Serious Eats: Recipes

The Secret Ingredient (Turmeric): Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Turmeric, Onions, and Olives

[Photographs: Kerry Saretsky]

Turmeric is one versatile little spice. It is used as a dye. It is used to deter ants in gardening. It is used medicinally, to fight memory loss and cancer. It is used cosmetically to deter aging. And of course it is used in foods, mostly in curries, but also as a substitute for saffron, and as a colorant in mustard. There's pretty much nothing that turmeric can't do, considering that we normally see it in an innocent little glass jar on the spice aisle, not looking like much of a superhero.

But my relationship with turmeric is simple: I eat it. And have, for as long as I can remember. My Mémé is from Morocco, and I can't count the number of t-shirts I've sacrificed to the yellow spice while watching and helping Mémé concoct her tagines as they bubbled and blipped on the stove. I love that taste that I described last week as toasting earth, that is fragrant and almost floral, but also a touch metallic or bitter. The idea that people use it only for its color is so frustrating, because its flavor is so distinctive and dynamic.

This tagine is inspired by Mémé, although it's not of her creation. I sear lamb shanks, and stew them with caramelized onions and green olives saturated with bright golden turmeric, a touch of cumin, and a cinnamon stick. Cilantro and fresh mint finish the resulting tagine that is mildly sweet and intensely savory, colored and flavored by the very special and prominent note of turmeric. Spooned over a bed of couscous, it doesn't get much better than this.

It just goes to show you should never, ever judge a spice by its color.

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the French in a Flash series for Serious Eats.

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