Kunyit – turmeric rhizome – Curcuma longa
Kunyit is the Malay word for turmeric. It is from the ginger family. The Chinese call it yellow ginger (ooi keoh in Hokkien and wong keong in Cantonese and Hakka) after its deep orange coloured rhizome. It is used in South Asian curries and Nyonya recipes. Turmeric root has a sharp and distinct aroma in addition to its food colouring properties which makes it an indispensable ingredient in some of Malaysia’s popular dishes.
Turmeric for cooking is prepared in three major ways. The first method is made into a paste by either pouding (tumbuk) or grounding (giling) with a granite mortar and pestle. The other method is to boil the rhizomes for several hours, then dry it in a hot oven and finally ground it into powder. This entails a lot of labour. Nowadays, it is easier and cheaper to buy turmeric power from the grocery store. The third method is to deep fry the root slices in oil to flavour it.
Kunyit – turmeric rhizome – Curcuma longa.
Turmeric in paste or powder form when added with chilli, shallots and other spices is used to cook curries. One or the other can also be used for making turmeric rice called nasi kunyit in Malay or ooi keoh pui in Chinese. Both can also be used to marinate and coat fish for deep frying which is one of my favourite. Turmeric flavoured cooking oil is used for deep frying fish for acar hu (Nyonya fish pickle).
Other than the tree types of preparation, turmeric is also finely chopped and added to nasi ulam. This is a dish of cooked rice mixed with finely shredded herbs like daun kaduk, daun cekur, lemon grass, shallots, kerisik (dry fried grated coconut), pounded salted fish and dried prawns. Like many Nyonya recipes, it takes a lot of time and effort to prepare, not counting shopping for the difficult to get ingredients which are available in selected wet markets only.
Freshly sliced turmeric.
Besides being used an ingredient for delicious food, turmeric is widely used as skin care and for minor ailments. Its extract is added to bath soaps and facial masks. Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric is believed to be anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and antioxidant. With all these beneficial properties, I am glad that some of my favourite Nyonya food uses turmeric extensively.