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Elmhurst resident keeps her life spicy

Photo courtesy Evelyn Banker

When Evelyn Banker arrived in Elmhurst more than 20 years ago, she brought part of her native India with her in the form of the flavorful, pungent and exotic spices she was raised on.

One of nine children, Banker can still recall helping her mother while she cooked with chilies, mustard seeds, cumin, turmeric and clove.

“As a child, my main chore was to grind spices for my mother. Each spice had to be ground separately, and I learned from her how to use the spices to bring flavor, color and nutrition to foods,” said Banker. “Mostly, we ate dal (lentils), beans, rice, whole wheat roti (flatbread), barley and other grains. We also made cereals from wheat and millet.”

Over the years, Banker’s family and friends enjoyed many savory and nutritious meals that, like her mother, she had lovingly prepared for them.

At times, she would get very creative and depending on the combination of spices she used, her recipes would get a whole new twist. As her belief in and understanding of the health benefits of spices grew and expanded, the next logical step was to share her wealth of knowledge and passion for all things spicy with others, through her book, “The Magic of Spices/A Touch of Turmeric.”

Banker has included more than 70 tantalizing recipes, complemented with beautiful photographs, which incorporate the flavorful kick and appetizing colors her arsenal of spices add to each dish. But this cook also believes in the medicinal and healing values that come with a extra dash of this, or sprinkle of that.

“Some of my favorite spices are turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, ginger and clove. I use them because they provide flavor and are also healthful,” said Banker. “For instance, every day, I boil water for tea with cinnamon, clove and ginger.”

Banker reels off a list of spices she uses regularly in her cooking and their suggested health benefits.

Cinnamon adds flavor, but it is also available in capsules as a daily supplement and is supposed to help stabilize blood sugar and promote heart and circulatory health.

Cloves contain organic compounds and oils that may protect against cancer and could manage heart rate, balance bodily fluids, improve digestion, increase oral health and even fight premature aging. For centuries, ginger has been used to alleviate nausea and congestion. And Banker said dill helps you sleep, while cardamom eases digestion.

Known as Indian saffron in medieval Europe, turmeric is made from the boiled, dried, cleaned and polished roots of the turmeric plant and has a bright yellow color.

If you flip Banker’s book over, you find an entire section dedicated to turmeric’s varied uses.

It’s the main ingredient in curry powder. Among its many healing values are its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and antiseptic properties; it even relieves skin conditions, stops bleeding, and improves heart and liver function.

“A few years ago, when I had serious trouble with my knees, I increased my intake of turmeric and got tremendous relief. I knew how wonderful turmeric is, and I wanted to share this with everyone, and teach people how to use it,” said Banker.

She offers private cooking lessons, as well as regular lecture stops at area libraries and the Y. On March 2, she be at the Central Y on 108th Street in Forest Hills.

“In my library presentations and classes at the Forest Hills Y, I usually make soup, salad and tea, describe the properties of all the ingredients I use, and answer questions,” she said.

Banker has another book in the works, which will contain more recipes along with stories and memories from her childhood.

For more information on Banker’s classes and upcoming appearances, check out her website at www.evely‌nbank‌er.com

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