Written by: Leslie Ahmadi
Date: December 21, 2015
As the American spouse of a gentleman born in Iran, I’ve been privy to the delights of Persian cuisine. Mostly I’ve learned how slow cooking can work wonders on taste and texture—the piece that infuses the “inspiration.” And it’s all true. Once I applied that simple principle, it transformed my own preparation of Persian stews from “just fair” to “simply fabulous.”
I made myself hungry just thinking about it. That’s why we had my favorite Iranian dish for dinner last night: eggplant stew with lamb.
But a light went on the moment I started frying the meat in the turmeric powder. It suddenly hit me that in my early days of “cooking Iranian,” I’d sort of forgotten to add that ingredient. It’s not that I was being defiant, or that I had something against the bright yellow powder.
It’s more like I rarely had it on hand, since to me it didn’t really taste like a “spice.” To my way of thinking (at least up to that point) a “spice” had to taste like something “exciting”–and if not “exciting,” at least something “distinguishable.” But in my world, turmeric qualified as neither. It was more like a cross between “tasteless” and “dusty.”
But regardless of how turmeric tastes as a stand-alone, I’ve come to respect it over the years. It seems to serve as a catalyst that unlocks a food’s flavor. It erases the “musk” in musky chicken, it makes beef more “beefy” and lamb less “lamby,” and it somehow works wonders in eggs cooked with butter. In the end, I don’t taste it; I just taste what it does. And between turmeric’s magic and the power of slow-cooking, no wonder Iranian food tastes amazing!
As if all the above weren’t impressive enough, I’m learning how turmeric can do more than please palates! My doctor recommended it for its multiple health properties: anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, even anti-Alzheimers. Look it up in the literature and see for yourself. Then look up “Persian eggplant stew” while you’re at it!
And to think I once thought of turmeric as “the unspice”! How could I have doubted a substance enjoyed by the people of a 2500-year-old civilization?