Turmeric is as good as gold

Turmeric is as good as gold 

I dabbed some turmeric on my finger and tasted it, expecting it to taste “earthy” or “Indian,” but what I found was that it tasted like my memories of exceptional Mexican food, eaten when I was growing up in Chicago. 

An internet search of “turmeric Mexican recipes” followed and it would appear that this curry-colored spice is a main ingredient in the yellow rice and beans that usually come with your burrito plate or your enchiladas.

It’s backward to refer to turmeric as “curry colored,” of course; turmeric is the main reason why curry powder has that color. I think everyone knows (yes?) that curry powder is a mix of as many  as 20 different spices, all blended together. The powder we usually buy at the store is apparently a British version of the traditional Indian mixes (Indian cooks supposedly make their own curry mix, adapting the spices to whatever recipe they are preparing).

My sudden interest in turmeric is two-fold. First, if you play tennis with me you know that I’ve been sidelined for the past couple weeks with some kind of mysterious and crippling joint pain (yes, I’m seeing a doctor and no it’s not Lyme). Turmeric is famous as an edible anti-inflammatory.

And apparently I’m not the only one who’s interested in edible anti-inflammatories. Last weekend, on a visit to trend-central Manhattan, I was in line at my favorite bakery/café behind a  young woman who announced that she was ordering her second turmeric latte of the morning (it was about 11:30 a.m., so presumably the first turmeric latte had been ordered and imbibed not that many hours previously).

An hour later, at an Upper East Side Dean & DeLuca, I  noticed at the checkout a display of turmeric and ginger performance bars (and yes, when I go to Manhattan I spend most of my time at fancy food emporia).

The marketing materials for these bars (which also have lots of nuts and dried fruit) say,  “Turmeric, the new superfood, has long been revered in India for its outstanding levels of antioxidants and ability to help reduce inflammation. It’s combined here with invigorating ginger and black pepper, traditional remedies for improved circulation, to alleviate joint pain and stiffness, and reduce recovery time.”

There are several other turmeric snack bars out there in the world, and lots of recipes for making your own, combined with all sorts of yummy things like hemp and kale.

I think I’m going to stick with more traditional main course dishes for ingesting my turmeric (without the help of hemp and kale, although I guess we could do a sauteed lacinato kale side dish). 

Why bother? Turmeric apparently honestly is an excellent anti-inflamatory and the turmeric root is used to make bona fide medications. The active element is curcumin, which is confusingly not found in cumin (another spice commonly used in curry powders). 

Turmeric apparently is effective in diminishing joint pains and arthritis; bloating and gas and other intestinal maladies; bronchitis and lung infections (good to know in this particularly vicious flu season); and liver and kidney problems.

I did an internet search and tried to find a recipe that uses lots and lots of turmeric; and found that many of them call for turmeric and cumin and curry powder. Well, that’s just silly since most curry powder already has turmeric and cumin. 

Nevertheless, I persisted and I found at www.littleferrarokitchen.com a very nice marinated chicken recipe. You can serve this with yellow rice: Cook your favorite white rice using half chicken broth and half water; and add a half teaspoon of turmeric powder for each cup-and-a-half of uncooked rice. To go big-time fiesta, add some chopped shallots or onion, some chopped garlic and some chopped red pepper.


Turmeric and yogurt chicken

Serves four

Adapted from


One chopped serrano chile, one chopped Anaheim chile, four skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, a half bunch of parsley, chopped, a half cup of nice thick Greek yogurt, two coarsely chopped garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric plus more for sprinkling, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin plus more for sprinkling, salt and pepper to taste, a quarter cup of olive oil and the juice of one lemon.


You can find the hot chile peppers at most large grocery stores in the area; I bought mine at Market32 in Torrington, which used to be Price Chopper. You can either leave the seeds in or scrape them out; it will be much hotter if you leave in the seeds.

 Put everything except the chicken in a small blender and mix it until it becomes smooth. If it’s very thick, add a little more olive oil or lemon juice. 

Marinate the chicken in the yogurt mix for at minimum one half hour. If you marinate it overnight, chances are that it will be extremely tender by the time you get around to cooking it.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  You’ll want a baking dish that fits the chicken pieces fairly snuggly but not so much that they overlap (although it would be better to overlap than for the sauce to be spread too thinly over the dish, which will cause it to burn and make a big mess).

Generously sprinkle turmeric and cumin over the chicken. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a thermometer poked in near the bone reads 165 degrees. With some recipes, you can keep cooking chicken thighs, even at high heat, for an hour or more and they just get better. I found that this sauce begins to burn after about 45 minutes. If you have a slow cooker or a magical instant pot, I would bet that this is a great recipe for those technologies.

Dark leafy greens go well with this dish; steam some spinach or chopped lacinato kale and then, just before serving, add it to the chicken.