Our Chicken, Lemon & Olive Stew owes its bright yellow color to turmeric, a relative of ginger. Both the rhizome and the leaves of the turmeric plant are edible, but it’s the rhizome that’s most widely used. The small, knobby rhizome looks like a cross between a knob of ginger and a carrot, and it tastes that way too. It’s slightly bitter and metallic in flavor and ranges in color from sunny yellow to a saturated, Technicolor orange.
In Vietnam, turmeric is paired with fish or used in savory crêpe batter. In India, it’s a component of curries. Turmeric is also used as a natural food coloring (sometimes as a stand-in for pricey saffron) and is employed in ayurvedic medicine as an antiseptic.
Fresh turmeric is relatively hard to come by in this country, though you might get lucky at Asian or Indian markets or especially well-stocked health food stores. If you find some, use it as you would fresh ginger: peeled and minced or grated. It’ll keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for at least two weeks.
Dried, ground turmeric is easy to find in the spice aisle of the supermarket, but we recommend looking for it at a Vietnamese or Indian grocer. There, you’ll get more for your money and are likely to find a fresher product. Like any dried spice, ground turmeric should be stored in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place, where it should last six months to a year.