A lot of people think turmeric comes only in powdered form and that the spice makes up a large part of commercial curry mixes, giving the finished dish a distinctively deep orange-yellow tinge. It actually starts off as a rhizome, looking somewhat like miniature 'hands' of ginger, but with the golden glow apparent under the thin skin. If you're buying the fresh root, it should be unshrivelled and feel firm and heavy. You can find the root at shops selling Indian, Thai and Indonesian ingredients. Fresh turmeric is more subtle in flavour than the powdered stuff, but the colour is not. It's a good idea to wear disposable gloves when cutting or grating it so the colour doesn't stain your hands. If substituting one for the other in a recipe, you can use a lot more of the fresh root than the dry powder. Both types shouldn't be overused, though, as that would make the dish taste bitter.
Turmeric is believed to have health benefits, such as improving memory, purifying the blood and having antiseptic qualities.
Turmeric complements many ingredients - meat and seafood, as well as starches and vegetables. Peel the root then chop it before pounding it in a mortar with fresh ginger, garlic, lemongrass, coriander root and salt. Slowly fry the paste in oil until thick and fragrant, then add water to dilute it. Bring to a simmer then add meat or seafood, and vegetables such as carrot, onion and small eggplants, along with seasonings such as fish sauce, salt, pepper and curry leaf. Simmer until the ingredients are cooked then stir in rich coconut cream and simmer again. Serve with steamed rice.