Written by, Tala Khanmalek
I am turtle, wherever I go I carry “home” on my back.
-Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera
I recently moved from the Bay Area, where I had been living for nearly a decade, to Santa Cruz, CA. One of the first things I did in preparation to move was visit my local halal market for the last time to stock up on some “essentials,” ingredients that have to be in my kitchen, not necessarily because I use them often, but because they remind me of home.
Zarchoobe (turmeric) was #3 on my long list of must-have’s, right after roghan zeytoon (olive oil) and golab (rose water). I actually do use turmeric a lot, but not for cooking. The powder though, is used extensively in Persian cuisine. Many dishes, especially fried ones, use it as a “starter” ingredient along with onions and oil. When not used fresh, the rhizome or subterranean stem of the plant, is boiled, dried, and ground into a powder: the spice we know as turmeric.
However, it has many other uses, including dyeing. I love the distinctive color of turmeric ranging from bright yellow to deep orange. If you’ve ever handled it, you know that turmeric is a very powerful dye. Just a pinch can change the entire hue of a dish, which is why it’s used in small quantities when cooking (usually no more than a teaspoon) and to dye textiles as well as food itself.
I like the way turmeric stains my hands, marking me with a vivid tinge of home, a home that has not one place but multiple sites of memories all concentrated in this color, this smell. For those of us who’re turtles, carrying “home” on our backs, sometimes a tinge alone can cue feelings far beyond our present moment, the quality of both places we’ve been and others we’ve never even seen—yet. This intuitive sense of home bears witness to the wisdom of our ancestors, unlost and perceivable in the flesh.
I use turmeric the most for its medicinal properties, particularly for reducing inflammation. My grandma taught me a topical formula that can also be used to treat infection. All you need is an egg yolk and powdered turmeric, enough to form a thick paste, which you can apply directly to your skin and wrap with a piece of cloth or gauze. Nothing beats grandma’s ancient remedies: all natural, accessible, and affordable. Based on my experience, this formula works better and faster than Arnica. My grandma recommends drinking turmeric powder with milk too. I use dairy-free milk (hemp is my favorite for this recipe) and like to add a bit of cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and honey.