I remember the first time that I ever tried Chicken Tikka Masala. I had just moved to Los Angeles and was invited by some new friends to join them for lunch after church. Having moved across the country from Tennessee, I was lonely and eager to establish a solid group of friends so I enthusiastically accepted the invitation. It didn’t occur to me to ask where we were going. I just hopped in the car and went! We pulled into the parking lot of “India’s Palace.” (I’ve since seen that name in a variety of states for Indian RestaurantsJ ). I had never tried Indian food before, but when it comes to sensible things, I’ll give anything a try once! Just as I was pleasantly surprise with trying Nutritional Yeast, I was incredibly thankful to have tried Indian food. The moment I stepped foot in the restaurant, I was bombarded with a variety of aromas. Naturally, my stomach started to growl and my mouth watered.
I guess buffets are popular during the lunch hour and this afforded me the opportunity to try a variety of delicious dishes. I tried spinach saag, aloo gobi, mango chutney, chana masala and last but not least—Chicken Tikka Masala. (This was before knowing my food intolerances so I tried everything without inhibition.) As soon as I put the tender chicken in my mouth I was in heaven. It came served in a delicious tomato-based sauce with a variety of spices, all new to me. Where had these dishes been all of my life?!
As soon as I got home, I looked up the recipe so that I could re-create it whenever my heart desired. Little did I know, this dish, along with many other Indian and Asian dishes contains a very powerful ingredient that has now become a staple in my recommendations to patients. Many of my peers in the medical practice where I work believe in the benefits of this powerful ingredient as well.
What is it?—Curcumin.
You’ve probably noted the bright yellow color in mustards, curries, and some naturally-colored food products. Curcumin, which gives the yellow color to turmeric, was first isolated almost two centuries ago. Turmeric comes from the plant Curcuma longa, which grows wild in the Himalayas. Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory molecule in the turmeric root, a relative of ginger.
As in Tikka Masala, Turmeric, the source of curcumin, has been used in Asian dishes for thousands of years and in medicinal preparations. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is thought to be a “cleanser of the body” and today science is finding a growing list of diseased conditions which turmeric’s active ingredient heals.
So, why is curcumin such a powerhouse?
According to the Journal of Clinical Immunology, “Researchers are examining curcumin as a possible immune system stimulator. It was noted that its ability to modulate the immune system are linked to curcumin’s ability to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal, activities and thus has a potential against various malignant diseases, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic illnesses. These effects are mediated through the regulation of various transcription factors, growth factors, inflammatory cytokines, protein kinases, and other enzymes.
Below are some of the benefits associated with the consumption of curcumin:
- Cardiovascular Effects- Curcumin’s protective effects on the cardiovascular system include lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels, decreasing susceptibility of low density lipoprotein (LDL) to lipid peroxidation, and inhibiting platelet aggregation.
- Antimicrobial Effects- Turmeric extract and the essential oil of Curcuma longa inhibit the growth of a variety of bacteria, parasites, and pathogenic fungi.
- Hepatoprotection, Cholelithiasis, and Cholestasis Turmeric’s hepatoprotective effects, evidenced in a number of animal studies, suggest it may be used in cases of toxic insult due to exogenous toxins from lifestyle and environmental exposures.
- Curcumin has choleretic activity that increases bile output and solubility, which may be helpful in treating gallstones.
- Inflammation Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory with specific lipoxygenase- and COX-2- inhibiting properties. Animal, in vitro, and in vivo studies demonstrate turmeric’s effectiveness at decreasing both acute and chronic inflammation.
- According to UCLA’s Alzheimer Translation Center, The anti-inflammatory prosperities have also been linked to Alzheimer’s prevention. India has a low incidence and prevalence of Alzheimer’s and some attribute that to a high intake of turmeric in Asia. As turmeric contains an average of 5-10% curcumin, the daily intake of curcumin is approximated in India is thought be about 125 mg. Moreover, when cooking curries, curcumin is often dissolved and extracted into fat ( ghee) which may increase its bioavailability.
So what can you do to increase the Nutrient-Potential of your foods? Simply start by adding turmeric! Curcumin does come in capsulated forms as a Nutritional Supplement, but do your research before adding it into your daily regimen.
Ask a Registered Dietitian or Functional Medical Doctor for dosage recommendations that would be appropriate for you. It can be made into a tea, but be warned: it has a strong taste. It also can be thrown into your morning smoothie. If you’re new to the spice all together, start cooking more Asian-inspired dishes. Here is a delicious recipe to try!
Chicken Tikka Masala- from Bon appétit Magazine
The yogurt helps tenderize the chicken; the garlic, ginger, and spices in the marinade infuse it with lots of flavor.
- 6 garlic cloves, finely grated
- 4 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger
- 4 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 1/2 cups whole-milk yogurt (not Greek) (**Plain, Unsweetened Coconut Milk Yogurt can be used for Dairy Free version)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise
- 3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 6 cardamom pods, crushed
- 2 dried chiles de árbol or 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
- 2 cups heavy cream (**Coconut Milk for dairy free version)
- 3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus sprigs for garnish
- Steamed basmati rice (for serving)t
- Combine garlic, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, coriander, and cumin in a small bowl. Whisk yogurt, salt, and half of spice mixture in a medium bowl; add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and chill 4-6 hours. Cover and chill remaining spice mixture.
- Heat ghee in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, tomato paste, cardamom, and chiles and cook, stirring often, until tomato paste has darkened and onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add remaining half of spice mixture and cook, stirring often, until bottom of pot begins to brown, about 4 minutes.
- Add tomatoes with juices, crushing them with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, until sauce thickens, 8-10 minutes.
- Add cream and chopped cilantro. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 30-40 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack inside sheet. Arrange chicken on rack in a single layer. Broil until chicken starts to blacken in spots (it will not be cooked through), about 10 minutes.
- Cut chicken into bite-size pieces, add to sauce, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, 8-10 minutes. Serve with rice and cilantro sprigs.
- Do Ahead:Chicken can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; chill. Reheat before serving.