Aside from Jeja, my mom, Helen Saberi would be the next person I would go to for Afghan cooking advice. Helen is the author of Afghan Food and Cookery, the one and only published Afghan cookbook.
When Helen told me about her newest project, an e-cookbook co-written by Colleen Taylor Sen, about Turmeric, I readily agreed to contribute a couple of my own recipes.
Helen who lives in England and Colleen in Chicago - first met in the mid 1990s at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, and have since met nearly every year at the same event. They have a lot in common despite living on different sides of the Atlantic. Colleen’s expertise is food history of India and Helen's is Afghan and Central Asian food.
Below is an excerpt from their e-cookbook, published by Agate Publishing, about medicinal benefits of Turmeric. I have also included one of 70 delicious recipes from the book - Afghan Fish Stew.
Turmeric - the Wonder Spice an e-cookbook
Turmeric is one of the most versatile and ancient spices. It is used in a variety of ways: as a dye, a ritual and ceremonial item, a medicine, an antiseptic, and, above all else, as a flavoring. The English name for the spice is thought to come from the Latin terra merita, which means “worthy (or meritorious) earth”—and the name is well deserved, for turmeric is truly a wonder spice!
From time immemorial, spices have played an important role in Indian, Chinese, and Indonesian medicine, and none was more important than turmeric. It was used to treat gastrointestinal and pulmonary disorders, diabetes, atherosclerosis, bacterial infections, gum disease, and skin diseases. Even today, South Asians apply a paste of turmeric and water as an antiseptic to cuts and strains; take a teaspoon in warm milk or yogurt, either after a meal as an aid to digestion or to relieve the symptoms of a fever; and breathe steam infused with turmeric to relieve congestion.
A couple of decades ago, medical researchers began noticing an interesting phenomenon in countries such as India, Singapore, and Malaysia, where turmeric and curry powder are dietary staples. Compared to countries where turmeric-rich dishes are less common, these countries had (and continue to have) significantly lower rates of certain ailments, including: breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers; childhood leukemia; and Alzheimer’s disease.
To follow up on these epidemiological observations, scientists conducted thousands of studies, mainly controlled laboratory tests on cell cultures and animals. The results have been so promising that the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society, the National Institute on Aging, the UK Medical Research Council, and other agencies are supporting additional investigations, including clinical trials of human patients.
According to ClinicalTrials.gov, a registry of US clinical studies, nearly 80 clinical trials of the effectiveness of turmeric have been or are being conducted to date. In mid-2013, PubMed, the US National Library of Medicine’s database of articles from medical and biological science journals around the world, contained nearly 6,000 references to turmeric and cur-cumin—compare this to 2005, when there were just 300 references. Around the turn of the century, large pharmaceutical companies attempted to patent cur-cumin and turmeric, but were denied by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in 2001 on the grounds that its medicinal properties were not patentable.
Although much of the research is in its early stages, the results are so promising that physicians are recommending everyone add 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric to their daily diet. Health-food companies are jumping on the turmeric bandwagon by producing expensive supplements, whose purity and efficacy are not easily verifiable since they are not subject to government regulation in the United States. A much more pleasant, inexpensive, and safe way to bring turmeric into your life is to incorporate it into your meals, and the purpose of this book is to show you ways of doing this via fun, tasty, and easy-to-make.
You may purchase Turmeric - The Wonder Spice on Amazon.
Afghan Fish Stew
Qorma e Mahee
In Afghanistan, the large river fish called mahi laqa is used for this dish; however, cod or haddock can be substituted. Traditionally, mooli safaid (known in the West as white radish or daikon) is cooked with the fish, but it can also be prepared without and is still very good.
2 pounds (900 g) fish, such as cod or haddock
1/4 cup (60 mL) vegetable oil
1 pound (450 g) mooli (white radish or daikon), peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder, divided
7 ounces (200 g) onions, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 (14.5-ounce [411-g]) can chopped tomatoes
1 cup (240 mL) water
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Red pepper flakes and salt, to taste
Cooked Challaw (white rice) for serving
1. Cut the fish into large chunks and pat dry with paper towels.
2. In a large skillet, warm the oil over high heat and fry the fish quickly on both sides, until golden brown. Do not cook through. Remove from the heat, transfer the fish from the skillet to a plate, and set aside. Reserve the oil and set aside.
3. Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the mooli and 1/2 teaspoon of the turmeric. Boil gently until soft, then drain and set aside.
4. Filter the oil, then place it into a deep saucepan. Reheat the oil over medium heat and fry the chopped onions and crushed garlic, until soft and reddish-brown. Mix in the tomatoes and fry vigorously, until the tomatoes brown and the liquid is reduced. Add the water, the coriander, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of the turmeric. Season to taste with red pepper flakes and salt. Stir, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about 30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, place 1/2 of the reserved mooli in the bottom of a large saucepan. Add the fish, then top with the remaining mooli.
6. Once the tomato sauce is cooked, pour over the fish and mooli. Gently simmer for 5 minutes. Do not overcook or boil vigorously, or the fish will disintegrate. Serve hot, with white rice.
Here are Colleen and Helen's favorite recipes from their book:
Colleen: Alu chcechki (my favorite Bengali dish), bobotie, and Kerala-style shrimp in coconut milk.
Helen: Spicy fish cakes, bobotie and burani katchalu.
Your thoughts and comments are welcome!