5 Tasty Ways To Cook With Turmeric

Golden turmeric adds vibrant color, flavor, and health benefits to any recipe.

September 29, 2016
turmeric powder

A relative of ginger, turmeric is the spice that gives curries their vivid golden hue, and familiar yellow mustard its bright color. For thousands of years, people in India have considered turmeric a healing herb, which is one reason so many turmeric recipes come from that part of the world. And in fact there’s a lot of research showing that turmeric does in fact have many beneficial effects on the body.

Adding some turmeric recipes to your repertoire can help your health in many different ways. By stimulating production of bile, turmeric helps the body digest fats. The spice, which is actually a rhizome that’s ground into a deep yellow-orange powder, also has liver-protective properties. Studies show that turmeric protects the stomach, as well, helping to prevent ulcers. Multiple studies show that curcumin—the compound in turmeric that gives the spice its flavor and intense hue—works as an anti-inflammatory agent, with the ability to help ease symptoms of arthritis.


(Find seasonal recipes, inspiring imagery, and gardening tips every day inside the Rodale’s Organic Life 2017 Calendar!)

And several studies now indicate that by lowering cholesterol and preventing blood clots, turmeric may also help prevent heart disease. These studies were done on lab animals, so further research will be needed to determine whether the same effects can be seen in humans. Animal lab studies also found that curcumin has anticancer activity, possibly due to its antioxidant power. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that turmeric reduces the inflammation caused by H. pylori, the ulcer-inducing bacterium that's also linked to colon and gastric cancers. That’s important because the inflammation is what’s thought to actually lead to the development of cancer.

The spice may also fight Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have found that elderly villagers in India appear to have the world’s lowest rate of the disease, and the speculation is that curcumin might play a role. When UCLA researchers gave curcumin to mice prone to accumulating Alzheimer’s signature amyloid plaques in their brains, the compound not only blocked the accumulation of plaques, but it also reduced inflammation, an effect of Alzheimer's disease on brain tissue. The curcumin-fed mice also performed better at memory tests than mice who didn't eat the substance.

Some tips on using turmeric:

  • Pair it with black pepper, as many Indian-inspired recipes already do, and you’ll enhance curcumin’s bioavailability by 1,000 times. This effect is due to a substance called piperine that’s found in black pepper.
  • Since turmeric has a tangy flavor, using too much can make food taste bitter. A good rule of thumb is to use about ¼ to ½ teaspoon of turmeric to season beans, rice, or couscous.
  • Try making your own homemade curry powder using turmeric and other classic spices; the spice aisle’s premade versions can be more expensive than the sum of their parts. Store your curry powder tightly sealed in a cool, dry place.

Make the most of your turmeric with these five delicious recipes:

Tofu Curry

tofu curry
Mitch Mandel

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes

Servings: 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 package (8 ounces) firm tofu, drained and cut into bite-size pieces
2 whole cloves
2 whole black peppercorns
½ stick cinnamon
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 piece fresh ginger (1"), peeled and grated
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala (available in Indian groceries and larger supermarkets)
⅛ teaspoon ground red pepper, or more to taste
1 package (10 ounces) frozen peas
¾ cup plain fat-free yogurt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

1. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon oil. Add the tofu and cook, turning often, about 6 minutes, or until lightly browned. Transfer the tofu to a plate and cover to keep warm.

2. In the same skillet, over medium heat, warm the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Add the cloves, peppercorns, and cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes, or until tender. Stir in the tomato and then the turmeric, garam masala, and ground red pepper. Season to taste with salt. Cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Add the peas; reduce the heat, cover, and simmer about 5 minutes, or until heated through.

3. Whisk together the yogurt and cornstarch, and stir into the curry. Bring to a simmer, stirring. Stir in the tofu and cilantro (if using), and serve immediately.

Related: 6 Delicious Recipes That Save Overcooked Pasta

Curried Chickpea Soup

chickpea soup
Rodale Images

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes

Servings: 6

3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cans (19 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 carrots, chopped
2 teaspoons curry powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
8 slices French bread

1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the garlic, onion, and 3 tablespoons of the broth for 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Stir in the chickpeas, carrots, curry powder, turmeric, salt, ginger, pepper, and remaining broth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool slightly.

2. Transfer to a blender or food processor, working in batches if necessary. Process until smooth. Return to the pan. Stir in the milk and parsley.

3. Toast the bread and serve atop each serving.

Tandoori Turkey With Curried Yogurt Sauce

tandoori turkey
Mitch Mandel

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Servings: 4

2 teaspoons curry powder
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
4 teaspoons honey
¾ cup 0% plain Greek yogurt
2 scallions, green parts only, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1¼ pounds turkey tenders
3 cups frozen chopped broccoli
2 cups frozen leaf spinach

1. Stir together the curry powder, ginger, turmeric, cumin, salt, vinegar, honey, and 1 teaspoon of water in a medium microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high power for 30 seconds. Remove 2 teaspoons of the mixture and combine with the yogurt, scallion greens, and cilantro in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. Add the turkey to the bowl and toss with the curry mixture until evenly coated. Heat a grill or grill pan to medium.

3. Meanwhile, combine the broccoli, spinach, and ¼ cup water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 5 minutes, or until tender.

4. Grill the tenders for 5 minutes, turning once, or until no longer pink and the juices run clear. Serve with the spinach mixture and the curried yogurt sauce.

Creamy Pumpkin-Peanut Soup

pumpkin soup
Dejan Stanic Micko/shutterstock

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Servings: 4

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped (1¼ cups)
3 cloves garlic, smashed
¼ teaspoons ground turmeric
½ teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoons chili pepper flakes
1 can solid-pack pumpkin puree (15 oz)
1½ cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 jar roasted red peppers (7 oz), drained, 1 tablespoon chopped and reserved for garnish
⅓ cup smooth reduced-fat natural peanut butter
1 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup reduced-fat sour cream
2 Tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts
2 Tablespoons chopped scallion greens

1. Heat oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes.

2. Add turmeric, paprika, and chili flakes; stir. Add pumpkin puree, broth, peppers, and peanut butter; whisk to incorporate and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer for 5 minutes, then stir in sugar, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

3. Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Divide among 4 bowls and garnish with sour cream, peanuts, reserved chopped peppers, and scallion greens.

Related: How To Pick The Perfect Pumpkin

Chickpea Stew with Eggplants, Tomatoes, and Peppers

chickpea stew
Mitch Mandel

Prep time: 13 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 88 minutes

Servings: 6

1½ pounds eggplant, one or more varieties
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
1 large onion, diced in 1-inch cubes
1 large yellow or red bell or other sweet, thick-fleshed pepper, cut into triangles or strips
2 zucchini, cut into rounds 1-2 inches thick
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cups or more chunks of tomato, peeled and seeded first, any juices reserved
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, preferably organic
8 sprigs cilantro and 8 sprigs parsley, chopped
Harissa, for serving

1. Cut the eggplant into hefty chunks, choosing a shape that works with the variety you have. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside for 30 minutes to release the juices. Rinse quickly and pat dry.

2. Heat 4 tablespoons of the oil in a wide skillet over high heat until hazy. Add the eggplant and stir quickly. Reduce heat to medium and cook, turning the pieces every few minutes, until golden, about 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and set aside.

3. Warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion, pepper pieces, and zucchini and cook until the onions are lightly browned around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Toward the end, add the paprika, turmeric, and garlic, taking care not to burn. Stir in the tomato paste, then moisten the pot with a few tablespoons water and scrape up the juices from the bottom. Add the tomatoes, eggplant, chickpeas, 1½ cups water (or the liquid from home-cooked or organic chickpeas), and 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice. Stir in the cilantro and parsley.