Feel like you or your little one might be coming down with something? Sadly, this is the case all too often with school-going children, especially in our virus- harbouring, humid climate. Instead of repeatedly reaching out for those meds (which by the way, can wreak major havoc on gut health), why not give natural remedies a try? While they may seem like fads, there is plenty of research to support the efficacy of natural treatments…cue Manuka honey, ginger, garlic, zinc, olive leaf extract, a slew of vitamins (especially C, B complex and D) and our new best friend…Turmeric!
Turmeric? Yes, that’s right…this Indian kitchen staple, the yellowest of yellow spice, has recently found itself in the limelight as a miracle cure for a host of ailments. And while it seems to be “on trend”, what with everyone from Dr. Oz to Sir Michael Caine hailing its healing powers, Turmeric has been used in ancient Indian medicine (Ayurveda) and Traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years!
Turmeric has powerful medicinal properties, particularly as an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, which makes it an excellent ingredient, not just in curries but in a more potent forms via supplements and skin creams (here’s a great article on Turmeric’s beauty benefits!).
Turmeric is essentially the root of a plant that is part of the ginger family. Fresh turmeric, while not always easy to come by, is an excellent addition to soups and stews. The more common dried turmeric spice is derived from the same fresh turmeric roots via the process of boiling the roots, then drying in hot ovens and grinding into the beautiful yellow-gold, sunny spice.
The yellow colour of Turmeric actually comes from an active ingredient called ‘Curcumin’. Warning: Turmeric powder can stain your fingers, nails, clothes and countertops so handle with care! All curries and many, many other Indian dishes are packed with the goodness of turmeric. Turmeric is a primary ingredient in curry powder (which is as Indian as chicken tikka masala, but we’ll save that discussion for another day!).
It’s the curcumin in Turmeric, new research is revealing, that has all the magic powers. According to a recent study, curcumin has the ability to attack toxic cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed. In addition to the treatment of cancer, studies have shown turmeric/curcumin is effective in the prevention and potential treatment of Alzheimer’s, Arthritis, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.
Wow! Definitely no doubt that Turmeric is good for you! So how can we enjoy more of this healthy and healing spice? Well, you could definitely enjoy those finger-licking curries much more frequently (yay!), but aim to make healthier, less-greasy curries at home otherwise you’ll have other issues you’ll be potentially dealing with! (Lots of great and not so greasy curry recipes can be found in my book Cooking with Indian Spicebox!)
Besides curry, there are lots of other ways to enjoy Turmeric in both dried and fresh form. Try stirring a teaspoon of turmeric powder (or freshly grated turmeric root) into hot milk with honey for a soothing hot drink, or add chopped chunks of fresh turmeric to chicken soup or stew.
Add a teaspoon of turmeric to rice (add at the beginning, to the water, before boiling the rice) for a beautiful golden plate of steaming rice. And my favourite, the comforting, super healthy and humble Daal (lentil soup), which can be slurped straight from a bowl like soup, or eaten with boiled basmati rice, a traditional favourite.
Hopefully by now, you have a newfound respect for Turmeric…the spice I always refer to as the sunny, happy, healthy spice. It also always makes me think of the Coldplay song ‘Yellow’. Look at the stars, Look how they shine for you, And everything you do, Yeah they were all yellow…”
Everyday Daal (Serves 4)
1 cup (200 g) lentils (any kind)
4–6 cups (1 to 1.5 litres) water
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 whole black cardamom pod (also known as badi elaichi), optional
1 green chili, finely sliced or used whole
For the tadka:
1 tablespoon (15 ml) ghee (if you don’t have ghee, use any other oil that can withstand high heat)
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1⁄2 teaspoon red chili powder
1. Fill a bowl with water to rinse the lentils, drain and repeat, or put the lentils in a large sieve and rinse thoroughly under running water.
2. Put the lentils, 4 cups of water, salt, turmeric, ginger, black cardamom, and green chili into a pressure cooker, and cook for two whistles (or follow manufacturer’s recommendations for cooking lentils and other dried legumes). If you don’t have a pressure cooker, boil the above ingredients in 6 cups of water and stir occasionally for 25 minutes, or until the lentils are fully cooked (they should be very soft to the touch).
3. If using a pressure cooker, once you’ve heard two whistles, turn off the heat and let the cooker cool down for 10 minutes, or until you can remove the lid easily.
4. Continue simmering over low heat, stirring so that the lentils don’t stick to the bottom and burn. You may add a little water if the daal is too thick. Adjust the salt to taste. I like to mash my lentils a little with the back of a wooden spoon.
5. While the daal continues to simmer, prepare the tadka. In a small saucepan or frying pan, add the ghee and heat for 20 to 30 seconds on a high flame. Add the cumin seeds and chili powder. Let the cumin seeds sizzle and brown for 5 to 10 seconds (you should be able to smell the cumin!), then turn off the heat. The seeds can burn quite quickly, so be sure to take the pan off the heat as soon as they start to brown.
6. Immediately add the tadka to the lentils… the daal will now sizzle and sing with joy! Bring the daal to a final boil, and then turn off the heat. Stir and enjoy with a bowl of steaming rice.