Flavour 411 with Spice Goddess, Bal Arneson
Let’s be honest, Canada is not historically known for its spicy foods. In fact, if you ask someone, “What is Canadian food?” you’ll likely receive a slow, thoughtful “hmmm” perhaps followed by a response like “poutine” or “maple syrup”. Though as a nation we haven’t historically been distinct in the kitchen, thanks to the growing multicultural influences across this fine country, that seems to be changing! In fact, the word on the street is variety. So it is no surprise that flavour queen Bal Arneson has become so popular. If you’re not familiar, Bal is a best-selling author, educator and passionate advocate for simple and healthy Indian cuisine. Her show, The Spice Goddess, which airs on the Food Network, shows people how to use fresh ingredients and a variety of spices to bring food to life. Here, we catch up with Bal in Vancouver to find out how The Spice Goddess came to be.
BT: Your story is incredible. You immigrated to Canada from a small village in India only 15 years ago and didn’t yet speak English. How did you begin your journey to become The Spice Goddess, and a best-selling author?
BA: Cooking has always been my passion. I started down this path while at university. To pay tuition, I started giving cooking classes in healthy Indian food. People were shocked and surprised to find that Indian food could be low fat, healthy, easy to make with a few spices, and taste delicious.
People started asking for recipes or if I had a cookbook so I approached a publisher with a unique concept for healthy, fast Indian cooking. One thing led to another, the book became a national best-seller immediately and during my book tours I realized how much I loved sharing my recipes and cooking on camera. The Spice Goddess show emerged from that!
BT: We’ve heard you say that no one should spend more than 25 minutes in the kitchen preparing food. This is definitely a welcome message for the busy parents out there! Is this true? Can you explain your cooking philosophy?
BA: My cooking philosophy is in fact, that no one should spend more than 25 minutes to make a fabulous Indian meal, eat healthily together and spend quality time together as a family. The recipes from my books are living proof of this philosophy.
BT: Let's be honest, Canada is not known for its love of spices or spicy food, per se. Why do you think your show and your books have been so enthusiastically embraced?
BA: My approach is simplicity, which is disarming for people. My recipes teach people step-by-step how easy it is to cook with spices and create delicious flavours. I have demystified that spicy means hot and show in fact that spices used properly provide flavour, texture and aroma not the heat that most people associate with them.
BT: So true. Can you tell us about your newest book, Bal's Quick and Healthy Indian?
BA: My book focuses on making healthy recipes from accessible ingredients that are quick enough to enjoy as weekday family dinners.
BT: Do you have any advice on making cooking more fun for the whole family?
BA: I always include my children when cooking. They will participate in everything from making the grocery list, creating their favorite menus, cutting, chopping, stirring and tasting to enjoying the meal together and even cleanup. Growing up in the village in the Punjab, I was expected to learn to cook and I found that I could be creative and express myself through cooking, which is why I continue to love it and share the process with my family.
BT: Can you share one of your recipes that is particularly loved by your own kids?
BA: My son Aaron LOVES the recipe for Masala Chicken Fingers with Mint and Mango Chutney. He and his friends are always requesting it. And it’s simple enough that he can be in the kitchen helping me with it.
Thanks so much, Bal, for chatting with us! What a fabulous twist on the standard chicken fingers. People, let us know if you try this at home and, as always, share your comments with us here on Facebook. Join the conversation!