March 2, 2016

Dear friends,

I plucked a pinkie-sized gnarled root from a bin at an Asian store and triumphantly held it aloft. Amid a sea of strange fruits and vegetables, it was the only one I recognized. “Fresh turmeric,” I announced to a friend, who snapped it half to expose the neon-orange interior.

The root nubbin went into my basket, although I had no idea what to do with it. My project for the week was to figure it out.

I already knew turmeric is considered a “superfood” by many who get their nutrition advice from pop media sources. They add the dried powder – and root when they can find it — to smoothies, stir frys and soups. I’m a skeptical reporter at heart, so I needed convincing. I turned to two solid sources, WebMD and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Not enough research exists to make ANY claims yet about turmeric, according to the NIH. According to WebMD, research shows the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric can help ease osteoarthritis pain on a par with ibuprofen. However, there’s not enough evidence to support other health claims, although early research suggests turmeric might help prevent or treat other inflammations and health issues.

I like turmeric anyway. It saturates food with a lovely yellow color while imparting a faint bitter edge that in most dishes is undetectable. It is related to ginger, so there’s that faint flavor, also. I peeled and grated the root as I would fresh ginger, then used it in an altered version of a recipe I got long ago at an Indian dinner in Wooster.

My Baked Curried Chicken is just as good hot as it is cold (I served it once at a picnic on a boat). It’s fairly easy to make, too. Browned onions are whirled in a food processor with herbs, spices and yogurt.

Boneless chicken breasts are soaked overnight in the thick, fragrant mixture. Then the chicken breasts, with the yogurt and spices still clinging to them, are arranged on a tray and baked. That’s not a lot of work for such explosive flavors.

My main criterion for a recipe is always the flavor. If it’s good for you, too, that’s a bonus. This recipe is both. Even though the health claims for turmeric unproven, you can’t do much damage with baked chicken and low-fat yogurt. Eat up.

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BAKED CURRIED CHICKEN
•    2 tbsp. oil
•    1 large onion, chopped
•    2 cloves garlic
•    1 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
•    1 tsp. garam masala
•    1 tsp. paprika
•    1/2 tsp. powdered or 1 tsp. grated fresh turmeric
•    1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
•    1 cup plain Greek yogurt
•    3/4 tsp. salt
•    6 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Heat oil in a skillet. Cook onions until they are transparent and begin to brown. Scrape into a food processor with the garlic and cilantro leaves. Puree until almost smooth. Add spices, ginger, turmeric, sour cream and salt and pulse to mix.

Place half of chicken in a large bowl. Cover with half of the sour cream mixture and mix well to coat all pieces. Repeat with remaining chicken and sour cream mixture. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Line a baking sheet with sides with foil. Remove chicken from marinade, allowing yogurt mixture to cling to the meat. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet. Spoon any mixture remaining in bowl over the chicken. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes for small chicken breasts or 1 hour for large, until the center of the thickest part of a breast is no longer pink. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a piece should register 165 degrees. Do not overcook or the chicken will be dry. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

HELP U COOK
I came across a nifty way to make string cheese from cheese curds, which are available in abundance in cheese shops in Amish country. Here are the directions, from “Spice” by Anna Sortun:

1. Chop 1 pound mozzarella cheese curds into small pieces and place in a non-stick pan with 2 teaspoons salt.

2. Heat on low, stirring, until curds are melted and no lumps remain. Remove from heat and drain off any moisture in a sieve.

3. When curds are cool enough to handle but still very warm, gather in a lump and quickly stretch to almost the breaking point, then fold back on itself. Grab both strands and stretch them together, then twist the strands together as if you were making a rope. Keep stretching gently, almost to the breaking point. The more you stretch, the stringier the cheese will be. When finished, it will resemble a thick rope or tightly wrung-out dish cloth.

4. Twist the ends in opposite directions and place one end through the loop of the other end to lock it. Refrigerate for one hour unwrapped to dry completely, then wrap and refrigerate or freeze.

5. To serve, separate the ends, cut the looped end and pull apart into thin strands.

Will keep up to a week in the refrigerator or 2 months in the freezer.

THE MAILBAG
From C.K., Tallmadge:
Your sushi sauce column reminded me of a question. I have more than one recipe that calls for “rice wine vinegar.”  I can only find “rice vinegar.”  Is there a difference?  Also, is there another name for rice wine, which some other recipes call for.

Dear C.K.: Great questions. Rice wine is “sake.” Sweet rice wine is “mirin.” If the recipe just says “rice wine,” use an inexpensive (but still good) brand of sake. I use One Cup Sake for cooking because the container contains just one cup, which I can use up fairly fast.

Japanese rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar are the same thing – vinegar made from rice wine. I should note, though, that whenever I say “rice wine vinegar,” Tony corrects me. To him, it’s just rice vinegar. Japanese rice vinegar tastes less acidic than the vinegars we’re used to. Steer clear of the cheap versions, which will say “gohsei-su” on the label. They are made with other grains besides rice.

From Amy:
You discussed Temo’s Chocolate in your newsletter.  Please remember Grabham’s Chocolates, 4301 State Road in old Northampton. This is a generation-run shop that is absolutely wonderful. They have sugar free also.

Dear Amy: Now I can get sugar-free Grabham’s? I’m there. Thanks for reminding me of the other great chocolate shop in our area. Grabham’s Nutty Bunny is tradition for many at Easter. I still dream about their wonderful pecan turtles and their chocolate-dipped candied ginger. If you want to drool, check out the shop’s website: http://grabhamscandies.com/product-category/grabhams-classics/.

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