What do curry, mustard, butter and cheese have in common? Turmeric, the root of a tropical plant that is unmistakable for its bright yellow-orange color. Used in cooking for thousands of years, fresh turmeric is in season now. It looks like a miniature of its relative ginger, but its knobby root is distinguishable by its bright color. When not used fresh, turmeric is boiled, dried in hot ovens and then ground into a powder, the usual way we buy it on the spice shelf.
Hawaiians call turmeric olena, and it has been used since ancient times as a spice and dye in foods, to color tapa and as a medicine for ear aches and lung trouble. In Europe, turmeric was known as Indian saffron, an alternative to the more expensive saffron. Turmeric has been used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments. Turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin, has antioxidant properties and is said to have anti-inflammatory properties.Turmeric has a bitter, pungent flavor. Try this recipe that uses turmeric.
Lemon Grass Tofu
20 ounces firm tofu
2 tablespoons finely minced lemon grass
2 tablespoons finely minced shallot
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh turmeric or 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 to 2 red chili peppers, finely minced
2 tablespoons oil
1/4 cup finely shredded Thai basil leaves
1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts
Drain tofu well and cut into 1-inch cubes. Place cubes on paper towels and extract as much moisture as possible.
In bowl, combine lemon grass, shallot, garlic, fish sauce, sugar, tumeric and chili pepper to make marinade. Add the tofu and coat with marinade; let stand for an hour.
Heat skillet (nonstick or cast iron is best) and add oil. When hot, add tofu and pan fry until golden brown. Turn cubes and continue to fry until all sides are brown.
Transfer to serving dish. Sprinkle with Thai basil and peanuts and toss. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 4 to 6.
Nutritional information unavailable.
Hawaii food writer Joan Namkoong offers a weekly tidbit on fresh seasonal products, many of them locally grown. Look for "Fresh Tips" every Wednesday in the Star-Advertiser.