“Drink a cup of hot water with half a spoon of honey and quarter spoon of turmeric. It’s the only way,” one said. “Simmer a quarter-spoon of turmeric and pinch of black pepper in half a cup of milk. Drink it while it’s warm. Believe me, it works,” another insisted.
Develop a dry, wheezing cough in winter and suddenly you will find friends and family lining up to offer a full range of desi totkas to ward off the unwelcome intruder. While the remedies vary, they all seem to have one ingredient in common: turmeric or haldi.
The brightly-coloured spice that one grew up seeing stirred in a pot along with other spices as a foundation for almost every saalan and, of course, that perennial favourite comfort food, aloo ki tahiri. Now to be told to drink it straight from a cup? Queasy gulps inducing to say the least.
However, a little bit of research showed that the healing power of turmeric has long been recognised by traditional medicine. The ancient Chinese, Persians and Indians valued its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and antioxidant properties.
Got a cut or a burn? Treat it by sprinkling turmeric powder or spreading turmeric and water paste on the affected area. Liver related problems? Turmeric is a natural detoxifier. Suffer from bad digestion? Need to reduce cholesterol? Inhibit colon cancer or relieve arthritis? Consider adding a big pinch of it to your yoghurt, oatmeal, omelette or even salad.
“Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-coloured into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.” — The Mistress of Spices
Thanks to its subtle taste, this yellow spice can be added to almost any food without much altering the overall flavour.
Black pepper is said to help better absorb the nutrients found in turmeric: which explains my grandfather’s daily cup of chicken broth, tinted pale yellow by turmeric and littered with a few black peppercorns. Sometimes a slice or two of ginger also found its way into this winter ritual.
But watch out for the brilliant tint! While its taste may be subtle, its colour is anything but mellow. Never use a wet cloth to wipe off the dry powder — just dust it off. Water and turmeric powder are a dangerous mix and the stain that it produces can be difficult to get rid of. Interestingly, turmeric is sometimes called the “poor man’s saffron” due to this same charming reddish-yellow tinge.
Now there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Hair loss, heart burn, diarrhoea, nausea … the list can go on. So better to be moderate than go overboard and suffer the consequences. People with gallstones or bleeding disorders, and those taking medication for diabetes should consult their doctor before taking daily doses of turmeric.
A dry, wheezing cough though can safely be cured: just remember to hold your nose when gulping down the yellow peppery ‘medicine’.
2 cups of milk (or coconut milk) 1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp raw honey or maple syrup
Pinch of black pepper
Small piece of peeled ginger
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Blend all ingredients in a high speed blender until smooth. Pour into a small sauce pan and heat for three to five minutes over medium heat until hot but not boiling. Drink immediately.
Tunisian turmeric soup
2 tbsps olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
½ cup red lentils
½ kilo tomatoes, chopped
¼ tsp saffron strands, soaked in half cup boiling water
5½ cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup boiled chickpeas
1 ounce thin pasta, broken into pieces
4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Cook the onion and celery for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add the zucchini, lentils and tomatoes and stir to combine. Add the saffron liquid and stock and bring to the boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chickpeas, pasta, coriander, parsley and lemon juice and cook, covered, for five minutes.
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped onions
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
1 cup rice
2 tsp turmeric
1½ cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
Hot sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Method In a heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, melt the butter and add the olive oil. Add onions and garlic and cook until wilted. Add rice and turmeric. Stir to coat.
Add broth, bay leaf, thyme, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Blend well, bring to a boil and simmer for 17 minutes. Uncover and stir with a fork. Remove bay leaf.