Culinary experience with Spicebox by Casey Thayer
Wedged between two animated groups of twenty-somethings on the orange circular seat of a cafeteria table, I waited on my order. An ice cube cooled my mug of Chang lager. A man shuffled around hawking small packages of napkins. A wide-eyed tourist in Singapore, I had wandered into the Tekka Center looking for dinner and found little success spotting vegetarian options among the meat-heavy hawker stands. Finally, in a shadowy back corner, I spotted a mix of vegetables sweating in a metal tray behind a glass display case and something called daal and naan on a backlit plastic menu board that headed the stand. I didn’t know what either of those things were, but I thought: Be adventurous. It was the beginning of a love affair.
That first serendipitous meal was rapturous — pillowy-soft naan cooked to perfection in a clay tandoor, gravy-heavy daal, and a heap of rice that could feed four. When I returned to my home base in Chicago, I searched out any restaurant that could compare, any stand-in to satisfy my new craving for authentic Indian food. I came up empty-handed. Then, I discovered the Spicebox from Waverley Kitchens.
I wouldn’t have guessed that the restaurant I sought could be my own kitchen, that I could make these flavor-rich foods by following only a few steps and sprinkling in a premade blend of spices. I assumed that to get the depth of flavors I found in Singapore, I needed specialized knowledge or the guiding hand of an expert. But all I really needed was a good spice blend and a clear set of instructions!
I first experimented with Spicebox by preparing the Chola Curry recipe. Even with my slow knife skills, I had the tomatoes and onion cut up in minutes and the garlic pressed as the seed blend simmered in the pan. Twenty minutes later, my wife and I sat down to a meal that rivaled those I enjoyed in Singapore. We quickly moved through the recipe book. We tried the Cabbage and Peas Sabji, the Saag Tofu Curry, and the Black-eye Beans Curry (along with two more runs through the Chola Curry) recipes before we depleted our stock of spice blends and had to reorder. Each recipe was delicious and well-balanced!
One of the best aspects of these recipes is that we are able to tweak them to our tastes. We added heat by preparing a mixture of cayenne pepper and olive oil, and doubled the spinach in the saag curry to make it even more veggie-heavy. Personally, I appreciate this flexibility—these recipes helped me mimic the authenticity of traditional Indian cooking while allowing for my creativity and experimentation. Now, whenever nostalgia hits, and I crave that taste of my first Indian meal in Singapore, I pull out the seed and tangy blends, and in five minutes, I have a curry bubbling on the stove.