Spice Queen Nirmala Narine

Nirmala Narine is a super talented wonder woman who not only runs her own successful spice business, but has authored books, runs a farm upstate and has traveled to over 125 countries around the world.  She’ll be speaking at the Asian Spice Cabinet Panel with editor of Edible Queens Leah McLaughlin and founder of Indian Culinary Center, Geetika Khanna.

What does it mean for you to be a part of the Asian Feastival?

I heard there would be rice, my favorite…but seriously, my great great grandparents are Indian and I was born in Guyana, South America – a whole other continent away. The foundation of my business and lifestyle is based on my Indian philosophy, our culture and tradition. To be a part of anything Asian, I am very proud. I continue to do a lot of charity work and mentoring Asians who wants to venture into the food business. It’s truly rewarding be a part of it all, and great to see that there are a lot of changes and that people are accepting it. It’s great to see organizations like this popping up.

You’ll be discussing Asian spices at the event. Which spices do you find are most often used in Asian cooking?

The term Asian is so broad just like the way we like to use our spices, we tend to blend several spices rather than use just one and add layers of “fresh spices and herbs”. The top five “base” dry spices are cumin, coriander, black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves.
To be more specific, lets talk about the “common” curries which I like to categorize them by countries. Thailand and India are both famous for curry, but they’re totally different in taste and aroma. If I were to talk about Thai, I would talk about Thai basil and lemongrass adding its fresh and unique flavors to the spices found in a Thai curry dish. While an Indian curry runs the gamut but for example a “South Indian” curry imparts the citrus note of fresh curry leaves, while black mustard seeds brings out a hint of spiciness and is piquant.

On your website, you sell all sorts of spices and salts. Which would you recommend to home cooks new to Asian cuisine?

Our Curry blends and Sichuan peppercorn are quite interesting and very useful, not only do we recommend them for authentic Asian meals but to spice up your everyday American favorites, like spaghetti sauces, meatloaf, burgers with a tablespoon of any of our curry powders. Perhaps making your own rubs combining seasalt and Sichuan peppercorns perfect for grilled fish, meats and vegetables.

Are there any spices you know of that you think people should try first before moving onto more ‘mature’ spices?

Well believe it or not cinnamon is still strange to people when it comes to cooking, so when I teach beginner cooks, I start with cinnamon because its so versatile, making a sweet dish to a savory dish. As for my most adventurous cooks…well its not a spice but a tea which I cook with like a spice. Matcha green tea, it has holistic properties, not only can you savor delicious and quick teas but you can also use it to make desserts like ice cream, or cheesecake and or to color sushi rice for that wonderful verdant color.

You mentioned earlier that you make all your spice blends. How did you get started?

I come from a generations of Ayurvedic scholars, my grandfather was an Ayurvedic scholar.
We used spices and herbs to heal the body inside and out, its an over 5,000 year old holistic lifestyle born in India.

At the age of 5 he started to teach me this practice. I had the access of ingredients indigenous to the South American jungles and our ancient India. Each and every spice, bark, leaves, roots I had to pound and grind on our masala brick (the one on my first cookbook cover-its over 150 years old, my great, great grandmother brought it from India to Guyana). So as you can imagine all these ingredients I had to taste and their aroma registered in my head, so when a villager came to our home for a remedy I knew exactly what to do…of course with a watchful eye from my grandfather. Today, this education is priceless and have traveled to over 125 countries and so every flavor and fragrance I discover, continues to entice my senses to create a spice blend, as spices are the soul of every cuisine and food connects us spiritually and emotionally that’s why I started Nirmala’s Kitchen.

Your cookbook, In Nirmala’s Kitchen touched upon cuisines from all over the world. Which one is your favorite, and which recipes do you like to make?

Anything which calls for rice, my parents were rice farmers. But if I were to pick a recipe from my book, it would be to make Tibetan momos again. They’re so fun to make, I love holding dough in my hands very therapeutic in many ways.