Photo: Johnny Autry
Ground turmeric has more of a color impact than a flavor one, though it does convey subtly earthy and slightly musty notes.
While working on my recently released Burma cookbook, I developed a turmeric habit: I add a pinch of it to cooking oil before adding aromatics such as garlic or onions. My friends are used to seeing me use it this way, or stirring it into hot lentils, but they were surprised when I tossed it into hot oil before cooking an omelet. I guess it’s because omelets come from a classic French tradition, in which turmeric plays no role. But in fact people all over the world make omelets, and many cooks in India and Nepal use turmeric with their egg dishes.
If you find fresh turmeric, you’ll see that it’s a rhizome, like ginger—though it’s smaller, about the size of a baby finger, with a tawny skin and a bright orange, crisp interior. But you’ll most often find it dried and ground to a bright golden powder that can stain hands and clothing. It’s a common misunderstanding that turmeric adds only color; in fact it has a subtle earthy flavor. It is an essential ingredient in many parts of the Indian subcontinent, as well as in Burma, and it’s used in many Indian spice blends, most notably curry powders.
There’s a little more to turmeric, too. It’s an anti-inflammatory, cancer researchers tell us, and antibacterial. I like the thought that a pinch of health is going into each dish I add it to, and the hint of color is also welcome.