Nirmala Narine — Spice Girl

Featured Article, Food and Travel, Heroes, Ingredient, International Food, Local Heroes
on January 1, 2012
Red Curry Noodle Soup
Mark Boughton/styling: Teresa Blackburn

I was born to parents of Indian descent in an unpainted wooden house in Guyana, South America, in a village bordering the Amazon rain forest. I started cooking for my family of 12 at the age of 6 under the tutelage of my grandfather, who taught me the ancient Ayurvedic art of blending spices to balance the elements in the body. My Auntie Daisy, an Afro-Guyanese woman, the great-great granddaughter of slaves, taught me how to make wonderful West African dishes in a mud oven. The native Arawak Indians taught me how to make condiments from wild berries and yucca juices and how to barbecue everything from iguanas and guinea pigs to all sorts of exotic fish.

With no running water or electricity, my main kitchen tool was a machete, which I used to chop firewood and coconuts, peel papayas, clean fish and even kill chickens (only for dinner). My other tool was a masala brick used for grinding spices. More than 125 years old, it was a dowry gift, which my great-great grandmother brought from India to British Guyana.

In 2002, I launched Nirmala’s Kitchen, which specializes in spices and exotic ingredients for creating simple, delicious and nutritious meals from around the world. I’ve traveled to more than 125 countries around the globe to find ingredients from Aborignal Wattleseed from Australia and Brazilian Pink Pepper to Tunisian Harissa and Whole West Indies Nutmeg.

My recipes reflect the multi-ethnic landscape of the globe. I want to give cooks easy-to-follow recipes with relatively inexpensive ingredients found in local supermarkets. And while continuing to hunt for spices, I’m turning to my next adventure—a novel for young adults, Ellishiva Cinnamon.
— By Nirmala Narine