You don’t have to be an artist to enjoy an enticingly crafted meal. I'm always extra pleased when I've made the time to present my food beautifully (even when it’s just myself eating). I love the bright and contrasting colors, ingredients placed with care, and garnishes and sauces to enhance the appeal. Yet, after I began to study nutrition, I learned that there was much more to mother nature’s color palette than I had ever realized.
Decades ago scientists began to uncover the extraordinary relationship between the colors of our food and the complex assortment of nutrients and life-enhancing biochemicals contained within. Color Theory takes on a whole new meaning as we look at why brightening up our dishes with colorful food isn’t just for aesthetics any more. And that's why I absolutely love this recipe, it's not just the exotic and lively flavors, but also the astonishing pigments in every yummy bite! Let’s zero-in on the gilded glories of the edible powdered gold, a.k.a. turmeric, as well as the colorful common denominator hiding out in several of the ingredients in these tacos: anthocyanins.
Turmeric is a plant that’s related to ginger, and most commonly eaten as a spice made from grinding the dried root. It’s very common in Indian and Asian cooking, and after a lot of time under scientific scrutiny (last I saw, it was over 6,000 studies), it’s won a lot of respect as a medicinal food. We now understand that a good deal of the benefits we receive from eating turmeric are due to its golden plant pigment, curcumin.
Long ago humans figured out that this valuable root had healing properties, but good ol’ research has illuminated more concretely the vast array of benefits this plant has to offer. We are seeing regular consumption of turmeric is promising as an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-coagulant, anti-diabetic, anti-microbial, anti-ulcer, anti-cancer, anti-depressant, and supports heart, gut, skin health, and wound healing. Ummm...someone please get this plant a medal!
I wish I had time to go over all of those pathways for healing, but for now, let’s take a look at two of the major contenders: anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogen.
As an anti-inflammatory this herb deserves a lot of attention, as the spice seems to work on inflammation from different angles, such as improving blood circulation, down-regulating pro-inflammatory cytokines, and inhibiting all sorts of inflammation-involved proteins and enzymes (here are a few, see how fast you can read these off: “LOX, COX, phospholipases, leukotrienes, prostaglandins, thromboxane, nitric oxide elastase, hyaluronidase, collagenase, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, interferon inducible protein, TNF and interleukin-12,” phew!). And it looks like it might even give us around the same kind of pain relief as ibuprofen, even for arthritis pain (not to mention without the side effects and risks).
If you have read any of my other Buy Any Greens Necessary articles, you know that I am always proponent of protecting our DNA. One of the healthiest ways to do that is by eating foods that contain antioxidants (or, a more impressive scientific name, "plants"). And guess what, turmeric has a substantial amount of antioxidants. Many studies have been performed on turmeric/curcumin, and a meta analysis of these findings related to cancer found that the spice is able to help fight cancer activity at three different stages: tumor promotion, angiogenesis, as well as tumor growth, itself. Some research has shown that turmeric helps in suppressing mutagenic effects of some of the common carcinogens. Talk about a superb seasoning I wouldn’t mind sprinkling on my meals every day!
On that note, it’s important to remember that when it comes to turmeric, and other supplements, generally speaking, more is not always better. Whole foods, with the assortment of plant compounds naturally present, are shown to deliver the most benefit in terms of chronic diseases (not so much supplements with isolated anthocyanin). Eating turmeric regularly in typical culinary amounts is considered safe, as studies have yet to find any toxic effects, but if you wish to take turmeric as a supplement in hopes of seeing therapeutic benefits, it's best to chat with your doctor first. Also, be sure to always consume some black pepper (piperine) with turmeric to majorly increase absorption of all of that good golden stuff.
Ok, lets talk about why we love some of the other colors as well. Turmeric, red cabbage, radish, cilantro, and bell peppers (red more so than orange) all have anthocyanins. We are talking some pretty powerful pigments up in this recipe. If you choose to use purple cauliflower or broccoli, you're pulling in the extra credit points here! (More about some of broccoli's amazingness).
Anthocyanins are the widest spread of the plant pigments. Their brilliant palette consists of the blues, purples, reds, and orange colors that paint a great number of fruits, vegetables, and flowers we eat. Science is bringing to light some of the benefits of eating anthocyanins, including anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective activity, prevention of cardiovascular disease, anti-obesity, and anti-diabetic activity.
Usually I would cover heart health, since it affects so many people these days, (and yes, anthocyanins and turmeric have been shown to have several positive effects against heart disease and cholesterol levels), but today I want to draw a little attention to the neuro-protective qualities of this family of pigments. Scientists are discovering positive benefits of reduced inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain, and diets rich in colorful fruit and vegetables might even “reverse age-related changes in brain and behavior.” Studies are showing strong positive relationships between these pigment-rich foods and cognitive performance, memory, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. So it's not just your body that gets a protective boost from colorful fruits and veggies, your brain does too!
I hope that next time you are walking through the produce or farmers market aisle and you see all those glorious colors gleaming from the shelves and bins, you can now think of picking the palette you want to paint with for your next dish. Reach for those purple potatoes, red carrots, or that head of orange cauliflower, that’s right, this time it's ok to color outside the lines!
IN A CURRY TACOS
Makes about 4-6 tacos, depending on tortilla size
Gluten Free, Nut Free, Plant-Based
Time: about 20 mins
For the Tacos:
4-6 corn or gluten free tortillas
4 cups chopped Romanesco, Cauliflower, and/or Broccoli (1-2 heads depending on size)
1 cup shredded red cabbage
½ cup chopped cilantro
2 baby bell peppers
1-2 Tbsp avocado oil
⅓ + cup white vinegar
¼ tsp agave or maple syrup
2 ½ tsp curry powder
¼ tsp powdered dried garlic
⅛ tsp salt and tsp ground back pepper
For the Crema:
3 Tbsp non dairy sour cream (my fav is Forager Project) *see note for subbing with mayo
1 lime (zested, and 2 tsp fresh squeezed lime juice), *extra lime for garnish if desired
1 tsp avocado oil
¼ tsp powdered dried garlic
⅛ tsp salt to taste
Consider sliced avocado, fresh mint, toasted papitas, or chopped cashews to garnish.
The Chopping Block:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Cover baking sheet or large baking dish with parchment paper or tin foil *optional step.
Chop Romanesco/Cauli/Broccoli into very small pieces, less than 1-inch.
Add chopped RCB pieces to a medium bowl and gently mix in 1-2 Tbsp oil until lightly coated.
Add 2 ½ tsp curry powder, ¼ tsp dried garlic, ⅛ tsp salt, ⅛ tsp pepper and mix together until your veggies are glowing a nice golden color.
Spread evenly across baking sheet and bake for 18-20 mins.
Wrap tortillas completely in foil, sprinkle with a tiny amount of water first and set aside.
Add ⅓ cup white vinegar and ¼ tsp agave syrup to a small bowl.
Thinly slice baby peppers and radish and submerge in the bowl of vinegar to soak until it's time to serve, then remove from vinegar.
Thinly slice 1 cup of red cabbage and chop ½ cup cilantro.
A Little Crema on Top:
In a small bowl combine 3 Tbsp non-dairy sour cream**, 2 tsp fresh lime juice, the zest of 1 lime, and 1 tsp oil.
Add ¼ tsp dried garlic, ⅛ tsp salt and stir well. Taste and adjust seasonings to preference.
**NOTE: You can substitute sour cream for mayo. I recommend about 2 ½ Tbsp vegan mayo and ½ Tbsp plant based milk or water. Hold the oil. You may prefer a little more lime juice to taste.
Curry Up! It’s time to eat!:
For the last 4-5 mins of baking time, set the foil wrapped tortillas into the oven along with the veggies.
Once veggies are a golden brown and your tortillas are warm and soft, remove from oven.
Either pre-plate like I do to make sure we are looking at a masterpiece here, or set all prepared ingredients and crema on the table and allow everyone to build their own.