One of the world’s cheapest spices, in contrast to the very expensive saffron for which it’s often substituted, turmeric is used to add color — in fact, it stains everything it touches — but it does have its own distinct flavor: earthy, musky, and bitter.
More than 90 percent of the world’s supply of turmeric, a member of the ginger family, comes from India; Alleppey (darker, more delicate in flavor) and Madras (lighter, most common in curry powder) are the best grades. It’s also produced in China, Haiti, Indonesia, Jamaica, Malaysia, Pakistan, Peru, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
The rhizomes, which resemble the structure of ginger (“hands” and “fingers”), are sold fresh, but more commonly in the West, we buy it dried and ground. Stored in a glass jar or tightly sealed tin, turmeric will keep in the pantry for up to two years. It pairs well with a wide range of foods, including fish, cauliflower, squash, chicken, coconut, beef and lentils.
Do you think that, when Marco Polo discovered turmeric on his travels in China in the late 13th Century, he imagined that some day it would be used to make oh-so-yellow hot dog mustard?
Saag paneer — spicy spinach with cheese
Tart cheese (easy to make at home, as you can see in this great how-to video, or purchase from an Indian grocery) and spicy spinach combine in this classic recipe. If you can’t find paneer, use farmer cheese from the supermarket. Serves 6.
1 10-oz bag spinach, washed and trimmed
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp garam masala
Dried red chiles, to taste (1 for a mild dish)
1/4 cup water
3 Tbsp ghee or clarified butter
8 oz paneer or farmer cheese, cut into chunks
In a large pot, add first 7 ingredients; cover and cook over medium heat for 6-8 minutes, until spinach is completed wilted. Add contents of the pot, including all liquid, to the workbowl of a blender, and process to a smooth puree. Place in a serving bowl. In a frying pan, heat the ghee until it is very hot, and add the cheese. Cook, stirring constantly, until the cheese is lightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Add to the spinach, and serve hot.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Refrigerator zucchini pickles
Bread and butter pickles
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