Friday, July 16, 2010

The Sweet Smell of Turmeric

Of all the spices used in Indian cooking, turmeric surely must be the the most used. Even if nothing else is available, our food must have salt and turmeric added to it. Even so, I didn't recognize it when I first saw it. So used to dried and powdered turmeric am I that the rhizomes - not quite ginger, definitely not mango-ginger, initially puzzled me. Then the shopkeeper broke one and showed me - fresh haldi!

I brought it home, planted a few in a pot for the future (turmeric grows very easily and doesn't need too much sun) and only recently began to use the rest. Cooking with fresh turmeric requires a little more effort - it has to be washed, peeled, pounded before it can be used.

And so I began with a simple marinade of garlic, turmeric and salt for seafood. And discovered very soon that the fresh turmeric was completely different from the dried variety. As soon as it was pounded, a very clean, sweet smell filled the air and the grinding stone turned a mango yellow. This was definitely not the spice to be used with garlic or any other pungent flavour. It was a thing of mellowness and freshness - very different from the strong, almost disinfecting, deep yellow dried counterpart.

I felt that I would need to rethink all the recipes where I was planning to use it and began thinking about how our cooking has evolved to assume that one will often use dried spices and herbs. These recipes end up having stronger flavours and often, more than one spice (many times at least three or four) might be used in combination. But on those rare occasions, when one finds freshly harvested spices, a single spice will flavour the food wonderfully.

And so, if you don't mind spending a few extra moments, I urge you to try fresh haldi, and, if possible- do pound it yourself and breathe in the fresh, sweet aroma that really can't be described. And use it, just with salt in the dal or those baby potatoes - and taste the difference.

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