This week, an ode to turmeric, I’ve become somewhat obsessed by the Golden Spice as turmeric is referred to in India and other Southeast Asian countries.
The vibrant orange spice comes in both fresh and powder form, has a myriad of culinary and medicinal uses and is an essential component in many religious ceremonies and rituals.
Turmeric gives curry powders and many mustards their distinctive colour. It’s also used as a preservative.
Recently, I’ve been digging deeper into the growing body of research relating to its health giving properties.
Turmeric has been revered in India for over 4,000 years and is a mainstay of the Ayurveda as well as traditional Chinese medicine.
Its health benefits are being extensively studied by scientists. Turmeric may be one of the most potent anti-inflammatory compounds known to humanity. Preliminary evidence suggests that it reduces the risk of just about every major chronic condition.
How about that?
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family, the culinary and medicinal part of the plant is the rhizome that grows underground.  Think ginger root but skinnier and bright orange inside with a slightly bitter, pungent taste.  In India, the fresh leaves are used to wrap fresh fish before cooking

You can grow it yourself, but fresh turmeric is widely available nowadays, maybe not in your local Circle K but at good supermarkets, health food shops and some Farmers Markets (see seasonal journal).
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric acts as an antioxidant and appears to have powerful disease fighting properties.
A 2021 Meta-analysis found curcumin effective in reducing inflammation and lessening pain in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. Research also indicates that turmeric protects against several gastrointestinal diseases and acid reflux. It offers great promise in treating Type 2 diabetes. Helps lower blood sugar, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood and last, but not least a growing body of research indicates that curcumin inhibits cellular growth in several cancers.
I am not a medic, but all of that is certainly enough to convince me that adding a little turmeric to my diet particularly in fresh organic form could be a good idea.

Turmeric powder is even more accessible, but a word of caution, turmeric spice from Bangladesh and India sometimes contains lead chromate which enhances the spices appearance making it a more vibrant shade of orangey yellow. Lead is a dangerous poison and there is no safe level. So once again, I stress buy organic when you can.
A final thought worth knowing.
When we add black pepper to dishes that include turmeric, our systems can absorb up to 20 times more curcumin. While curcumin isn’t very water soluble, eating it with good fat or in combination with coconut milk, vegetable oil or ghee as in traditional Indian dishes also enhances the absorption.
A few of my favourite recipes to tempt you to get started…

Parsnip Gratin with Turmeric and Cumin

A super way to enjoy your parsnips in this golden, lightly spiced gratin.  We particularly enjoy it with a haunch of venison or roast goose.  The cooking time can be speeded up by heating the cream and spices before adding to the gratin.

Serves 6-8

1.1kg parsnips

800g potato

flaky salt and freshly ground pepper

10g butter for greasing dish

600ml cream

½ tsp turmeric

½ tsp toasted and ground cumin

¼ tsp of cayenne

75g freshly grated Parmesan

20.5cm x 31cm ovenproof gratin dish

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

Scrub the parsnips and potatoes. Peel, top and tail the parsnips and halve across the middle, cut into 7.5cm lengths. Peel the potatoes. Using a mandolin with a guard, slice the parsnips and potato into 5mm slices.

Butter the gratin dish, arrange a layer of parsnips on the base, lightly season. Add a layer of potato followed by another layer of parsnip, then another layer of potato, finishing with a layer of parsnip.  Season lightly between each layer otherwise the gratin will be bland.

Whisk together the cream, turmeric, cumin and cayenne in a bowl, season with salt and pepper. Pour the cream mixture over the top and sprinkle with the freshly grated Parmesan. Put the gratin into the preheated oven and bake uncovered for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes when the gratin is well coloured, lay a sheet of parchment paper loosely on top to prevent further browning if needed.

Bake for another 30 minutes until fully cooked. Check with a skewer, there should be no resistance from the vegetables.

Serve as a vegetable or a supper dish with a salad of organic leaves.

Rory O’Connell’s Chicken with Red Lentils, Turmeric, Chilli and Coriander

This flavoursome dish can be prepared ahead of time and gently reheated when needed. I use the brown meat from chicken legs, but white meat from the breasts can also be used with the cooking time reduced to allow for the quicker cooking white meat.

Serve with boiled basmati rice and a green vegetable such as peas, beans, spinach or sprouting broccoli. I serve a bowl of natural un-sweetened yoghurt with a little mint chopped through and a chutney such as tomato or apple.

Crisp mini poppadums complete the picture.

Serves 6

250g red split lentils

75g finely chopped onion

1 hot green chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced

2 tsp of cumin seeds, toasted and ground

1 level tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger

1.5 litres water

1.35kg skinned chicken legs (drumsticks and thighs)

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp whole cumin seeds

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

2 tbsp lemon juice or to taste

¼ tsp garam masala

2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

Placed the lentils, onion, chilli, ground cumin, turmeric, half of the ginger and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Place a lid on top, very slightly ajar, and cook at a bare simmer for 45 minutes. Add the chicken and a good pinch of salt and return to a simmer. Cover as before and cook for a further 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked. Keep an eye on what is happening in the saucepan as it may be necessary to stir with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon every now and then.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan and when hot add the cumin seeds. They will sizzle straight away so be ready to add the remaining ginger and garlic. Cook until the garlic turns golden brown. Add the cayenne and swirl to mix and immediately add the contents of the frying pan to the chicken and lentils.

Now add the lemon juice and garam masala, stir and cook at a simmer for another 5 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning. Scatter the coriander over the dish just before serving.

Eloise and Annabel’s Magic Turmeric Sauce

This gem of a recipe was given to me by Annabel Partridge and Eloise Schwerdt.

Serve with roasted vegetables, beetroot, aubergine, paneer, tofu, quail or beef, monkfish or mackerel.

It may well become your favourite standby sauce.

Serves 20

200g ripe cherry tomatoes (16 approx.)

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tsp red wine vinegar

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp coriander seeds

2 tsp cumin seeds

2 cloves of garlic

250g crème fraiche

1 ½ tsp turmeric

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1-2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp chopped dill

1 tbsp chopped mint

Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5.

Put the tomatoes in a low sided roasting tin, season with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with the red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Toss gently to coat and roast in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until soft and slightly caramelised.

Toast the coriander and cumin seeds together in a pan over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until they begin to smell spicy. Pound the toasted spices in a pestle and mortar.  Remove half from the pestle and mortar.  Add a couple of cloves of garlic and some salt to the toasted seeds remaining in the pestle and mortar. Pound half the cooled roasted tomatoes, add the garlic, pound again then add the crème fraîche or yoghurt and the turmeric.  Add the extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon or two of Dijon mustard and the honey.  Add the chopped dill and mint.  Stir the rest of the tomatoes and juices, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Taste and adjust the balance of flavours to your taste (you may need to add the remainder of the spices).

Keralan Pan Grilled Fish with Turmeric and Freshly Cracked Pepper

In Kerala in south India, the spanking fresh fish is often wrapped in fresh turmeric leaves and barbecued or just grilled simply after the fillet has been dipped in flour seasoned with salt, turmeric and freshly cracked black pepper. The latter helps the body to absorb more of the curcumin from the turmeric.

Almost any fish works in this recipe – John Dory, mackerel, grey sea mullet, cod, sea bass, haddock, brill, turbot – provided it is absolutely fresh.

Serves 6 

6 x 175g pieces of very fresh fish fillets, skinned.

75g plain white flour

1 tsp ground turmeric 

½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper 

¼ tsp freshly ground sea salt

50g soft butter


lemon segments

sprigs of flat parsley or fresh coriander

Heat the pan grill. Dry the fish fillets well. Mix the flour, turmeric, freshly cracked pepper and salt well together on a plate.

Just before cooking but not earlier, dip the fish fillets in the seasoned flour. Pat the floured fillets between the palms of your hands to shake off the excess, then spread a little soft butter evenly over the entire surface of one side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly.

When the pan grill is hot but not smoking, place the fish fillet’s butter side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as it touches the pan. Reduce the heat slightly and allow to cook for 4 or 5 minutes (time depends on the thickness of the fish). Turn over and cook on the other side until slightly crisp and golden.

Serve on hot plates with a segment of lemon and a little fresh herb garnish. 


Be sure to wash and dry the grill-pan between batches. 

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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