Rooting for Turmeric


Story by Becky Speere

Pushing carefully with my boot, I lean into the four-tined spade. As I gingerly circle, loosen, and uproot the mass, a giant clump of yellow-orange tubers covered in dirt emerges from the ground. Smiling from ear-to-ear, I feel a (gold) rush of success!

It’s been three years since my first harvest and today my garden has turned into a virtual turmeric oasis. Considering its crazy growth rate, it’s hard to believe that turmeric commands double-digit pricing in some stores, though I must admit that cleaning the soil from the roots is both time- and water-consuming. But the benefits are immeasurable.

The Hawaiian word for turmeric is ‘olena, a canoe crop brought to these islands by the first Polynesian settlers, who valued the plant as food and also used it in the healing art of lā‘au lapa‘au. (See “In Season,” this issue.)

I’ve been concocting my own recipes with fresh turmeric and it is ambrosia. Here’s a favorite recipe: Crack a coconut, extract the meat and make fresh coconut milk. (Find instructions at Strain the warm milk, add turmeric, Maui honey (to taste), and a pinch each of fresh nutmeg and cinnamon; then blend. Add as much or as little turmeric as you like. I generally add a thumb-sized piece for two cups of coconut milk. I’ve recently been blending two good-sized fingers’ worth in my Magic Bullet blender with eleven ounces of “French Vanilla nutpods,” a luscious coconut-almond creamer. Adding fresh liliko‘i (passion fruit) juice makes it the perfect four-ounce smoothie shot. If you can find Olinda cinnamon, add a teaspoon of that, too! See more recipes on page 94.

Try these turmeric recipes, too.

Golden Rice Recipe

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 Tbsp. butter or coconut oil
  • 1½ c. Thai jasmine rice,* washed and drained well
  • 12 oz. canned coconut milk
  • 1 c. water
  • ½ tsp. sea salt, or to taste
  • 1 finger of turmeric, peeled and grated finely (Wear gloves if you don’t want yellow-stained fingers.)
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 whole dried cardamom pod, bruised (optional)
  • 1 stick cinnamon (optional)

Procedure Heat oil in a 3-quart pot over medium heat and sauté the onion for 5 minutes. Add spices and salt, and sauté for 1 minute. Add rice, coconut milk and water; stir well. Bring to a boil. Reduce temperature to a very low simmer for 5 minutes. Stir well before placing lid on pot. Cook on low heat for another 20 minutes, stirring once after 5 minutes to make sure ingredients don’t burn on the bottom of the pot. Cook until grains are tender. Add a little water if liquid evaporates before grains are cooked through. Stir again and turn off heat. Let rice sit for ten minutes before serving. Serve with your favorite curry or chicken shawarma recipe.

*I like Three Ladies brand jasmine rice (with the picture of Thai ladies on the bag). Find it on Maui at Rowena’s Produce, 230 Hana Hwy., Kahului; 419-1987.

Turmeric tonic spritzer

Turmeric Tonic Spritzer Recipe

Prep Time: 20 minutes + cooling time

Yield: 2 cups

Turmeric Syrup

  • 4 oz. fresh turmeric, sliced thin
  • 4 stalks whole lemongrass, bulb end
  • bruised, green tops sliced to 2” length
  • 1 c. raw sugar
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 orange, organically grown, zested and juiced

Procedure Bring all ingredients to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature and strain. Discard solids. Store in a glass jar in refrigerator.

Cocktail Yield: 4 servings

Place ice in your favorite tall cocktail glasses. Evenly divide turmeric syrup, whiskey, liliko‘i purée or pineapple juice. Stir. Top with SpikedSelzer. Serve garnished with a stick of pineapple or lemongrass.

*Paniolo Blended Whiskey is the perfect blend of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Hali‘imaile Distilling’s Maui Gold Pineapple Distillate. Also used in the company’s PAU Maui Vodka, it’s distilled to neutral for a clean, smooth finish without any pineapple flavor.



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