Turmeric powder is one of the most indispensable spice ingredients you can have on hand. Turmeric powder is the dried and ground root of the plant of the same name, sometimes known as curcuma. A member of the same family as ginger, turmeric has been part of our diet, medicine and culture for thousands of years and shows no signs of slowing down. Fresh turmeric root is also used in much of South Asian cookery, but it is the powder that really lends itself to a myriad of applications, originally as a dye for textiles, a staple in Ayurvedic medicine, a food colourant and flavourant in culinary dishes both sweet and savoury, and in soothing teas and immunity boosting elixirs and smoothies
Often it is turmeric that is used to brighten the appearance of several foods, like mustard and margarine, and is used to boost the yellow hue of rice and curries that saffron imparts. Basically any dish that you want to pop with a bright yellow colour will do so if you add a little turmeric. But turmeric is much more than an enhancement, it is one of the most studied and sought after herbs when it comes to preventing and fighting diseases, and is widely recommended as an anti-inflammatory, an anti-depressant, and assists in the treatment of arthritis, diabetes and many other ailments. Proponents claim that the active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, trumps many medications when it comes to maintaining health and combatting disease. That being said, curcumin only makes up about 3% of turmeric and if you’re interested in exploring more of the health benefits of curcumin you should probably discuss it with your health care provider.
What we’re really interested in here is the delightful culinary opportunities that turmeric provides. A teaspoon really does enliven the appearance of any rice dish, making it a little more visually appealing and adding a touch of the exotic. The other day I had a hankering for an old-fashioned tea- cake, something simple and not too sweet, and came across a number of recipes for Sfouf, a beautiful little tea cake that originally hails from Lebanon. No two recipes were the same; some called for a modicum of sugar, while others catered to those with a sweet tooth. Some recipes asked for rose water and orange blossom water, and others suggested vanilla and anise. For those that like a fine crumb, all-purpose flour was recommended, but for those who like a little richer, semolina is used as well. But one thing in common with all is a generous amount of turmeric to give it that tell-tale bright yellow hue and soft, luxurious aroma reminiscent of the Middle East. This is an easy recipe that will knock your socks off.
Makes an 8×8 cake
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup semolina (I used Cream of Wheat)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons freshly ground star anise
3 ounces butter
1/2 teaspoon orange flower water
1/2 teaspoon rose water
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon tahineh
16 whole almonds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Pre-heat oven to 375 F. In a saucepan combine milk and sugar and heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. In a separate bowl combine semolina, flour, salt, turmeric and anise. Cut butter into dry ingredients and mix with a fork or pastry cutter until the mix is like biscuit dough. Add orange water, rose water and vanilla to the cooled milk, then add the wet ingredients to the dry and blend. Prepare cake pan by smearing a tablespoon of tahini all over the inside. Pour batter in pan and garnish with almonds, and sprinkle with sesame seeds, you will cut this cake into 16 pieces so arrange the almonds 1 per piece. Cook for 30 minutes and let cool fully in pan before cutting.