If there is one person on the Food Network who has a "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" story — it’s Spice Goddess Bal Arneson. A lot has happened in the two years since I last spoke to her. She had just published her first book ( Everyday Indian, Whitecap $30) and was seeing the first wave of success. Today, she’s published her second book, Bal’s Quick and Healthy Indian (Whitecap, $30 at www.whitecap.ca) and is hosting her own show.
She's never forgotten her roots, though. And that's where bootstraps, and gratitude, meet.
"I came to Canada 18 some years ago, with no English, no money, no family... disowned from my own family, and a single mom, to complete a master's in education, have two successful books, and a TV show," she says. "And I just got nominated for a James Beard Award. And I know there has got be a reason, and the only thing that resonates with me is to give back to my village..."
Like anyone who is coping with work and family, she has found that things are a little busier than she ever imagined. But she is both purposeful and thankful.
"It's got a lot more busy," she says. "It's an honour to be on TV and connecting with people at that level, sharing my recipes with a much bigger audience. And when they see me on TV they google me immediately, there's Facebook messages and email messages. The response from people is so immediate, and I love it."
Still, the formula for success in this business comes down to one main thing.
"Whether it's for a book or TV, you have to have the most amazing recipes; it all comes down to that," she says. "That's why I love doing what I'm doing on TV because that creative part is not taken away from me. It's actually added one more step to it because now I get to read those recipes and show those recipes to people."
Her first book became a bestseller with three printings in a short time. And while there is more pressure the second time, she says writing the followup cookbook was a little easier.
"The first book is so daunting -- where are you going to begin and why does this happen and how does that happen? It's like having a child, the first one you have no clue how to change the diapers, you don't know what to feed them -- and with the second it's: yeah, I've done it!"
She's made sure to give readers exactly what they are looking for, recipes that are tasty, economical and family oriented. She says people are surprised at how easy and healthy Indian cooking can be and that it can be on the table in 20 minutes or so.
"The feedback I've been getting from people is that the perception was: 'It's fattening, it's a long list of spices, it takes you forever to cook.' So I've taken all those components away and given them the most incredible recipes."
Those recipes come right from her experience growing up in her village in the Punjab, and she's just started a foundation as a way of showing her gratitude. Although it's just in its fledgling stages, she's already had word from a primary school that's in need of ceiling fans, a need she can easily meet. She is helping women and children, battered women in particular.
"I'm giving back to the villages and cities where the need is to support educational programs for women and children, and giving them the basic things that we take here for granted, like pencils and pencil crayons and things like that. So that's where my heart is and that's where I see myself in the bigger picture -- advocating for them and supporting them."
All of these lovely recipes come from Bal Arneson's Bal's Quick and Healthy Indian. You can find Arneson hosting her show Spice Goddess on the Food Network at www.foodnetwork.ca and at her own site www.balsworld.com
Kiwi and Radish Salad with Masala Chicken
This recipe calls for garam masala. Arneson makes her own blend of this traditional Indian spice mixture.
Makes about 250 ml (1 cup)
125 ml (1/2 cup) coriander seeds
125 ml (1/2 cup) cumin seeds
60 ml (1/4 cup) black peppercorns
60 ml (1/4 cup) curry leaves
3 whole cloves
2 black cardamom pods (kept whole)
2 cinnamon sticks, each 7.5 cm (3 inches) long
2 bay leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 160C (325F)
2. Combine all in a bowl and mix well. Spread on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven for 15 minutes.
3. Let cool. Remove seeds from cardamom pod and discard husk. Grind to a fine powder (a coffee grinder works well). Store in an airtight container in a cool place. Lasts well for 3 months.
15 ml (1 tbsp) garam masala
5 ml (1 tsp) Spanish paprika
salt to taste
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, each cut in half
30 ml (2 tbsp) grapeseed oil
250 ml (1 cup) thinly sliced red radishes
250 ml (1 cup) thinly sliced white radish (mooli, a.k.a. daikon)
250 ml (1 cup) peeled and thinly sliced kiwi
30 ml (2 tbsp) flaxseed oil
15 ml (1 tbsp) lime juice
2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground cardamom
salt and pepper to taste
1. For the chicken, combine the garam masala, paprika, and salt in a small bowl and mix well. Place the chicken breast halves on a plate and sprinkle the spice mixture on both sides of each half.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, gently place the chicken in the skillet and cook for about 12 to 15 minutes, turning frequently to make sure all sides are cooked and golden brown. The chicken should be white all the way through when tested. Set the chicken aside to cool, then cut it into bite-sized pieces.
3. Combine all the salad ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the chicken. Gently mix everything together and refrigerate for 2 hours. Serve chilled. Serves 4
Spiced Sweet Potatoes Cooked with Split Red Lentils
The best part of this recipe is the spices that form a nice crust on the sweet potatoes. Arneson makes her own blend of ginger masala.
Makes about 125 ml (1/2 cup)
60 ml (1/4 cup) ground cumin
30 ml (2 tbsp) ground coriander
30 ml (2 tbsp) ground ginger
15 ml (1 tbsp) garam masala (as above)
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
2 ml (1/2 tsp) pepper
Combine all and store in glass jar with lid.
750 ml (3 cups) split red lentils (masoor dhal)
1.5 litre (6 cups) water
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
5 ml (1 tsp) ground turmeric
Spiced sweet potatoes
30 ml (2 tbsp) grapeseed oil
15 ml (1 tbsp) finely chopped ginger
15 ml (1 tbsp) cumin seeds
15 ml (1 tbsp) ginger masala
2 ml (1/2 tsp) coriander seeds, crushed
2 ml (1/2 tsp) mustard seeds
10 to 12 curry leaves
0.5 ml (1/8 tsp) salt
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cubed
125 ml (1/2 cup) water
1. To prepare the lentils, place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are soft, about 15 to 18 minutes.
2. To prepare the spiced sweet potatoes, heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the ginger and cook for 10 seconds. Add the cumin seeds, ginger masala, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, curry leaves, and salt and cook for 5 seconds. Stir in the sweet potato and water. Bring to a boil and turn the heat to low and simmer, stirring regularly, until the sweet potato is tender, about 12 to 15 minutes.
3. To serve, add the cooked sweet potatoes to the lentils and mix them gently. Enjoy over rice or with rotis. Serves 4