Khabar Magazine. December 2022 print.
During the holiday season in India, I remember shopping at the local halwai shops for colorful boxes of freshly made sweets and gold foil-wrapped hampers filled with dried fruits. We would purchase dozens of these to give to colleagues, friends, and hosts. Over the years, these gift baskets became more and more elaborate, incorporating imported chocolates, premium spices, and gourmet teas. Many India-based websites such as The Gourmet Box, Provenance, and Angroos now offer luxurious gift baskets incorporating curated epicurean products and small-batch artisanal foods.
In the U.S., a handful of South Asian entrepreneurs have also started brands of Indian-inspired gourmet foods for sale online and in retail stores; and are catering to a wide variety of palates. Backed by inspirational stories, these small businesses have received much-deserved awards and accolades, as well as inclusions in must-gift lists for the holidays.
Meet some of the founders and learn about their unique offerings.
Elevated small-batch condiments
Chitra Agrawal is the author of the cookbook, Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn. In 2014, she founded Brooklyn Delhi focusing on the Indian pantry staple—achaar. She discovered that the only achaar available for sale in the grocery stores in New York was heavily salted, oily, and full of preservatives.
Agrawal shares fun creative recipes of how to incorporate these Indian-inspired flavors to any dish on her Instagram page. I tried a penne pasta sautéed in Roasted Garlic Achaar sauce and a turkey burger topped with cheddar, avocado, and Tomato Achaar. They hit the spot, satisfying my need for a little spice with everyday American meals.
When Agrawal heard that the socially impactful spice supply chain company, Burlap and Barrel, had sourced a single-origin, heirloom Kashmiri chili from a family farm in Pampore, Kashmir, she approached them for a collaboration. Using a North Indian recipe inspired by her grandmother, she created Brooklyn Delhi’s Mango Chutney. The chutney is different from others I have seen at Indian grocery stores. Made with tangy, juicy, ripe mangoes, sweet brown sugar, golden raisins, fresh ginger, lemon juice, and fiery spices, it has layers of flavors and the freshness of a homemade condiment. Served with fried papad, samosa, or crackers on a cheese board, it makes for a palatable starter before any meal.
After receiving positive feedback for her pickles, she added an array of new products—Curry Ketchup, Curry Mustard, and Golden Coconut Curry—to the roster.
Homemade chai anytime
Atlanta-native Farah Jesani founded One Stripe Chai Co. to bring attention to the South Asian beverage at par with the beloved coffee. She realized that the craft of chai-making isn’t possible to execute at mainstream coffee shops as they don’t have kitchen stovetops. So, she created chai blends and pre-mixed haldi doodh based on her mother’s recipes, sourcing tea leaves from ethnic and biodynamic farms like Chota Tingrai in Assam.
During the pandemic, Jesani expanded the company beyond the concentrates to introduce at-home do-it-yourself blends that retain the robust flavors of spiced chai with the added benefits of customization.
I enjoyed the smooth and nutty flavor of Chai After Five which has lower caffeine as it is made with Indian ho¯ jicha instead of black tea. It gives you a pick-me-up after the workday with organic masala spices and pairs well with the chai-spiced stroopwafels. During cooler weather, you can use the chai concentrate to infuse granola and serve it with Greek yogurt or incorporate it into a spiced apple pie.
Warming Indian soups
On winter nights, there is nothing more satisfying than a bowl of homemade soup. But you may not have all the ingredients at hand or the time to stew and simmer. New York-based Maya Kaimal recently introduced a new line of ready-to-eat Indian-inspired soups that simply need to be heated on the stovetop or in a microwave-safe container. The Tomato & Warm Spices Inspired Soup is thick and comforting, seasoned with cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and a hint of coconut milk. The Creamy Spiced Butternut Inspired Soup reminds me of the pumpkin curries of Kerala, brightened by curry leaves and coconut cream.
Kaimal grew up in a multicultural household in New York; and as a teenager, she learned to cook South Indian specialties from her Indian father and aunt. It wasn’t until she was laid off from her dream job as a photo editor for Saveur magazine that she launched the food company, Maya Kaimal Foods, out of her Brooklyn apartment. She wanted to offer quality, homemade Indian foods such as Everyday Dal, Everyday Chana, Basmati, and Surekha Rice that could be bought at grocery stores. Kaimal won the Julia Child Award for her cookbook, Curried Favors, and her third cookbook, Indian Flavor Every Day, is releasing in the spring of 2023.
Fair trade spices
At 23 years of age, Sana Javeri Kadri founded Diaspora Co. to build a radically new and truly equitable spice trade, championing climate resilience and more delicious food systems. The Mumbai-immigrant had come to California for college but returned home for seven months of market research and founded the company in 2017 with just Pragati Turmeric.
Diaspora Co. pays farmers six times more than the average commodity prices, zero-interest loans, as well as healthcare to farm laborers. Now, at 27, the young queer Kadri works with around 200 farmers in India. She recently closed a financial round-up of $2.1 million to fuel growth and has been named in the “Forbes 30 under 30 – Food and Drink” twice.
Besides working towards the betterment of the community, Diaspora Co.’s masalas are fresh and flavorful. And the new blends elevate every dish from chaat to tandoori. Kadri and her partner, Asha, also offer virtual cooking classes each month, proceeds of which are donated to worthy causes.
Curated “Flower” boxes
Indian immigrant husband and wife duo, Lavanya Krishnan and Sandeep Bethanabhotla, founded Boxwalla in 2015 as a way to share their own discoveries. It was a one-stop shop for the best things that the sensory, creative, and intellectual world had to offer. Both were working professionals in the fields of neuroscience and academia, but were drawn to plant-based and indie brands. They wanted consumers to understand the context in order to enjoy a product fully.
Boxwalla offers unique subscription boxes with beauty, books, film, and food-themed artisanal products from all over the world, delivered to the door every two months.
The new food box is themed “Flowers – to eat, drink, and even smoke.” Exquisite, pressed flower cookies from Loria Stern in LA, Aesthete Love Potion’s Assam looseleaf black tea, Brooklyn- made Raaka unroasted rose and cardamom dark chocolate bar, smokable herbs and flowers from Anima Mundi, Grist & Toll’s Sonora Flour from indigenouslyowned Ramona Farm, are a few of the items that are inside. It is the perfect gift for curious minds wanting to explore extraordinary brands that are otherwise not easy to find at big-box retailers.
~ Written for and published by Khabar Magazine. All rights reserved.