Jam is Her Jam

Friday, March 3, 2017

Amisha Gurbani knows what it's like to hustle. Hailing from Mumbai, with its frenzied energy, noisy bazaars and masses of people ranging from financial geniuses to Bollywood film stars, this Bay-area blogger packs a lot of productivity into 24 hours. A full-time engineer by day, Amisha also runs a small business known as The Jam Lab selling organic, artisanal and seasonal jams created in the kitchen of the home she shares with husband, Raj, and their two children. Additionally, she is a contributing editor for The Feed Feeda crowd-sourced digital publication for the foodie community where she manages the content for  Jam, Jellies and Chutneys Orangesand Gin.
When she moved to the states in 1999 to pursue her master's degree, she brought more than her love of Math along for the ride. She also brought her love of spices and healthy cooking. And after her children were born, Amisha realized the importance of offering healthy alternatives for the sugar-rich jams she was using to make their favorite lunch - peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  This propelled her to use the spices of her homeland to create a vast palette of jams that are not only tasty, but filled with good-for-you ingredients.

Read on for my interview with Amisha...

Tell us about yourself:  I would like to introduce myself as Amisha, an extremely passionate home cook, who loves to cook all dishes vegetarian. I'm crazy about baking (yes, I bake a lot at night!), jamming and creating healthy, nourishing and fresh meals for my family. I have a dear husband, 2 lovely kids (a girl and a boy, ages 7.5 and 5.5) and 2 adorable cats named Marc and Tabitha. We live in the Bay Area and are blessed to be surrounded with extremely fresh, organic produce that is a part of my daily musings with cooking. 

Where did you grow up?  I am born and brought up in Mumbai, India where my father, younger  brother and sister-in-law still live. I was brought up in a very loving family, where both my father and my mother took great care of us, and gave us a lot of love and attention.  I was very fortunate to be brought up in a loving family that loves to eat and cook.

Can you tell us about a childhood memory?  There was this one winter holiday, when I was 10 years old, and I took it upon myself to use one of my mom’s cookbooks, and make a new dish every day all by myself. There were some successes and some failures, but it was a fun and adventurous experience I still remember. Once when I was carrying food to the table, I dropped the entire pot and she had to whip up dinner again within 15-20 minutes! It seems funny now to drop a whole pot of food but then I was terrified of my mom and her screaming at me. I still make mistakes in the kitchen and I have failures, but it is the failures which make me want to try it again and again until I am successful. It drives me to do better.

Who has been your biggest influence in life? My parents have been the biggest influences in my life. My dad runs a business from home, and I was lucky to have his attention too, especially to teach me math, which I was not very good at, but with his guidance, I excelled at Math in my last year of school.  My dad is a very logical, methodical person and I have learned a lot from him especially where patience is concerned, and looking at things from a bigger picture. He has taught me to not fret and worry over little things. He has also taught me to never give up and always try to find a solution to the problem. He always says, "Don't walk backwards, but work towards resolutions."

My mom has been my constant source of inspiration, and she started teaching me to cook when I was about nine years old. I always helped my mom in the kitchen, playing with spices, flavors and learning to make things from scratch. My mom believed in fresh food on the table for every meal, and I strive to do the same for my family.  She passed 10 years ago at a young age, and it has been the biggest loss in my life. I feel like I lost my best friend. She cooked for us day and night and I still remember the taste of her food in my mouth. ( You can see a blog post I wrote in her memory here.)

What about the matriarchs in your life? Besides my mother, the other women in the family who have been a huge influence are my grandma and my maternal aunts. They all live in the U.K, and I am very close to them. They can whip up many dishes for a large crowd in no time. They all love food, and make the tastiest food you could ever taste. It is full of flavor and one serving is just not enough. You will be lip smacking your fingers cause the food is so delicious! When I want to find out some old family recipe, I always call my grandma or my aunts to ask them for the recipe, and how to make it. They are great at innovating new recipes, and are always making different things at their homes.

What's your favorite spice? I love ALL spices in general. I do not particularly have a favorite spice, but if I HAD to pick a favorite it would be Cardamom and Star Anise. I love the floral scent of cardamom, and the licorice scent of Star Anise.

What has carried you through hard times?  I have a few favorite quotes that my parents have instilled in me, and these quotes always give me strength and courage in tough times.

  • "Never give up!"
  • "Never say Never."
  • "Always look at the bigger picture, and things that should not matter will seem trivial."
  • "Never be afraid to fail. It is the failures which will make you work harder towards your goal."

Is there a famous chef you would like to meet? I would have loved to meet Tarla Dalal. She was a renowned Indian Chef who I used to admire as a kid, and I have a lot of her cookbooks. I would also love to meet Jacques Pippen. He makes cooking and baking look so easy! He whips up dishes as if there was no effort put into it. I love his style.

What inspires your cooking? I was born in Mumbai, surrounded by a very broad Indian culture, and my food is extremely influenced by my culture. I miss the food I grew up with and will recreate dishes my mom made, especially when cravings hit. Inspiration comes from the array of spices that are in my kitchen ALL the time, from my family, and from the eagerness to feed them healthy, nourishing food. Also, living in California, I am surrounded by an abundance of  fresh, sustainable and organic bounty.  I get my inspiration from the farmer's market produce, too, and it is a weekly ritual I cannot live without.

Tell us about your family:  I am married to a very gentle, kind man named Raj (or his pen name is Roger), who is a Graphics Designer by profession. He has done the entire branding for Jam Lab. We met online on a dating site and have been married 12 years now. We have 2 beautiful kids, a girl and a boy who are 7.5 and 5.5 respectively, who are both hug monsters and love kisses.


Upside Down Blood Orange and Rosemary Tea Cake 

Upside Down Blood Orange and Rosemary Tea Cake
(Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver)

·         10 tbsp unsalted butter softened, plus a tablespoon for greasing the pan
·         4 tbsp demerara sugar
·         3-4 small blood oranges, thinly sliced, after removing the skin/pith
·         3/4 cup granulated sugar
·         6 heaped tbsp Jam Lab's Blood Orange and Rosemary Marmalade
·         4 large eggs, beaten
·         1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
·         1 tsp baking powder
·         1/2 tsp baking soda
·         1/2 almond flour
·         2 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
·         Finely grated zest and juice of 2 small blood oranges or 1 big blood orange
  • Preheat the oven to 350. Grease the base and sides of a 9-10 inch cheese cake pan. Sprinkle the base with demerara sugar. Arrange the blood orange slices on the base of the tin in a slightly overlapping layer, such that the tin does NOT show.
  • Cream the butter and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in 3 heaped tablespoons of the Blood Orange and Rosemary Marmalade, followed by the beaten eggs. In a medium bowl, add in the flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, rosemary, salt and whisk to blend. Fold in the dry ingredients, and the blood orange zest and juice.
  • Carefully pour the cake batter into the tin. Place in the oven and bake for about 1 hour, till golden and firm to touch. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 15 minutes. Very carefully, remove the outer layer of the cheesecake pan, and while it’s still slightly warm, turn out the cake onto a serving plate.
  • Wait for it to cool down completely, and prick holes in the cake with a skewer. Make a glaze by warming the rest of the marmalade in a pan with a little water for 5 minutes on the gas at medium to low heat. Brush this syrup over the cake. Serve warm or at room temperature with homemade vanilla bean whipped cream!


Baingan Bharta - Eggplant Curry 
    Baingan Bharta - Eggplant Curry
    Serves 2 - 3
·         2 large eggplants
·         2 tablespoons sunflower oil
·         1 medium sized onion diced into small pieces
·         2-3 cloves garlic
·         1 ½ teaspoon grated ginger
·         1 green chilli finely diced(optional, if you like it spicy)
·         2 tomatoes finely diced
·         2 tablespoons tomato paste
·         1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
·         1 ½ teaspoon garam masala
·         1 teaspoon coriander powder
·         1 teaspoon cumin powder
·         ¾ teaspoon red chilli powder(or to your taste)
·         1 teaspoon turmeric powder
·         Salt to taste
·         ¾ cup frozen green peas or par boiled fresh green peas
·         2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro for garnish

  • Wash and pat dry 2 large eggplants. On high heat on the gas stove, start charring the eggplants directly on the gas stove. Be careful to use steel tongs(not plastic tongs!), to turn the eggplant around. Let it char for a minute or so on each side, until the entire eggplant is charred on all sides and black in color and the skin is sort of cracked and peeling. You will be able to judge how charred the eggplant needs to be. It should not take more than 10 minutes to char the 2 eggplants.
  • If you do not have a gas stove, in an oven on the middle rack, on a small baking tray with foil paper, put the 2 eggplants and put it under the broiler on high. Let it sit for about 1 minute and see if it chars till black and skin is cracking. Remove the tray and turn the eggplant slightly to start charring the next side. Keep doing this for 10-15 minutes until the eggplants are completely charred.
  • Once charred, take a medium sized bowl, put the hot charred eggplants into the bowl and cover with aluminum foil and let it cool down for about 20 minutes. Once cooled down, remove the skin gently with your fingers, and the top portion as well, and roughly mash the eggplant, similar to a banana 
  • In the meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, on medium heat, add the oil. Add the cumin seeds and let it splatter for half a minute. Add in the onions, garlic and ginger (optional green chilli) and saute for 3-4 minutes until the onions are slightly brown. Add in the tomatoes, and tomato paste, and saute for a minute. Add in all the spices and saute again for a minute to make a complete paste. Add in the eggplant and parboiled or frozen peas, and mix well. Let it cook for another 7-10 minutes till all the flavors are mixed well together. Plate it in a bowl, and garnish with the chopped cilantro!
  • Enjoy with some rotis or naan, and raita and pickled red onions! Delicious ! 

 Photos courtesy of The Jam Lab and used with permission.


  1. What a wonderful read Naomi! Loved getting to know Amisha a bit more! What she accomplishes in a day ever ceases to amaze me!

    1. You are too kind Christine and a lovely person! Thank you so much for your support always! :)

    2. Thanks, Christine. Always good to hear from you! I'm so honored to feature cooks like Amisha who inspire others daily with their food.

  2. Naomi, I loved reading your beautifully curated article, and want to thank you from my heart for this wonderful piece on your blog! You are truly an amazing writer and story teller. Thank you once again Naomi! Much love! :)

    1. Amisha, you are so welcome. Thank you for the interview! It was a pleasure to feature you.