In its raw form, it's not much to look at. Much like its cousin, ginger, turmeric is grown for its nubby brown roots. So if you happen to find it in the produce section, it often is covered in soil and isn't all that attractive. But scratch its thin skin with your fingernail and this root will reveal an inner beauty: flesh as vibrant as a summer sunset, and a scent redolent of earth, pepper and mustard.
In fact, while turmeric is used widely in Asian and African cuisines, you've probably been eating it all your life here in the U.S. without even realizing it. Turmeric is what gives ballpark mustard that distinctive yellow hue. And back in the day in Europe it was used to dye food, cloth and fingers (!) a gorgeous golden orange (for a fraction of the price of saffron).
Ground turmeric turns up in most any Indian recipe, where it adds a peppery-loamy flavour that provides a warm backbone to our cooking. Saute a little with onions, cumin seeds and garlic, and that's the beginning of many a great dish. Add a little to your morning eggs. Make a marinade with oil and garlic and rub it onto a piece of fish.
Or, if you and your friends are gathering in front of the television to watch the Oscars, consider trying this golden dip made with tahini (sesame paste) and honey. Set it up on a platter of fancy crudite: blanched haricot verts, florets of neon green romanesco cauliflower, wedges of persimmon and kohlrabi, and paper-thin slices of watermelon radish.
It's an appetizer plate worthy of Hollywood's most glamorous (and judging by what I've read about how the starlets avoid food all day in order to fit into their gowns, Hollywood's hungriest). Just be careful not to spill any on your white blouse, or else people will be asking you, "What are YOU wearing?"
GOLDEN TURMERIC DIP
Tahini can vary in thickness by brand. Prepare the recipe as described below. If your dip is too thick, blend in additional water, a couple tablespoons at a time, to get desired consistency.
Start to finish: 15 minutes
1/2 cup tahini, whisked smooth
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
2 cloves garlic
Salt and ground black pepper
Toasted sesame seeds, to garnish
Fresh cilantro, chopped, to garnish
In a blender, combine the tahini, water, lemon juice, honey, turmeric and garlic. Blend until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper. If desired, add tahini, lemon juice and honey to suit your taste. Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds and cilantro. Serve with vegetables for dunking.
Nutrition information per serving: 100 calories; 70 calories from fat (70 per cent of total calories); 8 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 7 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 3 g protein; 65 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Network star Aarti Sequeira is the author of "Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul." She blogs at http://www.AartiPaarti.com .