Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Turmeric as a taste...

 Cabbage Poriyal (Braised Cabbage with Coconut - seriously without turmeric)

Years of seeing turmeric being used in Indian food, in poojas, to colour hands and bodies, to decorate thresholds and door jambs, rangolis or alpanas, even dye the auspicious wedding saree in Marathi and Tamil tradition had coloured my impression that turmeric was used only as a colouring agent. Its antiseptic properties were introduced to us when our cuts and bruises were summarily dismissed with a dab of turmeric. Its religious and cultural significance was automatically gleaned from the ubiquitous haldi kumkum in the ornate silver filigree work, mango shaped container called ‘koyari’. This koyari was the pride of all brides who brought it as a wedding gift from their parental home, and had its proud perch in the little altar in the house. It was religiously offered to God and all married women who came visiting (no parallels intended! )

Reading about what constitutes a ‘curry’ and the almost mythical ‘curry powder’ or 'madras curry powder' (which a real Indian has never seen nor ever used) did nothing to enlighten me! Perhaps I had not been curious enough. Whenever I had asked my mother about why Marathi food specially prepared for days of fasting and vrats did not contain turmeric, the sagacious lady had replied that it was perhaps to differentiate the special food from the food that we ate everyday. It had simply never occurred to me that the potatoes made on such days tasted very different to the potatoes cooked with turmeric.

Like most personal discoveries in those pre-internet days, I made this one experientially when I accidentally stumbled on it. Biting hungrily into a very delicious looking samosa with a perfectly crisp pastry shell with great anticipation I almost gagged on it! Such a vile taste had rarely accosted my tastebuds, and I am not referring to the most annoying whole coriander seeds that ambush your tongue and taste while unsuspectingly biting into a samosa. This is the only thing about samosas that I don’t like. I almost burnt my taste buds on the filling and a sudden numbness descended on the poor tongue. A momentous realisation this- the culprit was turmeric!

Oh! How I wanted to disperse the pearls of this new found wisdom that had dawned on me! But this was not the time, place or forum to say anything about food ingredients, least of all something as mundane and domesticated as turmeric. Yes! I was with a group of fellow 18 year old coeds (I was with coeds for the fist time in my life!) lounging around a tree trunk (not THE TREE but one that we had defiantly marked as our territory) on the grounds of the most happening college in Hyderabad.

No! This was not the time or place to talk about my serendipitous discovery of turmeric taste! The samosas were not from the college canteen, but from a famous eatery – so it wasn’t ‘hep’ (for some reason it was not hip- but ‘hep’) to ‘bag’ them.

After college I rushed home, eager to share my news with my mother. “Aai, guess what! Turmeric has taste not just colour! Too much of it can … “

“Of course, didn’t you know that? Strange!” she said as she went about her chores…. A few minutes later she added.” Didn’t you wonder anytime why I make a white cabbage poriyal? – it tastes best without turmeric.”

Till date, I haven’t made cabbage poriyal with turmeric.

Cabbage Poriyal (Braised Cabbage with Coconut -seriously without turmeric)


4 cups finely shredded cabbage

2 tbsp Oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp split skinned urad dal

A pinch of hing



1-2 green chillies, deseeded (use more if you wish)
8 to 10 curry leaves
½  cup finely grated fresh or frozen coconut
Salt to taste

1 tbsp chopped coriander for garnish


Heat the oil, add the mustard seeds and urad dal and let the mustard splutter and the urad dal turn golden. Add the green chilli, curry leaves and hing and stir for a few seconds. Add the cabbage, salt, a few tablespoons of water, ONLY if the cabbage does not let out any juices. This is necessary to cook without burning the cabbage. Cook till the cabbage turns slightly transparent but is still crunchy. Switch off the heat and keep the pan in a cooler place to stop any further cooking.  Add the grated coconut, mix well and garnish with coriander. Serve hot with chapati, pooris, phulkas or with sambar and rice or dal and rice.

I love to eat it just by itself! Without turmeric, of course…

1 comment:

  1. Hi Shruti,

    Hmmm, this looks delicious and it is already lunch time. I wish I had this in front of me so that I could have gobbled it down. :D
    Thanks for sharing this recipe :) :)


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