Nana's Shepherd's Pie

On a recent visit to Hong Kong, Grandma, aka 'Nana', whipped up her famous Shepherd's Pie. Based on the reaction of toddler and his friends, I knew the world needed this recipe! Thanks to beautiful, talented, hilarious, full of life Nana and her guest post this week, we can now all enjoy this nutritious, heart and belly-warming spiced up classic on our family tables.

Nana's Shepherd's Pie
by Stephanie Koya / Nana

When I was a little girl, I used to beg my mother to make Shepherd's Pie. It was my favorite, so simple yet yummy. I vividly remember the smell of the herbs, onion and garlic as the mince was cooking on the stove top. I make it quite often in the cooler months of Florida, spiced up with cinnamon and clove, which complement the beef beautifully. My son Shariff told me that if he had to have one last meal, it would be my Shepherd's Pie with creamy, buttery, mashed, sweet paprika-spiced potatoes on top! As you can imagine, I was over the moon, and even more so, when my grandson tried it and did his 'yummy dance'. "Mmmmmmm Nana" he said and I just felt like I was going to burst with joy. I hope you enjoy it and get a yummy dance from your kids too.


Nana's Shepherd's Pie
Baby Led Weaning Friendly, Toddlers, Kids, Adults

Science Corner
Iron is critical for the production of hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying component of red blood cells. These cells transport oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body, including the muscles. Iron deficiency, if left untreated, can cause fatigue and weakness and more seriously, growth and developmental delays. After 6 months of age, babies', toddlers' and kids' diets must provide sufficient iron.  For kids who eat an omnivorous diet, beef is a superb source of iron. Here, it comes together with vitamin-rich veggies, anti-oxidant rich spices and natural starches to create the perfect, satisfying, balanced meal for the family table. 

6-8 toddler servings

2 tablespoons neutral oil like canola or ghee
1 onion finely chopped
1 celery stick finely chopped
2 large carrots finely chopped
3 cloves garlic crushed
3/4 lb or 350 g minced beef (or lamb, if you prefer a more gamey flavor)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon mixed herbs (like herbes de Provence)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cloves ground about 1/8 teaspoon
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon flour
5 Russett potatoes peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup milk
1/2 stick or 4 tablespoons butter
1 cup peas
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sweet paprika

Preheat the oven to 375 F / 180C. 

In a heavy bottom, preferably oven-proof pot for which you have a lid, heat the oil or ghee on medium. Add the onion, celery and carrots and sautee until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and sautee until fragrant, about another minute. Add the beef and brown the meat, stirring well, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaf, herbs, tomato paste, dijon and spices and sautee until well mixed, about a minute. Add the chicken stock and stir well. Whisk in the flour to thicken the gravy slightly breaking up any clumps. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook with the lid on for about 30 minutes. 

While the mince is cooking, In a pot for which you have a lid, cover the potatoes with water, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add 1 teaspoon of salt and cook on medium-high uncovered for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain and return to the pot over low heat, add the milk, 1/2 the butter, salt and pepper to taste, stirring until well mixed and creamy. Take off the heat and set aside. 

Once you've crossed the 30 minute mark with the minced beef, add the peas, salt and pepper to taste and some water if the mixture is dry and cook covered for another 10 minutes. Taste the mince and season with more salt if necessary. Remove the bay leaf. 

Cover the meat mixture with the mashed potatoes and smooth out with a fork. Sprinkle with paprika and thin slices of the remaining butter. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the top is golden and the mince is bubbling. Serve with a side salad for an adult dinner party or as is for the yummiest toddler bash. 


Get your Calcium on with 'Badbadi'

Badbad whaaaa?!

Alright, let me explain. Growing up in India, we ate a boatload of lentils and beans, also known as legumes. Our family occasionally ate meat and fish so we weren't vegetarian (many Indian households are) but we relied heavily on legumes for protein and other nutrients. 

My favorite legume dish was 'badbadi' (pronounded bud-bud-ee). I just loved saying it over and over again - "mom, let's have badbadi today!" "Mom, are we having badbadi for lunch"? "Mom, is that badbadi in the pressure cooker"? I'm not sure if the word led me to love the dish or the other way around but I have vivid memories of a delicious bowl of badbadi with rice hitting the spot on many an occasion. 

How ironic then that my latest obsession - CALCIUM for kids - led me straight back to badbadi, a Sindhi term for black-eyed peas! (Sindhis are a community of Indians originally from the Sindh province in Pakistan. I am Sindhi). If you've watched my calcium conscious grocery run, you're recall that black-eyed peas are a powerful non-dairy source of calcium. So you see how, in a quest to wrap up our calcium series with a spiced, delicious, non-dairy, calcium-rich recipe, I came full circle back to badbadi.

I couldn't, however, share the recipe without getting to the bottom of the moniker. So I called my mom.

Me: "Mom, what's with the name badbadi?"
Mom: "Hmm. Why do you ask?"
Me: "I'm sharing it with my readers as a non-dairy, calcium-rich, kid-friendly recipe and I can't possibly gloss over the strange and addictive sounding name."
Mom: "Kanchan, I don't know if this is appropriate to share with your readers but I think it's because badbadi ..... you know.....(giggle) causes a bit of flatulence (read: gas) because it's a bean and that sounds know....ahem.....bud bud bud....(giggle)"
Me: "Mom!! LOL" "LOL" "LOL"

So there you have it. I still love badbadi as do my son and husband despite the flatulence issue. As discussed here, not all flatulence is bad but can, in fact, be a sign of good gut flora health. I use spices and techniques to minimize the gassiness of the black-eyed peas (and most healthful beans and lentils) described below and always offer it at lunch so there's plenty of time to optimally digest before bedtime. And to no one's surprise, my son loves saying the word too. 


Badbadi (Black-Eyed Pea Curry)
Toddler, Kid, Adult

Science Corner
In addition to aiding heart health discussed here, black-eyed peas are a superb non-dairy source of calcium - 1 cup has 183 mg vs milk that has 300 mg. They are also packed with complex carbohydrates for sustained energy, some protein, low levels of fat, folate and vitamin K, which helps the body retain calcium - a winning combination! Their fiber feeds beneficial bacteria in our guts allowing them to produce important molecules like butyrate. Butyrate maintains the health of our large intestine, prevents inflammation, boosts metabolism and even prevents colon cancer! Needless to say, adding these nutrient powerhouses to your kids' and family's diet is a fabulous idea. Here, they merge with anti-inflammatory turmeric, digestion-boosting spices like asafoetida (hing), cumin and coriander (which also contains a good amount of vitamin K!) and anti-bacterial bay leaf in a curry that will warm the bellies and hearts of your entire family. Not to mention that this is also the perfect dish to sneak in those greens - spinach anyone? 

To ameliorate the gassiness of beans, it's a good idea to use digestion-boosting spices like ginger, asafoetida (hing), cumin, coriander and / or bay leaf. Rinsing and soaking the beans also gets rid of some of the gas-causing oligosaccharides. Finally, boiling the beans uncovered for 5-10 minutes and skimming the foam helps reduce the gassiness. We deploy all of these techniques here!  

4 toddler or 2 adult servings

1 cup black-eyed peas, rinsed and soaked overnight
1/2 onion
2 tomatoes
1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
2 tablespoons neutral oil like canola
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
Pinch, about 1/16th teaspoon asafoetida (hing) (optional)
1 dry bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander / cilantro powder
1/4 cup frozen chopped spinach (can use fresh)
Salt to taste

Discard the soaking water and set the beans aside.

In a food processor, blend the onion, tomato and ginger into a smooth puree.

In a pressure cooker or pot for which you have a lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the cumin seeds and allow to brown and turn aromatic, about 15 seconds. Add the turmeric and hing and sauté until the spices bloom, about 10 seconds. Add the onion, tomato, ginger puree and sauté until roasted, about 8 minutes.

If using a pressure cooker, add the beans, bay leaf and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil uncovered for 5 minutes, skimming off foam as it arises. Seal the pressure cooker and cook on high for 3 minutes until pressure builds and releases. Reduce heat to a low setting and cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pressure release entirely, about 5 minutes. Open the pressure cooker and check the beans for doneness - they should be soft. If not, cook them longer until soft. You can also do this in a slow cooker. 

If using a pot, add the beans, bay leaf and 4.5 cups of water. Bring to a boil uncovered for 10 minutes, skimming off foam as it arises. Cover, reduce heat to low and allow the beans to cook for 60 minutes. Check every 10 minutes to ensure the beans are submerged (adding more water if not) and aren't sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the beans are soft, take the lid off and turn the heat back up to medium. 

To the cooked beans in either the pressure cooker or pot, add more water if necessary (usually 1/2 cup for pressure cooker and 1-2 cups for pot), ground cumin, coriander, salt and spinach and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check for seasoning and serve over white or brown rice for a complete, nutritious, calcium-rich meal. We served it here with a delicious potato raita (recipe coming soon!)


A Calcium Conscious Grocery Run

There's more to ensuring your kids and family get enough calcium than stocking up on milk! We show you how to grocery shop in a calcium conscious way within and beyond the dairy aisle - all in the buzzing metropolis that is Hong Kong.

My top recommendations when it comes to calcium conscious grocery shopping:

1) Get creative in the dairy aisle. Think beyond milk to probiotics-rich yoghurt and kefir and some cheese. Remember, dairy is not only a highly concentrated source of absorbable calcium, especially for kids, but also packed with vitamin D and protein. 

2) Embrace the dark green leafy veggies like collards, kale, bok choy and lettuce. These come packed with vitamin K which enhances the absorption of calcium, not to mention other amazing nutrients like antioxidants, folate and iron. In one major study, women who ate one serving of dark green lettuce a day had a 50% reduction in the risk of hip fractures!

3) Load up on beans like black-eyed peas and Cannellini beans which are calcium-rich, full of fiber, potassium and other nutrients like zinc and iron. Next week, we will share our toddler's favorite Indian black-eyed peas curry recipe. Cannellini bean hummus is another great option to incorporate beans into kids' meal plans. 

4) Incorporate some canned salmon / sardines with bones into kid's meal plans for a ridiculously high calcium boost as well as omega-3 fats, protein and vitamin D! This week, we share toddler's absolute favorite canned salmon fish cakes recipe. Not at all 'fishy' we promise.

5) Don't ignore non-obvious non-dairy sources of calcium like oranges, rhubarb (strawberry rhubarb crumble in the test kitchen at the moment!), tofu, chia seeds and tahini. Our spiced coconut chia seed pudding packs a calcium punch and is the perfect 'dessert for breakfast' treat. 

Next week, we'll share a calcium conscious meal plan with more recipes. Until then, happy eating! 

With Love & Spice


Toddler, Kid, Adult


Get creative with dairy
Embrace green veggies
Add beans 
Incorporate canned
salmon with bones
Don't forget oranges,
rhubarb, tofu, chia, 



Canned salmon with bones is the only food that can compete with dairy when it comes to absorbable calcium per serving size. (You can use non-canned cooked salmon too but you won't enjoy the calcium boost which really comes from the bones). 100 g contains about 250 mg of calcium, almost the same amount as a cup of milk. Salmon is also brimming with other nutrients like brain and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fantastic complete protein and vitamin D! I was a tad skeptical about giving my son fish bones but in the can, they are incredibly soft and just require a bit of mashing with a fork to be fully incorporated into the fish meat. I hate strong fishy fish so I worked hard to make these canned salmon cakes as fragrant, flavorful and non-fishy as possible. I can assure you these have been toddler tested and approved. 

4-5 fish cakes

1 russet potato chopped
1 shallot minced
1 clove garlic crushed
180g canned salmon with bones, black skin discarded and bones mashed into meat with a fork
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro / coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander / cilantro powder
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt to taste
Flour for shaping
1 egg
Bread crumbs for coating
4 tablespoons canola oil

Bring the potato to a boil and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. 

While the potato is boiling, heat 2 teaspoons canola oil in a small saucepan until shimmering. Sauté the shallot and garlic until softened, about 3-4 minutes. 

In a mixing bowl, add the canned salmon (skin removed and bones mashed), cooked potato, shallot, garlic, ginger, chopped coriander / cilantro, spices (turmeric, cumin, coriander), salt to taste and lime juice. Mix well. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. 

Add flour, 1 egg beaten and bread crumbs to 3 bowls in an assembly line. Shape the mixture into cakes in the flour. Coat well in the egg and cover completely in bread crumbs. Chill the patties in the freezer for 30 minutes. Heat the remaining oil in a sauté pan until hot. Fry the patties for 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel. Drizzle the fish cakes with lemon juice and serve with your favorite veggies on the side. Add a dollop of greek yoghurt with olive oil and salt as a dipping sauce if you like.  

Spice Grandma Guest Post - Delicious Goa

I am overjoyed to introduce our guest blogger this week - my true love, my best friend, my inspiration, my mom. Spice Grandma has influenced me in the kitchen and in life in countless ways. I will never be able to recreate her culinary delights entirely but thanks to her recipes and her patience with me on long-distance phone calls at odd hours (while things are boiling on the stove and I haven't a clue what to do next), I can come close. Here she shares a Goan dish that brings back indelible childhood memories of deliciousness, love, home, heart and spice. I love you mom. 

Guest Post
by Shobha Mirchandani

Goan Fish Curry always reminds me of our family holidays in lush Goa with its palm fronds skirting golden beaches, glorious sunsets and foam-crested waves cascading along the shore. After splashing around the pool or the ocean, the children would be ravenously hungry and our favorite lunch would be Goan fish curry and rice. The fish would be succulent from the fresh catch of the day and the coconut milk manually squeezed from the coconuts growing on the hotel grounds. 

On a recent visit to see my grandson in Hong Kong, we decided to recreate Goa in our home kitchen to ward off the dreary, wet cold. The turmeric infused coconut gravy laced with curry leaves and the piquant touch of a little tamarind took us back to the golden sunshine of Goa and we forgot our monsoon blues!



Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has demonstrated anti-depressant effects in animal and some small scale human studies. More trials are necessary but given it's anti-inflammatory effects, curcumin could be a promising treatment for neurological diseases like major depressive disorder, Alzheimer's and Parkinsons. Limitations include the poor bioavailability which could be enhanced with new formulations or the addition of piperine from black pepper. 



Goan Fish Curry
12 months+, Toddler,
id, Adult

Goan Fish Curry
12 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult

We've discussed the superduperfood status of fish and the benefits of coconut milk previously here and here. Fish is so important for the developing brain, heart health and as an anti-inflammatory that we should ensure our kids get the recommended 2 1-2 oz servings of fish a week (excluding high mercury shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish). Coconut milk is rich in antioxidants, vitamins B, C and E and other minerals like manganese. It contain lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid that has anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties and can help lower levels of triglycerides, cholesterol and improve heart health. Due to BPA and other contaminants in canned coconut milk, I prefer to buy the boxed kind from my local Thai shop. A good option for those in the Western Hemisphere is Native Forest which can be purchased on Amazon. It's organic and in BPA-free cans. 

Science Corner
Several studies in animals have reported anti-depressant, anti-Alzheimer's and anti-Parkinsons effects of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric. These benefits are most likely linked to the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin as there is a strong link between low levels of inflammation and various neurological diseases. More recently, small studies in humans have also shown promising results for curcumin for depression - in a study conducted by Australian scientists, 56 individuals with major depressive disorder were treated with a placebo or curcumin for 8 weeks. Between weeks 4 and 8, the curcumin-treated group saw a significant reduction in several mood-related symptoms. Larger trials are necessary but these studies suggest a potential role for curcumin either alone or in combination with existing medications for depression. Limitations include the poor bioavailability of curcumin which can be enhanced with new formulations or the addition of piperine from black pepper.

2 adult or 3 toddler portions

1 tablespoon coconut oil, preferably the unrefined or virgin variety
1/2 yellow onion very finely chopped or ground into a paste 
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
6-8 curry leaves (found at Indian grocery stores but if hard-pressed to procure, can do without)
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1-2 teaspoons turmeric powder depending on intensity of color and flavor desired
Salt to taste
500ml coconut milk
250g firm fish like halibut or salmon cut into 2 inch cubes
1.5 teaspoons tamarind paste (found in Indian or Asian grocery stores)
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red chili  / cayenne powder FOR ADULTS ONLY :)

In a pot for which you have a lid, heat the coconut oil on a medium-high flame. Sautee the onions until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, curry leaves, coriander and turmeric powders and salt and sautee for a minute. Add the coconut milk and reduce the flame to low. Gently add in the fish pieces and let them simmer with lid on for 6-8 minutes. Take the lid off and gently flip the fish to coat well with the coconut milk. Stir in the tamarind and red chili powder if using (adults only!) allowing the mixture to simmer for another 2 minutes. Serve with brown or white rice and a side of green beans with caraway for a complete and heartwarming meal, the kind only grandma can concoct. 

Spice Mama of the Month - Guest Post

My favorite part of each spice series is the guest post, and this one is no exception. This month's Spice Mama, Shilpa Agashe, is a dear friend whom I went to school with in India since age 4! Shilpa is a creative, intelligent, life-loving, beautiful mother, inside and out. A a software engineer working in an investment bank in Tokyo and a mother of a 4 year old daughter, Shilpa is a perpetual juggler, doing it all with ease and grace. Shilpa has lived in Tokyo since 2006 and loves Japanese food but cannot stand seaweed, one health benefit she has willingly decided to forgo. The biggest skill Shilpa has acquired since moving to Tokyo is how to cook in a tiny kitchen! She loves creating Indian dishes for her non-Indian friends to show them that Indian food isn't confined to the oily and fried stuff one invariably sees on restaurant menus. She also likes to remind folks that no one makes naan at home in India ;). Here she shares a recipe for a simple and delicious regional Indian classic, from the state of Maharashtra, that is classic comfort food for young and old alike. 

Guest Post
by Shilpa Agashe

When you live away from home, you always carry a little bit of home with you. In my case, that turns out to be my never fail, ever trustworthy pressure cooker and a hot bowl of varan-bhaat. 

Varan-bhaat is as simple as it sounds - yellow lentils and rice. But, its comfort, nourishment and nostalgia - all in one bowl. It's the kind of food you eagerly come home to after a long vacation and endless restaurant dinners. My 4 year old daughter loves it, and lest I forget she always asks me if I put limbu (lemon) and toop ( ghee or clarified butter) before I serve it!


12 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Science Corner
We have previously discussed the nutritional benefits of lentils here. But here's something you might not have heard before - curcumin, the active component in turmeric, can heal a leaky gut. A leaky whaaaa?! Yep that's right, a leaky gut! A healthy digestive tract has an intact lining of tightly-knit cells that prevent ingested foods and toxins from entering the blood stream before the digestive system has processed and detoxified them. When this lining becomes leaky (literally, rife with holes), which can happen for a plethora of reasons, mostly related to diet and lifestyle, the foods, chemicals and toxins we ingest can enter the bloodstream right away and are perceived as threats by our immune system. This, in turn, leads to increased inflammation which has been shown, over and over again, to be the basis of many chronic diseases, including eczema, psoriasis, asthma, Alzheimers, depression and even diabetes! Research shows that curcumin in turmeric increases the levels of a protein in the gut (called Intestinal Alkaline Phosphatase or IAP) that forms tight junctions between the cells lining the digestive tract and heals a leaky gut ( Another compelling reason to ensure your pantry is stocked with this powerful, golden spice!

1 cup yellow lentils (toor daal or split pigeon peas in English which can be found in Indian grocery stores)
2.25 cups water or 3.5 cups if not using a pressure cooker
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
Pinch or 1/8 teaspoon hing / asafoetida also found in Indian grocery stores (optional but aids in the digestion of lentils)
Salt to taste
Toop (ghee / clarified butter) or a neutral oil like Rapeseed or Canola for drizzling
Pinch or 1/8 teaspoon coriander powder
Pinch or 1/8 teaspoon cumin powder
Pinch or 1/8 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Good squeeze lemon juice


Curcumin in turmeric
increases levels of
Intestinal Alkaline
Phosphatase (or IAP)
which heals disruptions
in the gut lining




Wash the lentils thoroughly. Add the water and soak for 30-60 minutes, especially important if not using a pressure cooker.

Cook lentils in a pressure cooker with the turmeric and hing, if using, on a high flame for 15 minutes (4-5 whistles)  and then on a medium- low flame for 10 minutes. If using a regular pot, bring the lentils, turmeric, hing and water to a boil on high heat, about 5 minutes, and then lower to a simmer and cook partially covered for about 50 minutes until the lentils have dissolved. 

Open the pressure cooker once the steam dies out (or the pot once lentils have dissolved) and mash them to make the mixture nice and creamy. Add salt to taste.

Serve over steamed white or brown rice, with a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of sugar, cumin and coriander powder and toop! Shorter grained rice is preferable for varan-bhat but Thai jasmine rice works just as well. Serve with veggies of choice as a side for a complete, nutritious, comforting meal.

For babies 7 months and up, check out our recipe for a more easily digested turmeric moong daal and avocado puree under Recipes

Turmeric Part III

Move over pepper, there's a new King in town.

For centuries, the Spice Throne was held by pepper, revered as 'black gold' during the peak of the spice trade for its flavor and medicinal powers. Pepper is very beneficial for health but it's no exaggeration to say that the most frantically and widely studied spice for its health and medicinal benefits is turmeric. More specifically, it is curcumin, a compound in turmeric, which is responsible for its yellow color, that has captivated everyone's attention. 'Yellow gold' is taking over pantries and pharmacies worldwide. 

There is modern scientific evidence for beneficial effects of curcumin on practically every disease known to modern man - cancer, diabetes, arthritis, stomach and intestinal disorders, heart, liver and neurological diseases and more. It's tempting to start throwing this yellow wonder of nature into everything one eats and drinks to prevent and treat disease and while that is what we usually like to encourage, we also take our job of separating fact from fiction quite seriously. After perusing the literature, focusing on articles in more highly regarded journals and reading between the lines, here's our perspective on the true health benefits and limitations of turmeric as a miracle spice:

  • Curcumin, the main medicinal molecule in turmeric, has very poor 'bioavailability'. That's a fancy sounding way of saying that curcumin is cleared from the stomach and the liver rapidly after consumption, before it even has a chance to get into the bloodstream to exert its miraculous effects on the body. 
  • The bioavailability of curcumin is improved by, you guessed it, the previous King of the Spice Castle, black pepper! The addition of piperine, the active compound in pepper, improves the ability of curcumin to get into the bloodstream and other organs of the body. If one wants to benefit from turmeric in food then, it's wise to combine it with black pepper. 
  • In most studies, purified curcumin is administered at very large doses to see beneficial effects on disease. The New York University Medical School estimates that 1200 - 1800 mg of curcumin a day are required to see therapeutics effects. An average Indian (who, trust me, consumes A LOT more turmeric than anywhere else in the world) gets to about 120 mg of curcumin a day. The point is that if you have an actual disease you want to treat with curcumin, you will need to consider supplements to achieve high enough amounts. The good news is that curcumin is well tolerated at very high doses with minimal side effects except for people with gallstones who should be careful when using curcumin or turmeric in large quantities. Overall, from a food point of view, we see turmeric more as a powerful prevention approach rather than a cure. For curative effects, curcumin supplements at higher doses would be necessary which should be administered only after consulting with a doctor.

With these caveats in mind, we will highlight some of our favorite, most compelling studies on turmeric and curcumin's benefits in disease through the rest of our Turmeric Series. We'll break it down into 1-2 studies per post so that the nerd factor isn't too overwhelming. So put on your science hat and listen up!


Research from the University of California, Los Angeles has demonstrated that curcumin enhances the synthesis of the very important omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in the body. DHA is pivotal for brain health and development and low levels are associated with cognitive defects, anxiety and depression. DHA is either obtained through the diet, with fish oil being the best source, or can be synthesized from a precursor molecule called alpha-linolenic acid found in vegetarian sources like flax seeds and walnuts. The problem is that the body is rather inefficient at making DHA. In this study, researchers found increased DHA production in the brain and reduced anxiety levels in rodents upon curcumin exposure. The authors conclude that vegetarian or diets low in fish may benefit from more turmeric to increase DHA production in the brain, best done with a little pepper for the reasons mentioned above.


12 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult


Curcumin causes
enhanced DHA synthesis
and reduced anxiety



We're back in Hong Kong after our Vietnam Holiday which we highlighted here, but our hearts are still lingering in the land of lemongrass and fresh basil. These gorgeous fish cakes were inspired by a dish we had on a previous trip to Hanoi called Cha Ca La Vong, a heavenly creation of fish, loads of turmeric and fresh dill. We incorporate those flavors into hearty fish cakes that are a nutritious, delicious feast for the entire family. 

We've discussed the superduperfood status of fish previously here. Fish is so important for the developing (and developed!) brain that we really ought to be mindful about ensuring our kids and families get enough good quality, low mercury fish in their diets. Like we mentioned above regarding DHA, the omega-3 fatty acids in fish are not only critical for brain function but also keep unwanted inflammation in the body in check. If your kids don't love fish, don't worry. These tasty and comforting patties will likely please the pickiest eaters. Let's get cooking!

6-8 fish cakes

1 stalk lemongrass
2/3 cup coconut milk
5 black peppercorns
1/4 inch piece of fresh ginger grated 
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
250 g cod or other white flaky fish like haddock
1 large starchy potato like Russet peeled and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons freshly chopped dill
1/2 lemon, zested
1/2 cup flour for dusting
1 egg
1/2 - 1 cup breadcrumbs for coating
1 cup plain Greek yoghurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Coconut oil for frying

Bruise the lemongrass stalk by smashing the white bulb with a knife or a pestle until fragrant. In a pot large enough to accommodate the fish, bring the coconut milk, lemongrass, peppercorns, ginger and 1/4 teaspoon turmeric to a low boil on a medium flame, stirring occasionally. Let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes until the flavors have infused the milk. Add the fish and continue to simmer for 7-8 minutes on very low heat with the lid on. Turn the heat off and let the pot rest, covered, for another 5 minutes until the fish is poached through. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon onto a plate and set aside to cool. 

Add the chopped potatoes to salted, boiling water and cook until tender but not mushy for about 10-15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and return to the pot over a low flame, mashing with a fork or masher until they are dry. Add the fish, 1 tablespoon of the coconut milk mixture, the remaining 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, dill, lemon zest, salt and pepper and mix well without over-mashing the fish. Taste for seasoning adding more salt if necessary. 

Mould the mash into fish cakes about 4 inches in diameter, packing them firmly. Prepare 3 plates or shallow bowls - one with flour, one with a beaten egg and one with breadcrumbs into an assembly line. Coat the fish cakes in the flour, transfer to the egg mixture and coat well with a brush and finally cover with breadcrumbs. Place in freezer for 30 minutes. 

Mix the yoghurt, olive oil and salt to taste for the dipping sauce. Once the fish cakes have set, heat the coconut oil on a high flame and pan fry the fish cakes for 5 minutes on each side without overcrowding the pan. Drain the patties of excess oil on a paper towel. Serve the fish cakes with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and dollops of the yoghurt mixture with chopped dill. If your kids hate 'green grassy things', skip the garnish - I did so for a toddler potluck and they were a giant hit. 

Spice Mama of the Month - Guest Post

Guest post alert! This one comes from an all around fabulous mommy of two gorgeous girls, one of whom is just starting solids! Priya Giri Desai lives in Wellesley, MA and is a creative genius both inside and outside the kitchen. When not cooking up delicious dinners for the fam and contributing recipes to publications around the country, Priya makes TV shows and films. Her first documentary, Lovesick, is currently in post-production. Backed by a grant from Sundance, a successful Kickstarter program and other awards, this story about love in the time of HIV in India is surely going to move and astound us all. Here, in the most effortless and elegant way, Priya shows us how to cook to impress. A weekday family dinner or weekend BBQ never tasted this good with such little work. Thanks Priya! 

Priya Giri Desai

Last week, in a holiday haze (and more than a little inspired by Spice Spice Baby), I decided to throw a backyard BBQ a mere 24 hours after landing back home from visiting the south of Spain. I did this with a six year-old about to enter kindergarden in two days and a four month-old whose sense of when to sleep seemed solely dictated by when I reached for a sling. Logic be damned when your memories are of fresh, grilled seafood bathed in olive oil, sweet garlic, and smoky pimentón de la Vera (that’s paprika from Spain’s La Vera region). If I couldn’t have it there, I’d have it in my own backyard! And so, with friends we gathered around a platter of simple, beautiful food that can be modified to work as an elegant entrée or a quick, weeknight meal for all ages.


Grilled Fish with Garlic Pimenton Oil 
12 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Fish is a superduperfood and most people don't eat enough of it. Fish is rich in healthful long-chain omega 3 fatty acids which promote heart health and blood vessel function. These magical molecules have also been shown to lower triglycerides, prevent inflammation and help ward off Alzheimers, stroke and depression. Fish also have vitamin D, selenium and excellent quality protein. It's best to choose fish that are lower in mercury especially for kids. Some good options are salmon (lowest in mercury and very rich in omega 3s), flounder (also very low in mercury) and cod, halibut and striped bass (moderate  in mercury). Aim for 2 servings per week - a good measure for a serving is the size of the palm of the eater's hand. 

Serves 4-6, depending on whether it is a main entrée or is served with other dishes as it was at our barbeque.

1 lb. firm white flesh fish with skin on (I used a local striped sea bass that was gleaming at the store, but think of anything along the lines of halibut or snapper.)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup olive oil (one whose olive flavor you could taste on a piece of bread)
2-3 garlic cloves, sliced paper-thin (this is easily done with a peeler)
½ tsp. pimentón
1 tblsp. chopped flat leaf parsley plus more leaves for garnish
More salt to taste

The fish can be prepared on the grill or baked in the oven (400 F / 200 C for about 30 minutes) in parchment paper. The former option is great for family-style entertaining (and for smokiness if you go so far as to grill it on a wood plank over coals). The latter option is a cinch for weeknights since clean up is quicker than the cooking. Either way, preheat your grill or oven.

Prepare the fish by sprinkling salt and as much pepper as you think the eater can handle. Don’t overdo it since the pimentón will add smokiness. Despite the bold ingredients, this dish is meant to be mild and light. Set the fish aside.

In a small saucepan, add the oil and garlic and warm slowly over medium low heat. The goal here is to poach the garlic in warm, not boiling oil so that it becomes soft and sweet, not frizzled and bitter. This should take about six minutes.

Once the garlic has softened, add the pimentón and continue to cook until the spice blooms, about 10 seconds. The oil will become a lovely dark orange. When you can just smell the pimentón, turn off the heat. Let the mixture cool slightly and then add the chopped parsley. You should smell that fresh scent when the leaves hit the warm oil. A sprinkle of salt (about 1/4 teaspoon) will unite all the flavors. Set that aside while you deal with the fish, either on the grill or in the oven.

Let your cooked fish rest and then plate it. Use a fork to open up the fish slightly to create crevices into which you spoon the oil and garlic pieces. Add cooked or grilled vegetables alongside to complete the meal. Just before serving, drizzle the platter with more oil for color and garnish with more parsley leaves.

Serving Suggestions
For young toddlers, a mash of fish, cooked veg, and a drizzle of the flavored oil will do just fine. Omit black pepper on the fish if needed.

You should end up with more oil than needed, but its uses are endless: to mop up with bread, to drizzle over eggs the next morning, to grill chicken, to mix into a vinaigrette, to roast potatoes, to mix into mayonnaise for an unique aioli…

For a truly summery Spanish experience for adults, make tinto de verano to drink. It’s one part inexpensive red wine (a Rioja is in keeping with the theme), and one part lemon-lime soda cut with club soda to lessen the sweetness. Serve on ice and garnish with a slice of lemon.

Download the recipe here.



Omega-3 fats
Vitamin D
Immune boosting



Paprika Part III

At a recent dim sum lunch here in Hong Kong, my 2 year old son, to my surprise and delight, reached for the plate of garlicky spinach. So far, his dim sum proclivities had included all sorts of delicious steamed dumplings but he usually eyed the green veggies with suspicion.  I hadn't pushed the matter much thinking he would grow into his greens in time. Nevertheless, I was elated and watched proudly as he proceeded to stuff a forkful into his mouth. Alas, the fibrous nature of the dish quickly broke the 'yay my toddler is eating greens that are not hidden in a soup' spell - a choking fit and lots of water followed ending with with "NO MORE SALAD NO MORE SALAD"! We were back at square one on our path to conquering leafy green vegetables. 

I'm not a proponent of hiding all the vegetables we feed our kids into soups and stews. Experts recommend cooking veggies in a variety of ways and offering them to kids repeatedly - sort of celebrating them on the family table. Eventually, many of them will be accepted, even if it takes 18 years and then some for green beans and spinach to become favorites. With all due respect to this approach however, there are times when one needs a camouflaging trick. I find this to be especially true for ultra nutritious leafy greens. Many kids can be put off by their color, texture or taste. Here, we not so much conceal but rather distract with lots of other goodness all around. My 'salad' loathing son didn't even notice the green bits and even asked for seconds. A truly satisfying moment for any mommy!


Adapted from Frittata with Potato and Prosciutto, Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis






Frittata with potato, proscuitto and sneaky swiss chard
12 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult

We couldn't possibly do a paprika series without an egg recipe as the combination is absolutely genius. We draw inspiration from two wonderful egg dishes -  the Spanish Omelette or Tortilla Espanola which, in its purest form, is simply potatoes and eggs as well as the Italian open faced omelette or Frittata, a hearty and tasty canvas for all sorts of additions. Here, we combine potatoes and eggs with smoked paprika, proscuitto, basil and finely chopped Swiss chard. You could use spinach or kale instead and skip the prosciutto if you'd rather do a veggie version. Either way, the result is a moist, fluffy, delicious and complete dish appropriate for any meal of the day. Happy hidden greens! 


The US Department of Agriculture suggests 3 cups of dark leafy green vegetables per week. Most adults, let alone children, do not meet those requirements. So why the obsession with leafy greens? Calorie for calorie, leafy green vegetables are the most nutrient dense foods around. They contain minerals like calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium, vitamins B, C, E and K and phytonutrients and antioxidants that augment cardiovascular health, blood sugar regulation, digestion and detoxification. I like to think of them as harboring the energy of the sun. They convert sunlight into chlorophyll so when we eat a plate of leafy greens, we are literally taking in the sun's energy. Because some greens like spinach and Swiss chard have oxalic acid that can prevent the optimal absorption of calcium, I rotate between chard, kale, spinach, collards and the gorgeous Asian greens in the cabbage family like bok choy and choi sum. You can add them to stews, soups, pesto, and as here, eggs. They are of course lovely on their own with a little oil, garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice which increases the absorption of iron from them. With the choline in eggs for memory and brain development, good quality protein from the eggs and proscuitto and starch from the potatoes, this dish is a true complete meal. 


Serves 2 adults and 2 kids as a main 


2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion chopped
3 medium new potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 garlic clove minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 large leaves Swiss chard with thick stems discarded finely chopped
6 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil


Preheat the broiler on high heat.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, Parmesan cheese, prosciutto and basil in a bowl and set aside. 

In a 10 inch diameter ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over a medium flame until shimmering. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about a minute. Add the potato, salt and pepper and sauté over medium-low heat until the potato is tender and golden, about 15 minutes. Add the paprika and let it blossom, about 10 seconds, and then immediately add the Swiss chard and soften, about 4 minutes. Add the egg mixture to the pan. Cover and cook over medium low heat until the egg is almost set but the top is still runny, about 2 minutes. Transfer the skillet uncovered to the broiler and allow the top to set until golden brown, 4-5 minutes. Allow it to cool, cut into wedges or bite sized cubes for the kids and serve. 

Download the recipe here.

Paprika Part II

Apologies for the delayed post my dear readers. A root canal and a subsequent tooth abscess shut down operations in the Spice Spice Baby kitchen last week. I did learn that ground clove rubbed on the gums can truly help a toothache which was fascinating. But we'll get into that in our clove chapter. For now, let's get back to paprika. 

In our previous post we shared some widely held notions regarding health benefits of paprika including the capacity to aid digestion, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects and the ability to control body weight. Unconvinced by anecdotal evidence alone, we set out to separate fact from fiction and put those claims to the scientific test. We found excellent evidence for paprika's anti-obesity effects and good data for its antioxidant and anti-cancer capacities. We found no evidence for its anti-inflammatory properties (outside of the compound capsaicin, which is found in very low amounts in sweet peppers. It is highest in hot peppers which don't help us too much when it comes to kids' meals). Overall though, in addition to the flavor factor, we emerged from the exercise convinced to continue the liberal use of paprika in our kitchen (phew cause I really can't live without it). 

A bit of quick and simple molecular biology before we dive into the evidence. Hot peppers contain a substance called capsaicin which is responsible for the burning sensation in the mouth. It's also an anti-inflammatory agent, a topical pain reliever and has anti-cancer, anti-oxidant and anti-obesity effects. It does have its share of side effects though, as you can well imagine. Capsinoids from sweet peppers are the non-pungent molecular sisters of capsaicins. Because they share the same chemical structure, capsinoids demonstrate many of the same medical benefits without the side effects. 


Inspired by studies earlier in the decade that demonstrated weight and fat loss after a 2 week long intake of sweet red peppers, researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine tested the effect of 6 mg / day of capsinoids in the form of a supplement (concentrated from 1/6th of a pepper or amounting to 1.3 tablespoons of paprika) on 40 women and 40 men over a 12 weeks. Capsinoids were well tolerated and resulted in statistically significant abdominal fat loss compared to a placebo control. Certain genetic variations contributed to whether an individual responded to capsinoids or not, consistent with their ability to function through a molecule called TRPV1 - if I've lost you here what I'm basically getting at is that the results made molecular sense.

In a very well designed study, Professor Sheila West from Penn State University and researchers observed significant increases in antioxidant status and decreases in insulin and triglyceride levels in human subjects after a meal laced with a spice blend (containing 30% paprika) versus the same exact meal without spices. We can't attribute this effect to paprika alone of course but it's fair to say that the spice blend rendered the meal less 'fatty' which is very interesting. The researchers are now exploring the mechanism by which spices may exert this effect. Possibilities include slower passage of the meal through the GI tract and direct inhibition of pancreatic enzymes which normally activate a strong insulin response. As you know, too much insulin makes us fat and keeps us fat. It turns out spices act like the insulin police!


Most studies in the cancer field have focused on capsaicins, which are found in larger amounts in hot peppers. Whilst capsaicin has promising anti-cancer effects, it appears to be a double edged sword. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated a link between diets very high in pungent capsaicin and gastric cancer. Because capsinoids lack pungency and are not irritants to the body, their anti-cancer activities are of greater interest. 

Capsiate, one of the main capsinoids in sweet peppers, was shown to block the effects of a molecule called VEGF which is involved in the spread of tumors within the body also known as cancer metastases. Capsiate was shown to bind to an enzyme called Src and block its function, one of which is to allow cancer cells to spread from the site of origin to other organs and tissues. The limitation of this study was that it was conducted in a 'petri dish' on cancer cells rather than in a whole animal model but it is provocative nonetheless.

Overall, I was most impressed by the evidence for paprika's ability to aid in weight management. There are other studies not mentioned here that show antiobesity effects of this spice. And oh does it elevate the flavor profile of most dishes too! An absolute win win. 


6 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult


Lentils are one of the best foods for heart health - a large study following 16,000 adults found the regular intake of beans and lentils to be associated with a 82% reduction in mortality from heart disease! Their high soluble fiber, magnesium and folate content is responsible for the cardioprotective effects. Lentils are complex carbohydrates, providing sustained energy without a spike in blood sugar so they are great for weight management without compromising satiety. They are also an excellent source of protein, iron and B vitamins. Here they come together with whatever veggies you have in your kitchen (carrots, zucchini, celery, eggplant, fennel, sweet or regular potato, spinach, kale are all good options) and an aromatic combination of paprika, cinnamon, cumin and coriander to produce a warming and satisfying one pot meal for the family table. 


3 adult or 4 toddler servings


1/2 cup green lentils soaked for 1-3 hrs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped or grated ginger
1/2 sweet potato peeled and diced
1 carrot peeled and diced
Handful spinach or kale finely chopped
1/2 fennel bulb diced
1 small eggplant peeled and diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups chicken, vegetable stock or water
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Salt to taste (optional)
Bread for dipping


In a large pot, warm the oil on medium high heat. Add the onion and ginger and sauté for 5 minutes until translucent. Add the veggies, lentils and stock. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook with lid on for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the spices and continue cooking on a very low flame for another 10-20 minutes until the lentils are cooked through and soft. Add more liquid if the mixture starts to dry out. Add salt to taste if you like and serve garnished with parsley. Puree for babies or serve as is with crusty bread to toddlers, kids and adults.

Download the recipe here


Vitamin A



Cardamom Part V - It's A Wrap

When a dear foodie friend gifted me the cookbook PLENTY by Yotam Ottolenghi a few years ago, my experience as a 'home chef' was elevated forever. Both PLENTY and his more recent offering JERUSALEM occupy the VIP corner of my bookshelf and I reach for them whenever I'm looking for culinary inspiration. 

Yotam's dishes are inspired by the generations old, rich and sophisticated cuisines of the Middle East. Simple to prepare yet utterly complex in the unique and unexpected combinations of flavors, all his recipes have woken up my palate to new possibilities, if not completely blown me away. 

We close our cardamom series then with an easy to execute, comforting and totally delicious one pot meal for the family table. Cardamom joins hands with cinnamon and clove to enliven a chicken and rice pilaf with caramelized onions, juicy golden raisins, fresh dill, parsley and cilantro. Let's get cooking.


Adapted from JERUSALEM by Yotam Ottolenghi, page 184

12 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult


Chicken thighs are often perceived as the 'bad guys' compared to their breast meat counterparts because of elevated fat content. But they are most definitely more flavorful, especially in stews and pilafs, as they don't dry out easily. More importantly, chicken thighs provide a generous helping of the important micronutrient selenium which assists anti-oxidant enzymes in the body in scavenging free radicals that can damage our DNA and cells. In fact, mercury toxicity may be reversed by increasing dietary intake of selenium! Chicken also provides protein, zinc and the critical B vitamin niacin which aids in stress hormone production and blood circulation. The wild rice blend is complex carbohydrate with protein, magnesium as well as iron and has a much better glycemic load for sustained energy versus the insulin spike and crash that too much white rice can produce. All in all, a very nutritious meal for anyone and everyone. Vegetarians can add chopped carrots, squash, blanched and peeled fava beans or really anything you fancy as a substitute for the chicken.


Generously serves a family of 4


4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions thinly sliced
2 1/4 lb / 1 kg boneless skinless chicken thighs (feel free to use bone-in skin-on thighs if you prefer)
10 cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks each halved
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 1/4 cup wild and brown rice blend (or white rice, brown rice or any rice you fancy)
2 1/2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 teaspoon parsley leaves chopped
1/2 cup dill leaves chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves chopped
Salt and pepper to taste


If using wild or brown rice, soak the rice for 3-6 hrs and discard the water. This is REALLY IMPORTANT when using wild or brown rice as unprocessed whole grain rice contains phytic acid which can prevent zinc absorption in the body. Soaking gets rid of the phytic acid. Clearly, our ancestors knew what they were doing with all that pre-soaking! 

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a pan for which you have a lid over medium heat, add the onion and saute for 10 minutes until golden brown. Transfer the caramelized onions to a bowl and wipe the pan clean. 

In a mixing bowl, toss the chicken with the remaining olive oil, spices and 1 teaspoon salt. Reheat the same pan and sear the chicken for 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the pan and drain the oil leaving just a fine film at the bottom. Don't worry if some of the spices stick to the chicken or to the pan. 

Now add the pre-soaked rice, onions, 1 teaspoon salt, black pepper to taste and the raisins and stir well. Add the chicken pieces pushing them into the rice. Pour the boiling water over the mixture, cover the pan and cook over very low heat for 50 minutes (30 minutes if using white rice). Take the pan off the stove, remove the lid and place a clean tea towel over the pan and seal quickly with the lid. Don't disturb the dish for another 10 minutes. Remove the lid, add the herbs, fluff up the rice and serve.  

Serving Suggestions

For young toddlers, blitz some chicken, rice and greek yoghurt into a textured puree. I serve my 2 year old the pilaf with a beetroot 'raita' -- steamed or roasted beats, yoghurt, cumin, salt, a pinch of sugar and dill for a complete meal. You can throw in some frozen green peas halfway through the cooking process and be done with the veggie part. Greek yoghurt with a little olive oil mixed in is also a nice accompaniment. A  glass of spicy peppery Shiraz is the only side required for the adults ;)

Happy feasting! 

Download the recipe here.