(Curcuma longa syn. C. domestica)
A good looker: turmeric is a good looking garden plant with broad, green tropical-style leaves throughout the summer growing season. Though it’s a tropical plant that thrives on heat and moisture, turmeric will grow well in temperate zones during summer, but it does die down in winter every year. In the tropics it looks good year-round. Plants can reach 60-80cm tall, and it will slowly spread to form large clumps. Tip: keep an eye on your turmeric clump, as ours grew a lot over two summers even here in Sydney.
Growing tips: you can use shop-bought turmeric roots to grow your own plants. Plant the root 10-15cm deep in spring in temperate zones, but it can be planted at any time of the year in the tropics and subtropics. Feed plants with Dynamic Lifter or another manure during the growing season, and keep plants well watered. When it gets ratty looking at the end of autumn or in early winter in temperate zones, cut it down to the ground. It will re-shoot in spring.
Harvesting: this is easy, just dig up the whole plant, roots and all, at the end of the summer growing season.
Storage and usage: wrap turmeric loosely in aluminium foil and keep it in the vegie crisper section of your fridge. It will usually last a few weeks. You can use turmeric fresh, grated and added to curries as per the recipe below, for example. However, most cooks use dried, powdered turmeric for its fabulous yellow/orange colour. Drying your own turmeric at home is a complicated process which requires boiling of the roots first, then drying and processing, so just stick to using it fresh, or buy some powder (it’s cheap).
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Growing tips: ginger has thin, strap-like leaves and, like turmeric, it can be grown from store-bought ginger roots. However, you’ll have best success in your garden when the roots planted are young, fresh and plump. Ginger enjoys hot, moist conditions, so mulch around the base of the plants to keep up the soil moisture. The root can be harvested about 12 months after planting.
Cooking tip: in some Asian recipes, they’ll specify whether you should use ‘old’ or ‘young’ ginger. The old ginger is more gnarled and rough-skinned, the young stuff is smooth-skinned – both are available in shops, but aren’t labelled as old or young. The ‘old’ ginger has a stronger flavour, ‘young’ ginger has a much milder flavour.
How to make ‘ginger juice': some Asian recipes call for ‘ginger juice’ and it’s easy enough to make. Just chop up some fresh ginger, then put it into a mortar and pestle and pound it (or put it into a blender and whizz it). Once you have a paste, squeeze this in your (clean) hands over a bowl, and the juice will run out from the paste and be collected in the bowl. That’s ginger juice.
Grating ginger: special ginger graters are available from gourmet cooking supply shops and some Asian supermarkets. Some are ceramic, with lots of little raised nodules for you to rub the ginger on. But you can also just use an ordinary metal grater, especially the type with fine, circular holes (ie, not the big holes most of us use for cheese-grating).
Quick & Easy Fish Curry
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1/2 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1/2 tablespoon fresh turmeric, grated
1-2 whole chillies, chopped
1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
500g ling (or other firm-fleshed fish), cut into 2cm cubes
100g green beans, cut into 2cm lengths
1 coriander plant, chopped (stalks and leaves)
juice of 1 lime
1. Heat a wok, add the oil and when it’s hot add the curry paste and stir-fry 1 minute, until you can smell the flavour coming up.
2. Then add the coconut milk, ginger, turmeric, chillies and fish sauce, and stir well. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down and let it cook for 4 minutes.
3. Now add the fish and green beans, and let it cook for 5 minutes more. Just before the end of cooking, add the fresh coriander and lime juice. Serve with steamed rice.