Turmeric – Bring it back this Winter!

Personally, I think turmeric is one of the most versatile spices in the cupboard. Ground turmeric powder, which most of us have in our homes, is made from taking the rhizomes (the stem/ root) of the turmeric plant, boiling them for 45 minutes then drying in a very hot oven until they are able to be ground up into that familiar sunshine orange powder. The turmeric plant is part of the ginger family.

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Turmeric From The Market. Varkala, Kerala.

Before it was used for culinary purposes it was used as a dye and medicinally in Ayurvedic treatments. Research found that it has ‘been used medicinally for over 4,500 years.

Analyses of pots discovered near New Delhi uncovered residue from turmeric, ginger and garlic that dates back as early as 2500 BCE. It was around 500 BCE that turmeric emerged as an important part of Ayurvedic medicine.’

http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/turmeric-history/

I came across this when I was first working in India. I came into the kitchen with a terrible cold one morning and one of the Indian chefs insisted that I drunk his concoction that he made in a saucepan three times a day. He boiled water together with a few tablespoons of turmeric and a handful of basil leaves. It was really quite a disgusting drink but under strict instruction I continued his prescription. Anyway, I think it worked – try it for yourself this winter. Turmeric is said to be anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-bacterial and anti-viral!

It was first used as a dye to colour the beautiful orange robes of the Buddhist monks and saris in India. It has since been used as a cheaper alternative to saffron. Furthermore, ‘turmeric has an important place in Indian weddings. Turmeric paste is applied to the bride and the groom as part of the haldi ceremony just before the wedding to give them fresh glowing skins and to ward off the evil eye.’

http://www.medindia.net/alternativemedicine/turmeric-powder.asp#ixzz3ru9t48pr

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Turmeric on The Beach. Varkala, Kerala.

In cooking, turmeric is used for flavour and also preserving. When preparing fish for Indian dishes you often start with marinating the fish in salt and turmeric before keeping it in the fridge overnight. It makes fish last so much longer and gives it a beautiful colour. It also protects fish from sunlight.

Indians tend to add turmeric to almost anything that they think needs to be bright orange. If in doubt chuck some more in! – I’ve found turmeric on the labels of sports drinks, biscuits and ice cream. Pakoras are a delicious Indian deep fried hot appetiser. Vegetables are dipped in a batter of corn flour, flour, water and turmeric. When deep-fried these little bundles of pieces of vegetables are bright orange. They are served with either a peanut dipping sauce or coriander chutney. I think they are great with tzatziki. I’ll put up a recipe for some mixed vegetable ones shorty.

For a beautiful addition to your meat and two veg dinner (if that’s on the menu) –toss together small florets of cauliflower with some vegetable oil, salt, cumin seeds and turmeric. They will brighten up any dish scattered around the plate.

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Spices In The Market. Varkala, Kerala.

Fun Fact – 1 tablespoon of turmeric is 24 calories! – Who’s counting!

It’s rich in fibre, iron, potassium and magnesium and perfect to boost immunity in the winter months. This is because of the main ingredient, curcumin.

Although not the easiest to find in the UK, raw turmeric root can be eaten raw, chopped up finely in salads. It adds a peppery flavour.

Anyway, as the coldness creeps in why not try and add some turmeric into your diet.

 

It’s been keeping India full of sunshine since 2500 BCE!

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Coconut Oil – Why’s everyone so nuts about it?

FUN FACT ABOUT THE COCONUT – The scientific name for coconut is Cocos nucifera. Early Spanish explorers called it coco, which means “monkey face” because the three indentations (eyes) on the hairy nut resembles the head and face of a monkey. Nucifera means “nut-bearing.”

In England you can’t go anywhere without hearing about coconut oil. We’re told to cook with it, put it in our hair, on our skin, and to drink it! It’s used a lot in health / vegan recipes as a binder when ingredients such as butter or egg have had to be admitted. It’s also seen as a healthier alternative to most cooking oils for pan-frying, especially as it has a high smoke point making it perfect for stir-fries.

It has become quite the fad with health food cooks and eaters, however the main problem is that this is not a cheap ingredient in the UK. Coconut oil, once overlooked in the supermarket, has now had its price tag multiplied. It’s now sold as a ‘new’ health product with implications that it’s going to change your life!

However, the oldest discoveries of the coconut are fossils that date back 55 million years ago, found in India and Australia. Furthermore, ‘coconut oil is of special interest because it possesses healing properties far beyond that of any other dietary oil and is extensively used in traditional medicine among Asian and Pacific populations. Pacific Islanders have long considered coconut oil to be the cure for all illness.’

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The Coconut Boss. Varkala, Kerala.

Personally I am quite sold on it. Slightly behind, I first discovered it while being massaged with it two years ago in India. I started using it as moisturiser while living there. Famously Indian women use it to keep their plait of shiny black hair looking so luscious. Over there, this product is being sold in 1 litre bottles for no more than a pound, this same amount sold in two smaller pots is an extortionate £30 at Holland and Barratt and probably more at Whole Foods! Everyones going crazy for it – a friend of mine gargles it in around her mouth for 10 minutes a day, she ensures me it will make her teeth whiter! You can only afford that if you live in India (it’s also really unpleasant to do). Also – fun fact – when used as sunbathing oil it apparently has a natural SPF of 6 – super handy!? There are claims it’s good for heart disease, seizures and promotes weight loss etc.

 

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Don’t mess with the coconut man. Varkala, Kerala.

‘Once mistakenly believed to be unhealthy because of its high saturated fat content, it is now known that the fat in coconut oil is a unique and different from most all other fats and possesses many health giving properties.’

http://www.coconutresearchcenter.org/

But more interestingly ….

To cook with – As a really simple way of bringing coconut oil into your diet I would recommend using it firstly, when roasting any vegetables for a more interesting flavour. I once had kale roasted in the oven in coconut oil with sesame seeds until crisp, then finished off with cooked brown rice and soy – delicious. Secondly, try it as an alternative to butter in baking – I have tried with great success. Thirdly, try using it instead of your normal veg oil. You can get coconut oil with reduced flavour so that your dish isn’t smothered by it!

The strangest / most unusual uses that I’ve come across online are –

  1. Using it with apple cider as a natural treatment for lice – which works apparently.
  2. By itself as a natural deodorant – not sure about that one!
  3. Evidence suggests that regular ingestion of coconut oil can help prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s.
  4. As a natural lubricant that won’t disturb ‘vaginal flora’ – I’ll let you be the judge of that!
  5. It can be rubbed on the scalp to stimulate hair growth.

Anyway, give it a go and let me know how it goes (if you can afford it in England)!

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Behind the coconut stall – A hard days work!

Welcome to India -The Goan Sausage

For the following weeks I am going to be researching the history of food in India. I want to look at the vast scope of diets across India, often to do with availability and / or religion. For instance, in the religious faith of Hinduism the cow is worshipped and therefore beef is strictly prohibited. High up in the north of India in Muslim states, such as Srinagar, pork isn’t available. In the south of India, where the majority of the people are Christians, beef and pork are on the menu. The ingredient found in the south that I am particularly fascinated by is the Goan sausage.

The History of the Goan Sausage

Some could call it an early ‘food fusion’ between India and Portugal (before it was a la mode!) The Portuguese arrived on India’s West coast in 1498.

Many ingredients were introduced into India in the holds of Portuguese ships such as chillies, coriander, potatoes, tomatoes, cashews, aubergines, and pumpkins.

Inspired by chorizo, Goan sausage was welcomed on the Christian Goan shores. Cured sausages were perfect, at this time, as they could keep for up to 6 months. This was ideal for the sailors on the trade routes at sea. During the monsoon, when fish were harder to come by, pork offered an alternative source of protein.

Making Goan Sausage

In ‘The Art of making Goan Sausages’ I learnt that ‘the meat in the sausage is cured using a combination of Saltpetre or Potassium nitrate common salt.  The saltpetre decomposes into nitric oxide, which inhibits growth of bacteria and other harmful organisms. Goan sausages are spiced with cumin, cinnamon, black pepper, turmeric, ginger, garlic and Goan vinegar. They are smoked by burning grass below and then dried in hot sun.’

Goan Sausage

In Goa

I have tried a different type of Goan sausage dish every day whilst being here for the last four days. The Goan sausage is best described as being similar to the Portuguese chorizo.

Goan Sausage Pao – Crumbled Goan sausage, in a burger-type bun with sweet sliced red onions. Perhaps more suited for a night snack after a few Kingfisher beers.

The Dunes, Mandrem, Goa

Goan Sausage Pulao – Fried rice with small pieces of Goan sausage mixed through with whole cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, star anise and bay leaves. A heady mixture of strong spices that sung out, enhancing the plain rice and matching the strong flavour of the sausage. The huge mound of it that arrived at the table was devoured instantly.

Sea Creek, Ashvem, Goa

Goan Pork Sausage Chilli Fry – A stir-fry with potatoes, red onions and green chillies. Perhaps eaten with a chapati or naan bread. The chunks of potato were cooked so that they still had some bite. The potatoes had turned a golden orange because of the juices released from the sausage whilst frying.

Molly’s Nest, Mandrem, Goa

Goan Sausage Pizza- What is says on the tin! Deliciously prepared in a wood fired oven, the mixture of mozzarella and crumbled sausage was the perfect combination.

Roma, Ashvem Beach, Goa

I have found one recipe online which teaches you how to make and cure your own Goan sausage over four days, which I have put below. However from experience, if you want to buy them to use as an ingredient, the link below offers very high quality products.

http://goanfood.co.uk/products/all-products/sausages-goa-sausage.

Recipe

by Crescentia and Chris Fernandes who own Bernardo’s Goan Restaurant in Gurgaon, Delhi.

Ingredients

1kg Pork Meat (shoulder)

90g Sea Salt

30 Dried Red Chillies

5g Cumin

6 1inch Pieces of Cinnamon

30 Peppercorns

25 Cloves

8g Turmeric

30g Ginger/ Garlic Paste

90ml Goan Vinegar

5g Salt Petre (Sodium Nitrate)

3 Metres of Sausage Casing

The pork used must be fatty. Wash it well and drain the pieces of pork.

Add two handfuls of sea salt. Mix it well in a plastic or wooden colander (not metal). Put a plate to cover the meat and put a weight on top so that all the liquid drains out below.

In a blender make the masala. Put chillies, cumin, cinnamon, pepper, cloves, turmeric (which helps to preserve it), and ginger garlic paste into the blender. Add the vinegar to make a smooth spice paste.

Add salt petre to the pork and mix well.

Pour over the spice paste and mix well.

Marinate overnight or for a couple of days in the fridge. (You can use the meat just like this stored in a jar, or smoke the meat for a better flavour)

Fill the sausage casings with the pork mix using a funnel and a cutlery knife to push the meat down. Tie the casings at each end.

Two days later – smoke the sausages. Light a pile of damp leaves and grass on fire outside. Hang the sausages above so that they are consumed by the smoke coming from the leaves. You can cover the sausages so that they are properly smoked.

Sun dry the sausages on a washing line in the hot Indian sun for a day.

They are now ready to be cooked.

Fry without oil, the sausage will release its own red delicious oil that will flavour ingredients added to the pan or soak into large chunks of white bread.

I worked at the fantastic Indian small plate and cocktail bar restaurant called Kricket this year.

http://www.kricket.co.uk/

The inspirational head chef there, Will Bowlby, used Goan sausage in one of the lunch favourites. This is one of the dishes I learnt to make.

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Goan Sausage Roll with Pachadi Mayo, Pickled Red Onion and Mustard Seeds.