I had one of those moments at the store a few months back when I came across an ingredient that I have never seen before and just had to have despite the fact that I had no recipe in mind for its use. Frankly, those moments are few and far between because not much new comes our way, but that was a special day at the organic food coop we have in town. Typically, I have to travel at least an hour to a bigger community where I might find a new product that we haven't gotten in our local stores yet. There are some exceptions (finger limes and dragon fruit to name a couple, although I have not seen the finger limes again), but for the most part, while I might learn about something on my portal to the rest of the world (my computer) if I want it I need to travel or order it online. The day I found the fresh turmeric was one of those “exception” days.
I know, you are probably saying that turmeric is a readily available spice found in almost all supermarkets, but the fresh rhizome is something of a rarity since most of the turmeric grown is processed into the powdered spice. It is related to ginger and similar in appearance, except that it is a little narrower, and when you cut into it has an orange-yellow color like a carrot compared to ginger’s light yellow. The taste is dissimilar as well. Turmeric has something of a musty, peppery flavor with the fresh root being somewhat acidic. I was anxious to try it, but I didn’t have a plan or the time so I thought that I would toss it in the freezer like I do my ginger and use it at a later date. As with ginger, freezing it did not alter the taste and it is much easier to grate while frozen.
So what did I end up using it in? Well, curry, of course.
This one was inspired by a fish stew recipe out of James Oseland’s “ Cradle of Flavor” cookbook, but of course I changed it up a bit. I used shrimp instead of white fish, and I added coconut milk because I like it and always have some on hand. There are some unusual Asian ingredients that may need to be mail-ordered, or, if you are lucky enough to have a well-stocked Asian market you shouldn’t have any trouble.
Shrimp Curry with Fresh Turmeric (adapted from James Osland)
- 1 ½ pounds medium shrimp peeled and deveined
- Juice of 2 limes
- 2 large shallots, coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 4 Thai red chilies, stemmed and chopped
- 1-1 ½ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1-1 ½ inch piece fresh galangal, peeled and chopped
- 1-2 inch piece fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 10-3inch pieces of fresh pandan leaves
- 2 thick stalks of lemon grass pounded to loosen the fibers
- 8 kaffir lime leaves
- 1-13.5 ounce can coconut milk
- Thai basil or Italian basil sliced for garnish
- Rice for serving
- In a bowl, combine the shrimp and the lime juice and set aside.
- Place chopped shallots, garlic, red chilies, ginger, galangal, and turmeric in a food processor and process until a paste forms. You may need to add a couple of tablespoons of water to get it to go.
- In a Dutch oven heat peanut oil over medium heat. Add turmeric paste, pandan leaves, lemon grass and kaffir leaves and cook for about 5 minutes. Add coconut milk and lime juice from shrimp and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add shrimp and cook until shrimp have turned pink, another 3 to 4
minutes. Taste for salt and add if
needed. Remove the pandan leaves,
lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Add
basil and serve over rice.
Pandan leaves are a Southeast Asian ingredient that I found frozen at my local Asian market, but are not all that well known in the states. They are from a green plant with fan-shaped sprays of long, narrow, blade-like leaves and they smell something like white bread and are used a lot in desserts or cooked in rice. If you can’t find them, leave them out.
Galangal is another rhizome related to ginger and is becoming easier to find fresh, but more commonly frozen because it is a very popular Southeast Asian ingredient. If you can’t find it leave it out.
Lemongrass is everywhere so no worries there.
Kaffir lime leaves are another very popular Southeast Asian ingredient so look for them either fresh or frozen at the Asian market. They typically are found whole (two leaves attached to each other) so either use the two lobed leaves together to count as one leaf, or if they have been broken apart use two to equal one leaf.