this sit in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator. Add a little more than a pinch of this mixture to a cup of boiling water.