You might not know it, but that little golden vial of the most visible spice in your collection, turmeric, is key to making soups, chicken marinades, curries and rice even more delicious. Its bitter scent and pungent flavor belie its ability to add depth, flavor and gorgeous color to your cooking.
The root of a tropical plant related to ginger used in cooking since 600 B.C., the spice has taken a star turn on the wellness front of late. Though there is research to support its anti-inflammatory properties, it is not a miracle spice. And—recent trendiness aside—it’s been beloved in India for many centuries, where it is often spun into a milky tea called haldi doodh.
Though native to the East, turmeric is also a primary ingredient in Western staples such as American mustard, giving it that neon glow. Among those who love cooking with it, stains are a primary concern, for good reason: Nothing kicks around as long (nor as prominently). Use it carefully, be aware of where it’s spilled, and clean it up (or scrub it off) quickly. (To get rid of it, smart cooks turn to white vinegar, baking soda, and even, cautiously, bleach.)
Turmeric often joins a recipe at the aromatics stage, lending color and flavor to onions, garlic, and ginger, creating a savory base to infuse the rest of the dish. Sometimes fried, and sometimes simmered, it’s an inimitable flavor. Here are a few of our favorite recipes showcasing it.
Yogurt, cumin, turmeric, paprika, saffron and cinnamon mingle together in a marinade for these excellent chicken skewers. They join spears of asparagus flavored with preserved lemon on a single baking sheet, where they cook up in a flash. We love both how quickly this dish comes together and how little mess it makes.
The spice makes a cameo in the golden cashew-cilantro rice served alongside this dal, a powerfully flavorful red lentil dish beloved in India. Seasonal acorn squash folded into the dal itself makes this a smart choice for a warming winter supper.
You’ll often see turmeric alongside coriander and cumin, as in these curry-inspired roasted beets. Plan for this side dish in advance, as it bakes for a little more than an hour, but know that the hands-on time of slicking the beets with oil and dredging them in delicious spices takes no time at all. This is a fabulous side dish to serve with nearly any Indian entrée.
A key player in curries, the golden spice lends its Midas touch to a delicate mix of onions, garlic, chiles, ginger, cumin, coriander and mustard seeds in this easy slow-cooker fish curry. If you accidentally make your curry hotter than you can handle, know that the cream from the top of a can of unsweetened coconut milk is often just the thing to lighten the heat. Coconut and turmeric are like chocolate and vanilla—ideal foils for one another.
Garam masala, a classic mix of Indian spices, adds depth to this lovely coconut rice decked out with Tuscan kale and cashews. It’s just the thing to have kicking around the refrigerator to deck out with a molten fried egg, leftover chicken or fish. Try not to skip the finishing touches of lemon and pomegranate seeds; they add welcome brightness.
Like we said, turmeric has never met a can of coconut milk it didn’t like, and this curry is no exception. Built in a slow cooker so you can set it and forget it, this recipe features lentils and green beans. Add crunch and freshness with toasted coconut flakes and cilantro, and marvel at just how good curry can be.
Michelin-starred chef Vikas Khanna’s genius tomato-turmeric curry sauce is the secret to this chicken with naan. Homemade naan is much easier than you’d suspect, and tastier than microwaving pre-made naan from the freezer. The chicken portion of this dish is perhaps the ideal recipe for the busy parent. Simply heat chopped chicken in the sauce, garnishing with chopped cilantro. Indian takeout can get expensive; this is arguably just as good, if not better, and you don’t have to wait.