Turmeric. Everyone’s favourite buzzword/food trend/ superfood of 2017. While you may think I’m a bit late to the game here (‘It’s 2018 dahling. We’re all drinking hibiscus tea now.’’) I urge you not to throw this golden delight to the wayside now that it’s not the au-fait ingredient everyones talking about, and keep turmeric as a staple in your spice cupboard.
Growing up in a British-Punjabi family, haldi (turmeric) has long been in my life. It’s the answer to healing any ailment you might have across South Asia. Trendy ‘golden milk’ has historically gone by the name haldi doodh (warm milk, turmeric and sugar or honey, if you’re lucky!) in our culture, and is given to young and old, weak and strong, healthy and not-so-much across the subcontinent, whether you like it or not! As a child I was not a fan at all, and dreaded coming home from school with a sore throat, the remedy thrust under my nose being a mug of hot water, salt and turmeric to gargle. The memory of that flavour still makes me shudder to this day, but it works!
Centuries of people using this spice as a natural remedy haven’t been wrong. Ayurveda teaches us that turmeric promotes happiness and wellbeing. The practice encourages us to use turmeric little and often in cooking to boost immunity and help aid digestion, and topically on wounds to help heal with its anti-inflammatory and bacteria-zapping properties. Medical research attributes some of these qualities to curcumin, the element which gives turmeric its golden hue. Cue the women in ancient generations of my family shaking their fists from the afterlife - “I told you so beta, you should always listen to your auntieji!”
Although an omnipresent spice in the vast majority of Indian cooking, I’ve chosen to share a dish that is a great way of showcasing turmeric’s simple, earthy flavour and 24 carat gold colour as an introductory recipe to this spice.
Miso Turmeric Noodle Soup
Noodle soups are my favourite go-to after work dinner - they’re quick, and feel warming and immune-boosting in winter, and hydrating and light in summer. I love how all the different textures and flavours come together in one bowl - silky noodles, crunchy veg, and a hot, spicy broth. It’s fun to slurp the noodles from the enriching broth too, just don’t wear a white t-shirt!
Feel free to adjust spice levels to your taste, and veg to whatever’s in season (or in my case, whatever’s lurking in the veg drawer). It’s great finished with a halved soft boiled egg on top too, or cubes of tofu added with the veg (so they get a chance to poach and soak up some of the flavoursome broth). The most important thing in this recipe is ensuring the turmeric and aromatics are cooked properly - I cannot stress enough how vital this is. Every Indian mother will drill this into you before leaving home (thanks Mum!) and is so often missed from recipe books and blogs. I’ve gone into detail on this in the instructions which looks more complicated than it is - I promise you it’s really easy and SO worth it!
6-8 garlic cloves, crushed
Thumb fresh ginger, grated
Chilli (I’m a heat fiend so I used 2 green rocket chillies, you can use dried chilli flakes, a different type of fresh chilli, or none at all)
Heaped teaspoon ground turmeric
Vegetables (Use whatever you have, a mixture of hardy and more delicate veg works best)
2-3 tablespoons aka red miso (use vegetable stock or even a touch of Marmite if you can’t find miso)
Noodles, cooked (My personal preference is flat rice noodles which I think suit the pureness of the broth)
Spring onion, finely sliced
Handful fresh coriander, chopped
Juice of half a lemon or lime
In a medium sized pan, heat a glug of oil (I use olive, but feel free to use your preferred cooking oil) over a low heat. Just before it gets hot, add the ginger, garlic and chilli with a pinch of salt. Cooking over a low heat and with salt both gives you more control of how much these aromatics are cooked (ie golden brown not burnt) and stops them sticking to the pan.
Open your turmeric and give it a good sniff. Take a moment to remember this smell. This bitter, dusty, almost unpleasant scent is raw turmeric and is what your broth (and anything you make using this spice) will taste of if not cooked off properly.
When the ginger and garlic are beginning to brown, remove the pan from the heat for a minute and add the turmeric and a drizzle of oil. Mix well and return to the heat. The aromatics and turmeric need different cooking times at this sautéing stage, and this method means they all get the right amount of love and attention that they deserve!
Pay close attention to the smells coming from your pan. There will be a moment where that raw bitterness will go, your nose will fill with a warming earthiness, and the oil will have turned a luminous yellow. Voila, you have successfully cooked off your turmeric!
Add boiling water, measuring quantity by using the bowls you’re eating out of, just remember to add about half a portion more to allow for any liquid that evaporates. Adjust to a medium heat and simmer with the lid on for 10-15 minutes to allow the liquid to take on the flavours already in the pan. If you’re using stock cubes rather than miso paste, add this now (quantity according to packet instructions).
It’s time to add the vegetables. You want to poach whatever veg you’re using until they’re just done. The nourishing broth just isn’t the same if your veg are slimy, over cooked and rid of their nutrition, so add the hardier veg (in my case broccoli and mushrooms) first, then after a few minutes the softer veg that just needs a short time in the broth (kale, cavolo nero, pak choi and cherry tomatoes).
If you’re using miso paste, add this now and mix in well.
Once you’re happy all the vegetables are cooked, turn the heat off and stir in the lemon or lime juice and half the coriander. The citrus juice adds a bright, zinginess to the more earthy turmeric and miso flavours, giving balance. Add salt to taste.
Divide the noodles into bowls. First add the vegetables on top, then ladle the broth over them.
Sprinkle with the remaining coriander and spring onion, and serve.
Want some more? Here’s some other uses for turmeric
Face mask - it pains me that most South Asian natural beauty blogs promote turmeric and gram (chickpea) flour face masks as ‘skin-lightening miracle cures.’ While I doubt this is true, this combination does a great job at exfoliating and giving you soft, glowy skin - so much so that Indian bride-to-be’s are covered in the stuff the night before their wedding! Adding a drop of almond oil makes this a great moisturising mask too if you suffer from dry skin.
Cold and flu cure - boil a slice of fresh ginger in a pan with some water and half a teaspoon of turmeric. Once boiling, remove from the heat and add a squeeze of fresh lemon and some honey. The turmeric and ginger elevate this from a soothing drink, to one that will also boost your immune system, settle your stomach and kill the germs in your throat. Add some fresh chilli if you’re feeling brave to help clear your nose too!
Natural dye - anyone that’s ever spilled anything on themselves while eating Indian food learns one thing - it’s not going anywhere! Unfortunately for my wardrobe this is the extent of my experience dying fabric with turmeric, but there are lots of tutorials online on how to use this bright and environmentally friendly dye.
Ruby (@rubydhalay) is a foodie who is passionate about finding pleasure and nourishment in food, exploring an holistic approach to cooking and eating.
Every month she'll be taking culinary inspiration from her roots and focussing on a different spice - talking about flavour, provenance, health and wellbeing, and most importantly how to get the most out of them in your cooking