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Kitchen Shrink: Go for the gold with mighty turmeric

Catharine L. Kaufman
Catharine L. Kaufman

The golden boy of Indian spices, tantalizing turmeric (ginger’s first cousin and the main spice in curry) is as gorgeous and flavorful as it is healthful. It was revered for centuries by ancient practitioners for its Herculean healing powers and now by modern medicine men, including Drs. Andrew Weil and Mehmet Oz. So here’s why you should turmeric up!

Worth its weight in gold

Many kudos to this immune-boosting knobby rhizome with bright orange flesh. Its anti-inflammatory compounds, primarily the potent curcumin, have been found to alleviate achy, creaky arthritic joints. Putting the skids on cerebral plaque formation that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Warding off cancer development and its spread from breast and colon to prostate and skin by disrupting the virus’ sneaky pathways.

The super spice snuffs out yeasts and parasites. The powerful antioxidants have been linked to fighting off atherosclerosis by disabling harmful platelet activities. There’s more. Turmeric quells an upset stomach, relieves gum inflammation, along with halitosis and gingivitis, soothes skin irritations and swimmer’s ear. It boosts liver’s function, and prevents sunburn from fire-breathing UV rays.

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The root even makes meat exposed to high temperatures safer to consume by reducing carcinogenic heterocyclic amine levels when sprinkled on chicken, beef or pork before grilling.

From soup to nuts

Turmeric AKA “Indian saffron,” is easier on the wallet than the precious crimson strands from the flower of the Crocus sativus (pricey saffron). Grate fresh turmeric root or sprinkle dried powder to add vibrant eye candy to everything from soups, stews, risottos, frittatas, grilled root veggies and crucifers, mashed potatoes, condiments and sauces to cakes, almond and shortbread cookies, smoothies, savory snacks and roasted nuts, whether heart-healthy almonds, walnuts, pistachios or assorted seeds.

Nothing to sneeze at

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The blending of black pepper with turmeric has been found to boost the body’s absorption of the powerful curcumin compound in the bloodstream by as much as 2,000 percent, so get cracking with your pepper grinder when preparing turmeric dishes.

Think outside the spice box

Multi-tasking turmeric is used in countless non-culinary home remedies and crafty concoctions. While the spice has a magnificent bright hue for staining everything from T-shirts to Easter eggs, it anomalously is used to whiten the pearls with a paste blending its powder form, coconut oil and baking soda. Sprinkle it in your foundation for a natural bronzer or glow. Enliven your scalp and control dandruff with a turmeric tonic. Balance oily skin and calm breakouts with a soothing facial mask. Brew a pot of longevity or turmeric tea, that is part of the daily diet of Okinawans, a Japanese island nation that Andrew Weil observed has a population endowed with the longest life span, along with the largest number of centenarians in the world.

Here are two turmeric recipes, one for a savory marinade, the other a traditional Middle Eastern Sfouf cake from the kitchen of Chef Bernard Guillas of The Marine Room to satisfy even the most discriminating sweet-tooths with an added antioxidant oomph!

All-purpose Turmeric Marinade

Ingredients

1/2 cup of virgin olive oil

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

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3 garlic cloves, minced

1 shallot, minced

1 teaspoon fresh grated turmeric or 1/2 teaspoon dried turmeric

1 teaspoon of spicy mustard

1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Method: Puree garlic, shallots, turmeric and salt in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Blend remaining ingredients. Chill and use as a marinade for wild caught fish (salmon, snapper, halibut, shrimps and scallops), chicken, or roasted vegetables. Note: If using as a dipping sauce, add one teaspoon of orange blossom honey.

Lebanese Turmeric Sfouf Cake

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Ingredients

3 tablespoons tahini paste

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups fine cornmeal

1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric powder

1 tablespoon ground anise seeds

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups honey

1 1/4 cups thick Greek-style yogurt

2/3 cup melted unsalted butter

2 eggs

2 teaspoons orange blossom water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup chopped pistachios

1/4 cup chopped almonds

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Method: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Coat 11x9 inch baking pan with tahini paste. Combine flour, cornmeal, turmeric, anise, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk honey, yogurt, butter, eggs, orange blossom water and vanilla extract until smooth. Add flour mixture. Combine well. Transfer to prepared pan. Sprinkle top with pistachios, almonds and sesame seeds. Bake 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.

Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt, orange segments and a drizzle of honey.