Indian food can be one of the most intimidating types of food to make. All of those spices are confusing – the quantities to use, the way to mix them all… So when I met Neena Patel Williams and learned about her new cookbook that is accompanied by a large box of carefully selected Indian spices, I jumped at the chance to try it myself. After all, I had eaten at so many great Indian restaurants in New York and London and had failed miserably when I tried to duplicate the recipes at home. Even when my friend Suzanne, who makes a mean curry, comes to spend the weekend with us with all of her Indian spices in tow, I cannot figure out to master this elusive cuisine.
If what Neena’s book was right, I could make real Indian food EASILY. I was in. I needed a cheat sheet to master this cuisine. Easy recipes… spices included? How could I go wrong. Before I went any further, I wanted to know a bit more about this, so I asked Neena a few lightening rod questions and she graciously answered.
Chatting with Neena
The Daily Basics: How would you describe yourself?
Neena Williams: First and foremost I’m a home cook with a positive outlook on life, I thank my husband and my two children for that.
TDB: What is your food philosophy?
NW: My philosophy is really simple… every home kitchen should have access to fresh, simple and authentic Indian food – great curry – and every home cook should have the opportunity to experiment and share their successes. Food brings people together and it doesn’t need to be complicated.
TDB: What is your favorite kitchen tool?
NW: Besides my Spice Box, I like using a timer because most of my dishes consist of letting the food cook itself, as the spices do all the work for you. I also love my mini food processor for my garlic and ginger – yes I like cheating!
TDB: Do you have a favorite cooking experience?
NW: My favorite cooking experience is when I show a friend how to cook a curry. It normally follows with their usual comment of “Is that it?” which always makes me laugh and once they have cooked it and they are at the dinner table I just like to see their faces when they eat it — always makes me smile.
TDB: What was the most unusual meal you have ever prepared (odd locations, different kinds of ingredients)?
NW: Helping my husband create a ‘Steak & Ale Vindaloo’. He had the idea to make a curry based on a famous meat pie in the UK. Initially, I didn’t see it working out well, but it came out so great that the recipe made it into my cookbook.
TDB: Do you like to cook alone or with your family?
Neena Williams: I like both, as my husband loves to help prep for a meal and my daughter likes peeling potatoes or stirring. She also likes setting the table for dinner. But most of the time I prefer cooking on my own as I find it extremely therapeutic.
TDB: What is your favorite way to serve the meals you make?
Neena Williams: For me it’s just a simple chopped salad. Sometimes some fresh chappatti’s and basmati rice too! I also like placing the pot of curry on the table so everyone can help themselves.
TDB: Do your children cook with you and at what age do you think kids should start learning in the kitchen?
NW: Yes, my daughter Rani started around age 3 and she LOVES helping out, even if its shredding, adding the ingredients to the cooking pot or stirring (very carefully). Kids are so inquisitive and so she always asks what each vegetable is and is curious as to what it tastes like. Rani and my son Roshan both love eating Indian food. When cooking for my family, before I add the chili powder in the dish, I remove some of it for them, as they really enjoy the flavors from the other spices. It also makes my life easier so I don’t have to cook something different for them.
TDB: Any tricks to cooking Indian food for a large group of people?
NW: Cooking for a larger group is something I really enjoy. I cook most of the meal the day before, as curries always taste better the following day too as the flavors from the spices enhance the dish. I also think about creating dishes that can be marinated so that they’re out of the way before your guests arrive. Say for example, if you have a BBQ, you can marinate lamb chops, shrimp, kebabs, etc. ahead of time. So easy!
TDB: It is obvious you are passionate about cooking. Can you tell me what drives you to share your passion and recipes?
NW: My Mom is an incredible cook and food always plays a massive role in our family. It’s always been so social for me growing up with parents running a restaurant and being in the catering business. For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed sharing food – whether it’s with friends, taking food to the office to enjoy with colleagues or now, finally that I’ve created Kitchen Curry Master, hopefully with many others.
Neena Williams: My family heritage is from the region of Gujarat in Northern India. The spices do vary across regions but generally these are the spices that you will find in every Indian home. It’s amazing how the different combinations of spices can create so many different flavor variations. You’ll note that I have placed 2 packets of Ground Cumin & Coriander in The Master Set because I use this spice mix in almost all of my dishes. Spices have an extremely long shelf life of over 2 years, just as long as you keep them in a sealed container like my spice box. You would be surprised once you start cooking with Kitchen Curry Master you will not be able to stop cooking. Trust me, I’ve seen pictures of different dishes cooked week after week by the same people.
I regularly use my spices in non-Indian cooking. Different spices can add great flavor to things like pasta dishes, meat roasts, baked vegetables or even spicing up things like homemade burgers, fresh soups – I make a mean Indian style Omelet, and even spicy baked beans on toast are a big hit.
I decided to make Chicken Korma Curry. I had all the extra ingredients, I thought, so I began. Little did I realize that my yoghurt was vanilla and I did not have any fresh ginger. I’d fudge it. In addition to that, I mixed all the ingredients together instead of separating them into two batches and I was ready for another Indian food catastrophe! Wrong – this curry was amazing! We had to break out a baguette (I know it’s not Indian) to soak up the rest of the curry. It was beyond delicious! I was also ready to pull out the antacid for my husband’s sensitive tummy and there was no need for that. This was not a heavy hot spicy dish, it was light and fresh and we did add a chopped green salad on the side.
For a holiday gift, we highly recommend this for the cook on your list. They will love experimenting with it, as did I! I am now on a Neena video and Indian cooking spree. Thank you Neena!
MEET THE REAL SPICE GIRL:
Neena Williams (maiden name Patel) is a passionate home cook known simply as “Neena,” who wants to make her native cuisine more accessible to others. She has developed a new product called Kitchen Curry MasterTM, a concept that marries a ready-to-use curated spice collection and simple expert instruction. Neena’s world has always revolved around the rich culinary traditions that hearken back to her mother’s native Northern India.
Originally from London, Neena moved to California with her English husband and two-year old daughter. Her second child was born here. With all of the fantastic food stores, there was no such thing as one-stop shopping for the right spices for the right prices Today, Neena’s mission is to show aspiring home cooks how easy, fresh and light Indian food can be to prepare and share with friends and family, once the spices and the guidance are there. For further information, please visit www.kitchencurrymaster.com.