The Taste Of Southern India At Home: Maya Kaimal Sauces And Snacks
Photo by Michael Kraus.
By Amy Krzanik
Indian food: a cuisine so delicious when served in a restaurant, yet so difficult to duplicate at home. No matter how many spices and sauces you buy or recipes you attempt to follow, your chicken tikka masala or saag paneer just never has that authentic taste. But that changes once you know about Rhinebeck resident Maya Kaimal and her brand of eponymous sauces and snacks which are here to help you recreate those flavorful Indian meals in your own kitchen.
Kaimal grew up in Boston with an American mother and a physicist father whose experiments carried on into the home with his take on the Indian dishes of his youth. As a child, Kaimal experienced the smells and tastes of homemade curries and kormas on frequent visits to her father’s relatives in southern India.
Kaimal poses in front of her billboard.
An art major at Pomona College, Kaimal worked in magazine publishing as a photo editor in New York City for 15 years, and during that time published two cookbooks inspired by her trips to India. Curried Favors: Family Recipes from South India, which won the Julia Child Award for best first book, came out in 1996 and Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors from Kerala in 2000. Kaimal felt an urge to publish these recipes because most Indian restaurants tend to be North Indian.
“My family’s recipes have a South Indian bent,” she says, “and there’s a lack of understanding of that cuisine.” But it wasn’t until September 11, 2001, when Kaimal and many others around the country were laid off from their jobs, that she moved upstate (first to Woodstock and then to Rhinebeck, NY in 2006) and decided to change careers.
Toward the end of 2003, she and her husband, bestselling author and Rolling Stone contributor Guy Lawson, officially launched the Maya Kaimal product line. “I took what I learned from the books, and made the food more accessible to people,” she says. “It can be difficult to cook this food from scratch.”
Photo by Michael Kraus.
What really distinguishes the Maya Kaimal line from other Indian foods is their refrigerated sauces. The recipes have a fair amount of acidity as part of the flavor balance – mango, lemon, vinegar and similar ingredients — which helps give them a good shelf life. This allows the company to keep the sauces natural, without preservatives, and without having to adjust the recipes much.
What began with three flavors of refrigerated sauces that Kaimal shopped around herself from store to store in NYC, has grown to six refrigerated sauces including curries, masala, korma, vindaloo and saag; six shelf-stable sauces including spicy ketchup, and two varieties of snack chips.
The brand’s chickpea chips launched last year and one of the flavors, Sweet Chili, won gold in the “Outstanding Savory Snack” competition this past June at the Fancy Food Show. The annual event is held by the Specialty Food Association, which also chose the Kaimal brand as one of only four makers to advertise on subway posters and a billboard by the Lincoln Tunnel.
Photo by Jessica Bard.
“It’s nice to get this recognition,” Kaimal says. “We’ve managed to be successful while also staying true to our values — making high-quality food without taking shortcuts or trying to cut costs with lesser ingredients.”
And people are noticing. The products have earned nods in publications that cover cuisine (Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and Saveur) as well as lifestyle magazines GQ, Men’s Journal, InStyle, Newsweek and others. A brand-new line of naan chips (in three flavors: sea salt, rosemary, and almost everything) has launched to a great reception and, no doubt, will be on the shortlist at next year’s Fancy Food Show.
You can find Maya Kaimal simmer sauces and snacks at Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, Olde Hudson, Sunflower Natural Foods in Rhinebeck, Otto’s Market in Germantown, Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, and selected national supermarkets. Or go online, where you can shop and also find Kaimal’s own recipes for traditional dishes, as well as inspiring ways to add Indian flavors to wraps, burgers, grilled vegetables, fish, meatloaf and even sweet potato chips.