Photo: Suzanne Lehrer
No matter how many times I prepare my own meals-even if I’ve slaved over them all afternoon-they still just don’t cut it for me as a “home-cooked meal” if I’ve made and stressed over the meal myself. With no other city-bound friends who cook, and my parents about 45 minutes away, genuine home-cooked meals are rare birds these days, even as I long for them infinitely more since moving to this take-out, eat-out-crazed city. Luckily, my roommate Jackie’s family (my surrogate Manhattan island family) live just uptown, and her mother, Sylvia, is an excellent cook. One of my favorite meals of Sylvia’s to eat around their kitchen table and over some gossip is sauteed tofu with turmeric. This simple, but flavorful preparation is such a refreshing departure from Asian-inspired tofu dishes, while also incredibly comforting-which is saying something, since my comfort food usually trends more towards mac n’ cheese. I enlisted Sylvia’s help in learning to make it myself-and by the way, what is turmeric anyways? Turns out, it’s some pretty handy stuff.
Sold in stores as a ground spice, turmeric is a tropical plant with an underground stem that much resembles ginger-in both flavor and appearance. While most turmeric fans might only know it as a common ingredient in curry, I discovered it’s also long been recognized for its wide range of medicinal uses-dating back 5,000 years when it was first harvested in its native Southern India and Indonesia. As it happens, curcurmin, the major component of this little-known spice is somewhat of a panacea; its uses include a powerful anti-inflammatory, relief for arthritis as a powerful antioxidant, a possible cure for Cystic Fibrosis genetic defects, and it’s thought to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. There’s also speculation that the prevalence of turmeric in India’s cuisine is directly related to the low incidence of dementia in its elderly population. But despite all of turmeric’s more significant uses, this is probably the most unexpected fun fact: it’s the reason your yellow mustard on your hotdog is, well, yellow.
Photo: Suzanne Lehrer