Who would have guessed? Fresh turmeric is a revelation! The boring yellow powder that mostly gives color to curry powder is actually a mouth-popping, I-can’t-stop-eating-this, delicious flavor when eaten fresh (the difference between powdered ginger and fresh ginger root, only more so…). And it can grow in North Carolina!!
I was very excited when a friend from Brasstown, NC, visited and brought a jar of her homemade turmeric pesto made with fresh turmeric grown in Clay County on Qualla Berry Farm. Turmeric (Zingiberaeae Curcuma longa) is a member of the ginger family and is known as “Indian saffron” because of its brilliant orange color. John Clarke and Karen Hurtubise grow both ginger and turmeric in a large hoophouse, harvest in October and November, and sell the fresh rhizomes at farmers’ markets as well as from their own farm. They advise that the rhizomes may be stored in a warm, dry, dark place for up to three weeks or sealed in zip-lock bags to store in the freezer for a year-long supply. Contact www.quallaberryfarm.com for more information.
The fresh turmeric pesto is amazing. Can something have a yellow flavor? The flavor is sharp and earthy and somehow lets you know that it is sending good energy to all the cells of your body. I have been using turmeric powder for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties, but it is so much more fun to eat the vibrant fresh rhizomes. It’s like adding a burst of sunshine to your food.
My Thai cookbook by Su Mei Yu says that fresh orange turmeric is used for its color, aroma, sweet crunchy texture, and peppery taste. When fresh turmeric isn’t available, Yu suggests substituting 1 Tbs grated carrot, 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger, and 1/2 tsp turmeric powder for 1 Tbs minced fresh turmeric. This gives you an idea of the taste—a rather subtle, wild carrot flavor with hints of black pepper and the woods. I didn’t want to substitute; I ordered some from Qualla Berry Farm right away.
When my order of fresh turmeric arrived , I cut some up into matchsticks and started eating. The fresh flavor is not just yellow, it is orange…like some crazy carrot. The rhizomes are easy to grate or slice and can be used raw to garnish or add to dishes for maximum color and texture impact… or pound into spice pastes or add with other aromatics like ginger, garlic, and fresh chiles to stir-fries or curry. Use minced fresh turmeric in soups, dips (try it in hummous, Romesco sauce, or mixed into yogurt or goat cheese), rice and other grain pilafs, vegetable or meat braises, lentils or beans, eggs…. or make tea.
This recipe for fresh turmeric tea is from Qualla Berry Farm. The addition of black pepper enhances the medicinal properties of turmeric by making its healing components more easily absorbed.
Ingredients: 2 oz fresh turmeric, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 2 quarts water
Chop or grate the fresh turmeric. Coarsely grind the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Bring the water to a boil and pour over the turmeric and pepper in a glass or ceramic pitcher. Allow to steep overnight or until cool. Strain into glass jars and store in the refrigerator. Strained out turmeric may be used in cooking.
Add fresh lemon juice or honey to taste. Some people enjoy hot turmeric tea with milk.
Carla’s Spice Paste
Carla Owen of Murphy, NC, provided this recipe for the growers at Qualla Berry Farm. This is a generous amount that should keep you in turmeric heaven for a while. Carla advises to eat some every day…in any dish. You can use it as a condiment, stir it into slow-cooked stews or braises near the end of cooking, or add a bit to the oil before a quick-cooked stir-fry or sauté.
Ingredients: 1 lb fresh turmeric, 1/4 lb peeled fresh ginger (or fresh ginger in season), 1-6 oz peeled garlic cloves to suit your taste, zest and juice of 2 organic lemons, 1 tsp black pepper, 1 cup olive oil
Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you get the consistency you want. Add salt if you like and adjust quantities to your own taste. Store in glass jars topped with olive oil in the refrigerator.
The pesto made by our friend Linda is a simplified version of Carla’s Spice Paste. It has a beautiful pale yellow color and subtle flavor. I loved it so much I ate it by the spoonful, spread it on toast and tortillas, and put it in everything until it was gone.
Ingredients: roughly equal parts fresh turmeric rhizomes and peeled garlic cloves—let’s say 4 oz of each, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 cup olive or sunflower oil, sea salt, fresh lemon juice
Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to make a rough or smooth puree, as you wish. Add lemon juice and salt to taste.
Turmeric Pesto II
I ran out of Linda’s pesto very quickly, so I had to make my own. I didn’t have any fresh turmeric rhizomes yet, but I did have a big jar of pickled fresh turmeric from India. It is pretty much just shreds of fresh turmeric in a salty brine, so I gave it a try. It was delicious, but on the salty side, so I mellowed it out with roasted red pepper. The color is even more joyful.
Ingredients: 1/2 cup pickled fresh turmeric, 1/2 cup peeled garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 or 2 roasted red peppers (canned are fine)
Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to a rough or smooth puree. Enjoy!
Chershi are piquant condiments from the culinary traditions of the Jewish community of Tripoli, Libya. I learned this from Jerusalem a Cookbook, by Yotam Ottalenghi and Sami Tamimi. They made mention of a crushed pumpkin salad—chershi kara’a, which sounded like it could only be more delicious with an addition of turmeric pesto. Roasted winter squash chershi is traditional; I used wedges of roasted sweet potato.
Ingredients: 3 Tbs olive or sunflower oil, 1 large sweet potato ( 12 to 16 oz), 1 large white onion (1 1/2 cups finely chopped), 1 Tbs harissa, 2 Tbs turmeric pesto or spice paste, 1/2 tsp toasted and ground cumin seed, 1/2 tsp toasted and ground coriander seed, 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 1 cup chopped parsley leaves, salt
Peel the sweet potato and cut it into 3/4-inch wedges or chunks. Toss with 1 1/2 Tbs oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Spread on a baking sheet and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until crusty brown outside and tender inside. Turn halfway through. Heat the other 1 1/2 Tbs oil in a skillet and cook the onion over medium heat until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Scrape the onions into a bowl and stir in the harissa, turmeric pesto, cumin and caraway. Chop the roasted sweet potato into bite-size pieces and combine with the onion mixture. Add the parsley and lemon juice and toss to combine. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow the flavors to meld 1/2 hour or more before serving.
Turmeric Turkey Meatballs in Thai Curry Broth
Ingredients: 1 lb ground turkey or chicken (dark meat), 1/2 cup finely chopped onion, 1 large free-range egg, 2 Tbs chopped mint, 2 Tbs chopped cilantro, 2 Tbs grated fresh turmeric, 1 Tbs finely chopped garlic, 1/2 tsp freshly ground white or black pepper, 1 tsp toasted and ground cumin, 1 tsp toasted and ground coriander, 1 tsp salt, 2 Tbs sunflower or peanut oil for searing
Broth: 1/2 cup coconut milk, 2 tsp Thai curry paste, 2 thinly sliced shallots, 1 cup low-salt chicken broth, juice of 1 lime (about 1 1/2 Tbs), 2 tsp raw cane sugar, 2 tsp fish sauce, 1 cup grated carrot, fresh cilantro or mint leaves for garnish
Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl. Mix gently with your hands. Shape the mixture into about 16 balls. Heat 1 1/2 Tbs oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add half the meatballs to the pan and sear on all sides, about 4 minutes total. Remove to a plate and sear the second batch, adding oil if needed.
Use the same pan to make the broth. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the curry paste and cook 1 or 2 minutes. Add the shallots and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the lime juice, sugar, fish sauce and reduce to a simmer. Return the meatballs to the pan, cover, and cook over low heat 15 minutes, or until cooked through. Stir in the carrots and sprinkle the top with fresh herbs before serving.
The perfect condiment/salad to accompany meatballs, especially if you eat them with rice or wrapped in a tortilla. This is an adaptation of a Chris Schlesinger-John Willoughby recipe, “Sambal in the style of Java.” If you have a stash of turmeric pesto or spice paste, you can jump-start the dressing. Best eaten freshly made.
Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups finely sliced or shredded green cabbage, 1 1/2 cups grated or matchstick-cut carrots, 1/2 cup bean sprouts, 1 Tbs minced fresh turmeric, 1/4 cup toasted and chopped peanuts or cashews
Dressing: 1 Tbs minced ginger, 1 Tbs minced fresh turmeric, 1 Tbs minced fresh chile, 2 tsp minced garlic, 1 tsp shrimp paste or 2 tsp fish sauce, 1 1/2 Tbs toasted and cracked coriander seeds, 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, 2 Tbs palm sugar or Mexican cane sugar, 2 Tbs soy sauce, 1 Tbs pomegranate molasses, 1/4 cup peanut or sunflower oil
In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, carrots, and bean sprouts. Use a whisk or blender to combine all the dressing ingredients. Adjust the seasonings to balance the flavors—hot, sweet, salty, and sour. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and mix well. Allow to sit 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with minced turmeric and toasted nuts before serving.