by Niloufer Ichaporia King
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In the 1995, researchers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center applied for and received a patent on turmeric. An outraged Indian government immediately took steps to revoke the patent based on the effrontery of anyone trying to corner the market on a plant substance of Asian origin with thousands of years of known and demonstrated medicinal, culinary and economic use. That’s our friend, the turmeric plant, Curcuma longa, now acknowledged by Western science as an anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-coagulant and anti-oxidant, for both internal and external use. I can’t think of an Indian household that wouldn’t have turmeric as one of the staple spices used widely but in small amounts in food and medicine.
Perhaps without knowing it, American kitchens have long played host to turmeric, too, in its contribution to the bright yellow colour of hot dog-type mustard. In recent years, turmeric’s value has reached the mainstream, or at least one of its large tributaries, the health food and supplement market., and now, even large supermarket chains. This is a great boon to our house, since we no longer have to trek across town or cross the bridge to Berkeley to find fresh turmeric, which we cannot do without. Fresh turmeric rhizomes, an intense carroty orange inside, pale to brown outside depending on their maturity, are strong and medicinal tasting, but the recipe below for the easiest possible pickle made with nothing more than lime juice and salt transforms the eating of it from a health-minded duty to pure greedy joy. Eat it as an accent to fish or chicken, with rice and yogurt, or our household favourite, in teasingly small amounts with goat cheese or labneh and flat bread. Be sure to serve it with a very small spoon so that unprepared eaters don’t get carried away thinking they’re eating a carrot salad.
Fresh Turmeric and Ginger Pickle
Serves 15 to 30.
2 to 3 ounces fresh turmeric rhizomes, mango ginger, or a combination
1 to 2 tablespoons very finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 to 3 fresh green or red chiles, finely chopped (optional)
Juice of at least 3 Key or Mexican limes or 1 Persian lime
Salt to taste
Peel the turmeric and cut into very thin slices. If the turmeric rhizomes are as thick as a carrot, quarter them lengthwise first. If you’re worried about yellow stains on your hands, wear rubber gloves.
Mix the turmeric slices in a small nonreactive bowl with the ginger, the chiles if you like, and lime juice and salt to taste. You will probably need the juice of at least 3 Key limes or 1 Persian lime. Remember, this is a pickle, and it is supposed to taste bold.
Let stand a good hour before serving. Stir the turmeric in the salt and lime brine from time to time, so that it pickles evenly. This pickle keeps well for more than a week, refrigerated in a glass jar.