Spicing It Up in San Francisco

Friday, January 8, 2016

"You can cook a curry with your eyes and nose and a few ingredients."

Tucked between the majestic mountain ranges of northern California and the expansive greatness of the Pacific Ocean lies an idyllic neighborhood in San Francisco Bay where neighbors talk to one another across backyard fences, farmer's markets overflow with seasonal offerings, and the mild climate offers a bountiful assortment of fruit. In the middle of this picturesque community is the home of Asha Shivakumar, author of the food blog, Food Fashion Party, where a mouth-watering array of foods
find their way from her kitchen table into our homes via social media platforms as we salivate over Hariyali Chicken (green curry), Mirch ka Salan (spice curry with peanuts and sesame seeds), Spicy Tomato Pulao or Sticky Lamb Chops. A commercial photographer and an editor of The Feed Feed (an online community of cooks from around the world), Asha draws us into her rich world of spices and curries through her cooking memoir which features traditional Indian recipes interspersed with endearing memories of her childhood in Bangalore and the day to day adventures she enjoys with her two sons as a "stay-at-home-mum."

Asha first came to San Francisco 20 years ago to get her MBA in finance, a career she pursued until she concluded it wasn't feeding her passion.  "I felt incomplete and I needed a calling.  I had to find out what I was good at," she explained.  "Cooking came natural for me.  I enjoyed it and soon knew it was my calling, but I didn't realize then that it would become my profession," she added.

Stirring up curries and reviving family recipes has paid off for this successful woman,  recently rated by India's news media as one of the top 10 Indian food bloggers to follow.  And with an ever-growing number of fans who love her recipes and stories, Asha is sure to have a book deal in her future.

Read on for my interview with this lovely cook...
Tell me about your life now, Asha.  I am quite contented and happy where I am now. Never would I have thought that I would be cooking, writing and getting paid for it. I'm loving life. I am a mom and live with my small lovely family in San Francisco. When I am not driving my boys to classes and hanging out with them binge-watching movies, I photograph food and do commercial photography.

You talk a lot about family on your blog. I can tell that is important to you.  My family is everything to me. I am blessed to have the most understanding and patient guy for my husband. He will stay calm and composed in any situation. I have two boys - a 15-year-old and a 10-year-old. Both different, but grounded.  They are caring and love my hugs.

Where did you grow up?  I come from a cosmopolitan city, Bangalore. I was the first granddaughter and I had five uncles and a Grandmom who pampered me more than my mom liked them to. Mum and Dad are still there. There's nothing more important to me than my family. I call my parents every day and my uncles and aunties at least once a month. 

Who influenced you in the world of cooking?  Hands down my Grandmom and my mom. Their ability to cook for 50 people in two hours was magical. There were 11 of us living under the same roof growing up. Imagine, my grandmom cooked thrice a day for a crowd of 11 and every meal was special. I have a long list of wonderful cooks in my family. I have a written recipe from each of them. 

What have been some rewarding experiences in cooking and entertaining?  Imagine the smiles and all the compliments you get when someone eats your food, that's the biggest reward. My boys will always compliment me on how good my food is. They are my biggest fans. But I cooked for royalty in India once and they loved everything and sent me a card later. That is one of my favorite possessions

What inspires you?  As a cook, I find myself sitting in front of a computer screen for long hours at a time; it's a part of my job, after all. While it's easy to say that I find loads of inspiration through visual blogs and social media like Pinterest and Instagram (which I do), the truth is, I am inspired when I am away from it. It happens when I'm on a walk or just sitting or talking with my boys.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?  "It is better to travel well than to arrive." (Buddha) This is one of my favorite quotes about travel. I am getting a bit serious here. But honestly speaking, I am not a traveler. I've visited places, but it's not one of my favorite things. My everyday experiences in life with my boys and my friends is like a travel in one way, don't you agree?

Do you have any specific goals for 2016?  I would love to write a book. In fact, I have a book (for almost 30 years now) of all the recipes from years ago from so many of my loved ones. I would love to share a piece of all that I know and have learned. It would be nice to have a book deal.

Asha Shivakumar, the stylish beauty behind Food Fashion Party's blog.

Coming from someone who hated eggplant as a child, Asha has perfected this beautiful dish of Eggplant Rolls in a Tomato Almond Curry making it a true vegetarian crowd-pleaser.

Trio Potatoes seasoned with Asha's homemade Dry Spice Powder, topped with eggs.  It's what's for breakfast.

Pan-fried chicken in a Spicy Tamarind Masala Sauce served with a side of coconut rice.

Dinner in 20 minutes? Yes.  Shrimp Coconut Curry made with onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, garam masala, chili powder, and coconut milk. For this recipe, visit Abi's Farmhouse Kitchen .

Opa Squash and Chickpea Flour Dumplings in an onion-tomato curry, made vibrant with the hues of Kashmiri, a red chili powder known for its mild heat and rich color.

A sure party favorite, these Spicy Chicken Pakoras (fritters) will disappear the minute you turn your back.

Leek and Coconut Milk Skillet Chicken with a brown butter gravy seasoned with green chilies, asafoetida, thyme, chives and fresh coconut milk.

Put an egg on top of anything and it wins the gold. Here, eggs nestled on scalloped potatoes drizzled with a honey mustard sauce and topped with Bombay Spice Mix from Glory Kitchen.

Traditional rice flour tortillas with dill, onions, crushed peanuts, green chilies, sesame and carrots.  Served with peanut chutney, this is a recipe Asha learned from her mom who made them with "everything but the kitchen sink."

 Asha creates a variety of spice blends and bottles them up for ease of use.  Shown here, the blending of Cajun Spice Powder.

The new definition of 'finger licking chicken' is this Spicy Mango Masala Barbecue Chicken - a recipe she says was created "by accident." Move over, Colonel Sanders.

Black Sesame Cake topped with Creme Brulee.

Pomegranate Vodka Fizz infused with ginger syrup and garnished with fresh rosemary.


3 Bean Carrot-Spinach Stew(Spicy Indian Style)
Serves: 4
  • 2 cups mixed beans(I used sprouted lentils, adzuki and mung beans)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 4-5 green chillies
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 5 cloves garlic grated
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 large bunch of spinach chopped
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp salt or accordingly
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  1. Boil the lentils/beans in 6 cups of water till it's cooked well, not too soft and too mushy.
  2. Grind 1 cup of lentils to a coarse paste.
  3. Grind the tomatoes and green chillies, keep aside.
  4. In a large deep dish, add olive oil. Add the cumin seeds and bay leaves. Fry for a minute.
  5. Add the grated ginger, garlic and fry for a minute on low heat.
  6. Saute the carrots. Add the ground turmeric and add the tomato-green chilly paste. Cook the carrots for 5 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for another 10-15 minutes.
  7. Add the lentils and mix. Add the lentils paste. Mix everything well, add salt and check for spices, if you need more spice, add some pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes to get all the flavors mixed in well.
Serve with rice or you enjoy it as is.
    I used the Tru Roots Organic Sprouted Bean Trio but you can use any bean of your choice.You could top it with some Harissa, corn tortilla, sriracha. You could add some grains in it or serve with some rice.

    3-Bean Carrot Spinach Stew

    Spicy Sticky Lamb Chops

    10 Lamb Chops cleaned and pat dry
    1 tsp fennel seeds
    1 tbsp coriander seeds
    7-8 cloves garlic peeled
    1 inch ginger peeled and chopped
    1 tbsp sriracha (more or less according to your taste)
    2 tbsp sambal (more or less according to your spice level)
    1 tbsp packed brown sugar
    2 tbsp tomato puree
    1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
    1 tbsp lemon juice
    1 tsp salt (use little at a time)
    2 tbsp flavorless oil(canola or vegetable)

    Dry roast the fennel seeds and coriander seeds till you smell the spices and it's lightly brown. Fry on low flame and do not let it burn.
    Grind it with ginger and garlic to a smooth paste. Use the lemon juice and vinegar to help grind, DO NOT add water.
    In a mixing bowl, add the ground paste, all the other ingredients and mix well. Check for salt. Check the taste at this point, add more spice if you'd like. If you like it more acidic, add lemon juice.
    Take out 1/2 the marinade and keep aside. Add the lamb chops to the marinade and mix well. If you need more marinade and it looks dry to you, add the rest. Mix, cover and marinate for at least 30 minutes to over night.
    Preheat the oven to 450 degree 30 minutes before you are ready to bake. Bake in a pan anywhere from 8-20 minutes depending on how you like the meat to be. 6-8 minutes for rare and 20-25 for fully done.
    Serve with puloa or as an appetizer.

    Spicy Sticky Lamb Chops served with Cauliflower Fried Rice
    All photos courtesy of Food Fashion Party and used with permission.


    1. Gorgeous!! Love following Asha's food blog; so nice to learn more about her!! xo

      1. She's really wonderful, isn't she? Her food pictures make my mouth water every time.

    2. What a gorgeous array of Asha's best pictures portrayed here! She is amazing!

      1. Thank you, Amisha! I love Asha and her blog. If only I could master the art of Indian cooking!! Thanks for the comment and thanks for reading the post.

    3. What a great start to 2016! Love to follow her beautiful blog n recipies!! Congrats Asha�� Looking forward to see c her complete book soon!!

      1. Wouldn't a book of her recipes be amazing to have? Believing that will happen this year. Thanks for reading! I sure do appreciate it.

    4. asha aunty is also the coolest aunty out there <3

    5. Oh wow, so much love here.
      Thank you so so much Naomi for writing so wonderfully and I am still in a haze. You are a wonderful writer and I no one else could do justice as much as you did. You are the best.
      Love you and all of my friends above.. @Rebecca @Amisha @ Bansi , the sweetest darling Kish. xoxo

      1. You have many people who love you, Asha. So happy to spread the word about you and your beautiful blog. Much love to you, dear.

    6. Great start of 2016 asha. Congrats my dear I am very proud of you. All the best for your book to complete soon.

      1. Asha is amazing, even though I have only met her virtually. Thanks so much for taking the time to read the post. I appreciate it!

    7. Great start of 2016 asha. Congrats my dear I am very proud of you. All the best for your book to complete soon.

    8. Great Going Sis, very proud of you for taking out our traditional taste in a whole new way. Good job..

      1. You're Asha's sister? Thank you so much for stopping by to read the post. I appreciate it. Asha's cooking is so inspiring to me.

    9. Beautiful post...interview was lovely and photos are amazing www.champagneinateacup.wordpress.com

      1. Thank you! Asha is such a sweetheart and it was a pleasure to feature her. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment.

    10. Love this post and interview! Asha is such a beautiful, lovely person- inside and out! And her blog is one of my favorite! Thanks for featuring her! These lamb chops look divine! Cheers!

      1. Thanks for stopping by to read! I can't wait to try the lamb chops. And yes, Asha is beautiful and lovely!

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