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BY: Andrea Nakayama

DATE: 2010-05-01

This month’s featured ingredient: Turmeric!

Today is an occasion to reflect on what inspired my road to nutrition. Today is the day my husband, Isamu, was born. If he were alive today, he’d be 42 years old.

Like many of us, the path that lead me to the powers of food began when my husband was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor in April of 2000. I was seven weeks pregnant with Gilbert at the time. Some of you know this story, some of you don’t. Today seemed like the appropriate time to recount it and honor the blessings of life, love, and good food.

Isamu loved good food! He’d get lost in a scrumptious bowl of homemade ice cream, a grass-fed burger, and his mom’s fried chicken. The first time his mother came to San Francisco to visit him and meet me, he spent our dinner immersed in communing with the deliciousness of the fine meal to which she was treating us. What about me? I asked him later, wanting a little bit more of a bridge during my first encounter with my mother-in-law to-be.

I too became entranced with food in my 20’s. I’d oscillate between the great culinary choices available to us in the Bay Area farmers and specialty markets, and the intrigue of nutrition that was begging for my attention. When Isamu’s diagnosis came I quickly and effectively learned to marry my interests. The two are far from mutually exclusive. Savory nutrient-dense food is imminently possible!

Isamu’s prognosis was grave, and we were game to explore everything. Research showed that food and nutrition were clearly on the menu. Ten years later, it’s such an ingrained part of my life that I sometimes find it difficult to believe that anyone could think otherwise. Why not use the yummiest and most potent medicine we have to heal ourselves, stave off illness, transform our health, and strive for longevity?

Isamu outlived his diagnosis by two years. He died in July of 2002, when Gilbert was 19 months old. He was a love, a joy, and a pure blessing. I imagine I’m not the only one who thanks him for my food and healing journey that culminated during his illness. I aim to spread as broadly as I can the gifts that I learned during the ten years I shared with him, during his death, and in my pursuits to understand further the healing powers of food. He’s with me every step of the way.
Happy Birthday Isamu!

Spring Pea Curry

This is a simple and delicious spring curry. We ate it as soup one night and I served it with kelp noodles and more fresh lightly steamed peas the following afternoon. Brown rice or mung bean threads or noodles would work nicely too!

  • 1 Tbspn unrefined coconut oil

  • 1 cup sliced spring leeks

  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

  • 1 tspn sea salt

  • 1 Tbspn curry powder

  • 1 tspn dried turmeric powder or 1/2-inch knob fresh turmeric root

  • 2 cans organic full-fat coconut milk (I use Native Forest brand as the cans do not contain BPA)

  • 1 to 2 cups water or broth of choice (start with one and adjust for your favored consistency)

  • 2 Tbspn miso paste

  • 1 cup fresh shelled peas (frozen work OK too)

  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro

  • extra miso, curry, or thai curry paste for spice (optional)


Trim the root and the green stalk off the leeks. Slice them lengthwise in half and then into thin half round segments.

Place the sliced leeks and garlic in a large bowl. Scoop on the coconut oil and 1/2 tspn of the sea salt. Immerse your clean hand in the bowl and massage the oil and salt into the leeks to “sweat” them and prepare them for the soup. The oil will melt with the heat of your hand.

Pour the coconut milk, smaller amount of broth or water, curry powder, turmeric powder or chopped root, and miso paste into your blender. Give it a whirl!

Add the leeks and garlic, as well as the fresh peas and cilantro to the blender. Blend again, until all ingredients are combined to a smooth and creamy consistency.

Pour your blended mixture into a pot and place over a very low heat. The goal is to gently warm the curry & soften the bite of the raw leeks and garlic but not bring it to boil.

At this point taste your curry. Add the extra 1/2 tspn of salt. You can also add additional miso, curry powder, or a thai curry paste (look for one with pure and simple ingredients and without sugar).
note: If adding additional miso, remove some of the warmed broth from the pot and place in a small bowl. Then scoop the miso into the small bowl and mix to dissolve the miso before adding to the pot.

Turmeric: the powerhouse root

Turmeric root is used as both a spice and a medicine. It’s traditional to Indian cooking and is used extensively in Ayurvedic healing practices.

  • Turmeric is an essential ingredient in curry.

  • It has a higher beta carotene content than any other food.

  • You can purchase the root, which looks much like orange ginger root, or powder. The powder is made from grinding the boiled, peeled, & dried root.

  • To maximize it’s healing benefits, you can saute it in a little ghee before adding other ingredients.

  • Turmeric turns food a bright mustard color and adds a warming flavor and aroma. Besides curries, it’s great in many vegetable and grain dishes as well as breads, where it can lend a golden yellow tint.

  • Be careful when using turmeric, as it can stain your counter tops and clothing! In fact it’s used in Asia for dying clothes, particularly the robes of Buddhist monks, and is also a great natural dye for next year’s Easter eggs.

Nutritional benefits:

  • Turmeric tones the liver and gallbladder–making it a perfect spice to add to your spring detoxification endeavors. The spice increases production of the enzymes needed to digest fat and sugar, and helps to stop the the crystallization of cholesterol that can result in gallstones.

  • Turmeric has been found to be very effective in causing the death of cancer cells present in a variety of tissues within the body, particularly in the colon.

  • Turmeric deactivates the immune cells that cause inflammation without negatively effecting other parts of the immune system needed to fight disease and infection. This potent anti-inflammatory property makes it a good choice for addressing any kind of acute, chronic, or silent inflammatory condition–from carpal tunnel, to arthritis, to heart disease.

  • Turmeric has been used for centuries to combat indigestion and stomach irritation, and to enhance digestion.

  • It’s antibacterial and can be used for the regulation of blood sugar by diabetics.

  • Turmeric powder can be made into a paste, combined with water, to be used topically on canker sores and cold sores. I had one client try it on her psoriasis!

  • Curcumin is the primary chemical component that makes turmeric such a powerhouse. Curcumin is highly concentrated in antioxidants. However curcumin removed from the turmeric root (and encapsulated into pills) is not as easily absorbed as the whole food itself, unless combined with other herbs to aid absorption.

Since I’m ecstatic about turmeric, here are some bonus recipes to ignite your taste buds and squelch your internal fires of inflammation.

The first is a link to one of my favorite PDX food bloggers Slowcooked RX. Joanna had a great recipe on her blog last month that highlighted turmeric.

The second is a recipe directly from Tressa Yellig of Salt, Fire & Time!

Turmeric Chickpea Salad


  • 2 cups (soaked overnight) cooked chickpeas

  • 2 inches grated fresh turmeric or 2 Tbspn dried turmeric

  • 1 tspn cumin seeds, toasted

  • 1 tspn brown mustard seeds

  • 1 tspn coriander seeds, toasted

  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced

  • 1/2 cup flaked coconut

  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

  • 4 Tbspn extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil

  • 4 Tbspn butter or ghee

  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced

  • 4 small tomatoes, diced


In a small saucepan, cook soaked chickpeas in water (just to cover) with the turmeric until soft, about 40 minutes. Set aside.

In a small saute pan, melt butter or ghee and add onions. Cook over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add tomatoes and cook until just slightly wilted, about 5 minutes.

In a food processor blend coconut, cilantro, mint, jalapeno and spices and oil until smooth.

Drain chickpeas, do not rinse.

Mix chickpeas, herb blend, and tomatoes evenly.

Salt to taste.
This recipe is great on its own or stuff it into a crepe or serve over fish.

Thanks Joanna and Tressa!

Andrea Nakayama

By: Andrea Nakayama, FxNA Founder & Functional Medicine Nutritionist

Functional Nutrition Alliance provides the comprehensive online Functional Nutrition training in the Science & Art of the Functional Nutrition practice. Learn to address the roots of your clients’ suffering with client education, diet & lifestyle modifications.


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