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ost of us had at least some female relatives (if not our own mothers) who stayed at home and had the time, leisure and expertise to stand over the stove, with a simmering mixture of savory spices, brewing up a feast for the palate.

Fast-forward about 30 years, and it’s much harder to stand in that steaming kitchen, trying to make a tantalizing tikka masala or mouth-watering chicken curry. Of course, cookbooks and frantic phone calls to ammi (or auntie) can take care of the expertise. But really, what good is the expertise if you don’t have the time?

Enter Maya Kaimal. With her line of fresh sauces, including Indian Vindaloo, Coconut Curry and Tikka Masala (with a soon-to-be-introduced Korma), Kaimal lets you dispense with the previously required aching feet and sweaty brow and gets right to the good stuff: fresh-tasting, preservative-free sauces that allow you to make Indian food, at home, without having to take the day off from work.

I hope my sauces make Indian food a more regular part of people’s lives, so it doesn’t get relegated to cheap take-out options or the complicated, take-all-Satuday-to-prepare meal.

Kaimal, who attributes much of her cooking expertise to her father, grew up with a Malayalee father and an American mother (who also loved to entertain and cook for friends), and actually majored in art, specializing in photography. Leaping into the magazine world, Kaimal moved to New York City, where she had several stints as a photo editor.

Maya Kaimal
Maya Kaimal

But Kaimal’s interest in food was ever-present. “My family’s into food and loves to talk about it and think about it—it’s always a big conversation.” At her magazine job in New York, she would bring in leftovers for co-workers—and ended up starting a mini-catering business. Having published a small but well-received collection of family recipes in book form in an undergraduate book-making class, Kaimal realized that there was a market for uncomplicated Indian recipes. And her catering business allowed her to try out her father’s recipes on a hungry and captive crowd. Those recipes became her first book, which won the Julia Child award for best first cookbook, and launched Kaimal into the food world. Today, Kaimal has written for Saveur and Food & Wine and appeared on The Food Network and Martha Stewart. Her second cookbook also came out with great fanfare, but Kaimal remained primarily in the magazine business.

That all changed when the magazine she was working for faced financial troubles. Deciding whether to keep her career as a photo editor, her husband asked whether she wanted to “make food [my] full-time career.” The answer was yes. Friends in the grocery business asked her, “Why don’t you do something with Indian food? Nobody’s doing anything.” Though the original (and most obvious) idea was to do a jarred sauce that would have a long shelf-life, Kaimal wanted to make sure that quality was paramount.

“The idea really caught my imagination, because it did really seem there was a hole in the market. Nobody was doing a high-quality Indian line of foods.” So she investigated “what would be involved in doing a fresh sauce. If I was going to make a product that was going to be distinguished, I needed to be in a different part of the store. I wanted to be in the same environment as other gourmet and specialty foods, so people associated it with high quality and freshness.”

If I was going to make a product that was going to be distinguished, I needed to be in a different part of the store. I wanted to be in the same environment as other gourmet and specialty foods, so people associated it with high quality and freshness.

But Kaimal didn’t prefer fresh sauces just to distinguish her product from others: “For flavor reasons, I wanted to make it fresh because [then] it doesn’t have to be highly-processed.” And quality is paramount for Kaimal’s line of sauces. “I feel the spices are really important. They need to be fresh and high-quality, and I’m very particular. I want my black pepper to come from India. And we get our fresh curry leaves from a small farm in Florida, so we have them UPSed fresh. I do insist on tomato puree to tomato paste. I wanted it to be the same as when I was making it at home, and that’s not the easiest path when buying in bulk and from food distributors,” she explains. But it’s that very same attention to detail and quality that has landed her sauce range in gourmet and specialty stores across the country, largest among them being Whole Foods.

Kaimal sees the sauces as a way of getting people to develop a friendship with Indian food instead of an uneven acquaintance. “I hope [the sauces] make Indian food a more regular part of people’s lives. That it doesn’t get relegated to cheap take out options or the complicated, take-all-Satuday-to-prepare meal. That it becomes a quick, dinner, after-work solution, to help make Indian food everyday food. Making these sauces is an extension of my desire to cook the kind of Indian food I love for everybody.”

Kaimal’s sauces can be used as marinades or in wraps, mixed in yogurt or as the spicy base for an Indian meal. Kept in the refrigerator, an open jar can be kept for about two weeks. And all three are vegetarian-friendly. A fourth sauce will be launched this year, and Kaimal is looking to expand her range of fresh quality products, possibly with a paneer, and other expansions in the line of products, “that would all add up to giving people the building blocks for a complete Indian meal.”

Need some quick and easy meal ideas? Find some of Kaimal’s saucy suggestions below:

Vindaloo with Chickpeas and Sweet Potato

1 small sweet potato or half a large one
1/2 can chickpeas
1 jar Maya Kaimal Vindaloo sauce

1 1/2 cups couscous
Fresh cilantro for garnish
Plain yogurt

Peel a small sweet potato and dice into half-inch pieces.

In a saucepan, combine one 15 oz. container Maya Kaimal Vindaloo sauce with a half a can of chickpeas and sweet potato pieces. Bring to a simmer, lower heat and cover. Cook for 20 minutes or until sweet potato is very tender.

Meanwhile, steam one and a half cups couscous according to package directions.

Garnish Vindaloo with chopped fresh cilantro if you like, and serve with couscous and plain yogurt. Serves 4.

Curried Coconut with Shrimp and Asparagus

1 1/2 cups basmati rice
1/2 pound asparagus

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 pound shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 jar Maya Kaimal Coconut Curry

Prepare basmati rice according to package directions.

Snap the tough ends off of the asparagus spears and cut into 1-inch lengths. In a large frying pan (preferably non-stick,) sautee the asparagus in oil until barely tender.

Add the shrimp and Coconut Curry to the pan and simmer gently until the shrimp turns pink and opaque (about 5 minutes). Stir frequently.

Serve hot over basmati rice. Serves 4.n

Nakasha Ahmad makes a mean curry.
Published on May 2, 2005.
Photography: Courtesy of Maya Kaimal.
Comments are closed.
  1. October 12, 2006, 12:01 pm gina mathew

    In regards to your description of Kaimal’s father as “Malayalam” the correct term is Malayalee. Malayalam is the language spoken in Kerala and Malayalee refers to a person from that region.

  2. October 12, 2006, 2:27 pm Nirali Magazine

    Thanks for the correction. We sincerely regret the error and have corrected it.