Spice, spice baby!: Waterloo Region cookbook introduces kids to an array of flavours

“Spice Baby!” by Zahra N. Habib is packed with mouth-watering South Asian- and East African-inspired recipes for the whole family to enjoy.

  • Marshall Ward is a local freelance writer and artist.

My family loves the fiery flavors of South Asian cuisine.

So we were intrigued to discover a new cookbook called Spice Baby!that provides more than 100 recipes designed to introduce children to a wide palate of flavors from an early age.

The author of the cookbook, Zahra N. Habib, is someone I’ve known for a number of years — she was a fellow parent of students at KW Bilingual School — and I know she is a culinary artist.

Her book provides a 12-week, day-to-day chart showing how to introduce a baby to their first superfoods, along with several herbs and spices.

As vegetarians, my family is delighted by the number of meatless recipe options.

Although the recipes in the book are intended to be ways of expanding the culinary palate of young (and fussy) eaters, there are amazing dishes for all ages in the book.

“These are South Asian- and East African-influenced recipes, but it really is meant for anyone wanting to introduce their little ones to a variety of flavors as early as possible, like cardamom, clove, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fennel, ginger , garlic, mint, nutmeg, saffron and turmeric,” Habib told me.

The book is beautiful, with recipes ranging from exotic fruit purées like peach and cardamom, to hearty lentil and meat curries, to manageable finger foods for toddlers like pillowy naan and much more.

“My mom, Yasmin Habib, was instrumental in the creation of this book,” said Habib, whose family migrated from India to East Africa. “Both she and my dad, Nadir Habib, made sure my kids got a taste of all of the foods that we grew up with — and it’s all in this book.”

My kids are grown up, but we’re still planning to try some of the recipes in Spice Baby! like savory vegetable Ondhvo cake, ricotta fritter and cream curry and vegetable samosas and chutneys.

“Whenever my mom makes samosas for us, I feel like she is showing her love, because they are time consuming, delicate, an art form and so pleasurable to eat,” she said.

“I also have fond memories of my mom teaching me how to separate the pastry so as not to tear them, how to fold them, fill them, paste them and fry them. Samosas were always an appetizer before the main meal or a snack with afternoon tea.”

My family loves to have samosas with tamarind sauce or fruit-based chutneys with mango, apples, ginger and cranberries.

“Chutneys for samosas are like icing on a cake,” she said. “I love playing with combinations and having one samosa with only tamarind sauce but then the next one with a bit of coconut chutney and tamarind. It’s part of the fun of eating samosas.”

As someone who loves spicy food, I tend to seek out South Asian dishes, but there’s nothing like putting out the fire with refreshing yogurt raitas.

“One of my favorite raita concoctions came about because my youngest loves okra and there was some leftover after frying them up, so the next day I decided to make a raita with it and it was delicious,” she said. “Yogurt can really help cool down a spicy curry.”

The best food is about balance — spicy and cool, sweet and flavorful — and Habib believes that children can be gently introduced to a world of flavors when they’re very young, making them much more likely to seek diverse (and healthier) food choices. as they grow up.

you can find “Slittle Baby! at amazon.ca.

If you want to enjoy world cuisines with your family, introducing them to an array of flavors at a young age will help them join you on your culinary journeys.

Marshall Ward is a freelance writer and artist. Check out his award-winning podcast at bonnpark.com.

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