Almost a year ago to date, during a long deep dark winter in Maine, while I was watching my newborn son sleep peacefully I felt this urge to get back into my kitchen and make a rich warm Indian curry to nourish my fatigued body and wake up my senses after being buried in a nursing fog. I knew I couldn’t get too adventurous and tackle one from scratch as my baby only took cat naps and Indian food requires patience, time and a slew of spices. In an impulsive move, I decided to reach out to Maya Kaimal founder of Maya Kaimal foods and let her know I was a big fan of her writing and was intrigued with her line of jarred curries. Maya responded almost immediately and within a couple of days her team had sent me the entire line of shelf-stable jars of sauces to play with in my kitchen.
Back in college, I can remember buying a jar of Indian curry and feeling totally let down and even more nostalgic for my mother’s cooking. I figured no one could possibly transport a homemade curry with all its complex flavors into a glass jar. And then flash forward a decade, Maya Kaimal came along and accomplished the improbable: a line of signature Indian sauces that authentically reflect the subtle but discernable unique characteristics between the north, south, east and west regions of India.
In the interest of time, I decided to review three sauces from the line: Goan Coconut, Kashmiri Curry and the Butter Masala.
With my Portuguese-Indian (Goan) heritage running through my veins I knew I had to first give the Goan Coconut curry a try.
So what is a Goan coconut curry? A quick history lesson would note that the Portuguese attempted multiple voyages to India and finally sailed into Goa, a coastal state located on the Western Coast of India, in the late 1400s and colonized it until 1975. Spreading Christianity, “combating Islam,” and strengthening their Portuguese-Asian spice empire were the primary goals of the Portuguese. The Portuguese finally overthrew the Arabs and took over the spice trade routes through Cochin and Goa. General Afonso De Albuquerque encouraged the Portuguese soldiers to marry the local women and thereby ensured Portuguese presence among the locals. While the Portuguese enjoyed a monopoly over spice routes they also introduced the fiery red chili pepper to the locals.
What makes Maya’s curry uniquely Goan is the addition of coconut cream to tame and balance out the fiery red chilis.
Goa is located on the west coast of India and its gorgeous coastline is dotted with groves of coconut trees. The locals use every part of the coconut. I vividly recall my mother taking the time to squeeze freshly grated coconut in a cheesecloth instead of using a can of coconut cream or milk. She would do it exactly three times: once to get coconut cream, then twice more for its milk.
Luckily for me I didn’t have to add any coconut cream as this jar was chock-full of sumptuous notes of coconut that balanced out the tangy tamarind and the spicy chilis. What I did decide to add was a pot of hot water on the stove and made up a batch of fluffy aromatic basmati rice to go along with it. This mouthwatering dish was on the table in less than 15 minutes. Not only did I feel like a chef, but it also brought back memories of our Sunday suppers when my mother would make up an oversized pot of her lip-smacking shrimp coconut curry for her little girl.
Infused with heady notes of cumin, coriander, cardamom, clove and cinnamon ( what I refer to as The Holy Grail of Indian spices, the 5 c’s ) and finished with a luscious buttery tomato gravy this Butter Masala transported me back to a grand wedding I once attended back in Mumbai. For added decadence I laced it with even more clarified butter. I decided to play around with this dish and added an extra step . I marinated the boneless chicken in some yogurt with a puree of ginger, garlic, a generous squeeze of lemon juice with finely chopped cilantro. After an hour, I took it out of the fridge and added some clarified butter ( ghee) to my dutch oven and sautéed the chicken with the marinade for about 15 minutes and then added the jarred sauce.
Maya’s Butter Masala was supremely delicious. I knew it as soon as I opened the jar and snagged a quick taste. I really didn’t need to add the extra step of marinating the chicken. But the comfort of knowing that the sauce was ultimately spot on with its flavor profile inspired me to add my own personal touches.
Kashmir is located just below the Himalayas in India’s northern most tip. As a young girl living in the hot, crowded city of Mumbai, I have always held a quiet fascination for Kashmir. I recall my mom telling me stories about Kashmir – that it was hotly contested and fought over by both India and Pakistan. And yet, this war-torn state was one of the most beautiful places on earth with some of the best scenery, incredible food and warm-hearted people. My mother would regal me with stories about its rich cuisine.
Kashmiri chilis are long, skinny and have a wrinkled exterior. But when ground into a fine powder – the chili powder instantly adds a vibrant fire-engine red color to any Indian dish without bringing too much heat.
Maya embues her version of Kashmiri curry with notes of nutmeg, pungent mace and coconut milk to balance out the Kashmiri chili-infused tomato puree. My husband loves any Indian dish with lamb in it. I took the liberty of marinating cubes of lean lamb in yogurt, lemon juice, garlic and ginger paste for an hour in the fridge while I was on my lunch hour. I came home later that evening and let the cubes of lamb gently sizzle in some ghee and then simmer alongside hearty chunks of Yukon gold potatoes in this aromatic sauce. In less than 25 minutes, the cubes of lamb were fork-tender and the potatoes creamy and perfectly stewed. I cheated and bought some naan (Indian flatbread) and heated them up over a live flame with a pair of tongs and then lightly doused each naan with a garlic-infused clarified butter.
Maya Kaimal’s line of shelf-stable sauces have now earned a front-and-center spot in my highly-selective pantry. In fact I have even started gifting them to friends who are intrigued with Indian food and are tad bit intimidated to make an Indian dish from scratch. With each jar of Goan Coconut Curry, Kashmiri Curry and the Butter Masala I felt transported back to my homeland of India. I have already started dreaming about my next adventure in my kitchen. Perhaps a cumin-spiked potato and pea deep fried samosa with Maya Kaimal’s Spicy Ketchup for dipping. Stay tuned for my next post!