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Spice Up Your Holidays—and Your Health—With Curry

By Sandy Beck

The first time I tasted curry was a snowy Christmas Eve in London. Behind fish and chips, Indian curry just might be the national dish of Britain. Served with soft chapatti bread, basmati rice, mango chutney and a (warm) pint of Guinness, this colorful, spicy spread warmed me down to my toes.

In fact, Brits have been eating curry since the 18th century when locals in Madras, India (now Chennai), prepared traditional Indian dishes for British merchants. When they returned home, along with cotton, silk, indigo dye, tea and opium, the East India Company also packed mixtures of the spices they had so enjoyed.

The curry with which we are most familiar today has come to mean any spicy Indian dish consisting of a protein and vegetables, or just vegetables, simmered in a complex sauce.

In India, a curry is usually made with individual spices the cook chooses. You can do the same, or you can use one of the readymade curry powders available today.

Curry powder is a generic term for a blend of powdered spices that typically includes coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek and red pepper. Additional ingredients may include: garlic, ginger, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mustard seed, cardamom, poppy seeds and white and black pepper.

Do you know someone who loves Indian food? Make your friend feel special with a holiday gift of the amazing aroma and flavor of freshly roasted and ground spices in your own personal curry powder blend.

Select fresh spices from the New Leaf Market Co-op bulk ingredients section, roast, grind and place in small airtight jars (also available at the Co-op). Print a pretty label, place in a cloth dinner napkin with your favorite curry recipe and tie up your package with raffia.

Watch an easy-to-follow video here that demonstrates how to make your own curry powder.

“Show Me the Curry” is an online cooking show produced by two Indian women Hetal and Anuja. Their recipes are authentic and their delivery, engaging. Take your laptop in the kitchen and let your new friends introduce you to South Asian cuisine. I started with their Palak Chana—Spinach Curry with Garbanzo Beans, which was delicious. There is nothing like having your own, private teachers!

If this is not enough to entice you to try curry, curcumin, a substance that gives the yellow color to turmeric, has long been used on the Indian sub-continent to treat a variety of disorders.

Dr. Timothy J. Moynihan of the Mayo Clinic writes that while studies of curcumin use in people are still in the early stages, laboratory and animal research suggests that because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin may help prevent cancer, slow the spread of cancer, and make cancer therapies more effective.

The National Institutes of Health web site states that some research shows that taking some turmeric extracts can reduce the pain caused by osteoarthritis of the knee. In one study, turmeric worked about as well as ibuprofen for reducing pain.

So, why not start a new holiday tradition by serving a colorful, flavorful and healthy curry this year and then giving each guest a gift of your homemade curry powder. Don’t forget to replace that artery-clogging eggnog with a pint of Guinness. Cheers!

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