“I did my Ph.D in molecular biology,” Kanchan Koya starts after I ask her about the conception of her popular blog Spice Spice Baby and new cookbook Spice Spice Baby: 100 Recipes with Healing Spices for Your Family Table. No big deal, right? After speaking with Koya and scrolling through her Instagram, her blog, and of course, reading her book, it’s obvious that the brilliant, trendy, Brooklyn-dwelling mom-of-two inspires people through her work.
Koya speaks excitedly yet humbly about the work she did at Harvard that consequently inspired her blog and new cookbook: Both aim to shed light on the healing potential of spices and how to incorporate them into everyday life. “My lab started to study the effects of curcumin—it’s a component in turmeric—and its effects on cancer,” Koya says. “I had grown up in India where turmeric is part of every household’s pantry and medicine cabinet. It made me smile when I realized that a decade later, one of the most renowned institutions in the world was studying the spice that I grew up with.”
Growing up in India, Koya was surrounded by spices that a lot of Americans had never heard of. “When I became a mom, I started to feed my son baby puree with spices because I thought it was a great way to expand his palate and bring a host of benefits to his plate,” Koya notes. “And a lot of parents that I knew—that weren’t of Indian origin—were surprised, a little concerned, and confused, so I felt that there was an opportunity to educate people about these magical, ancient ingredients and to demystify them a for the western audience and the modern kitchen.”
Koya wound up including over 100 incredible recipes in her cookbook, moving 10 of the most popular ones over from the blog. “The remaining were just recipes that I fed my family and my kids, and at the time it was just my son,” she says. “I would use that as a starting point to make it better while always thinking about how I can make it healthier and more kid-approved.”
So far, these recipes are a hit with her own children: Ilhan, 6 and Nur, 18 months. Their all-time favorite from the cookbook is the Blood Orange Glazed Chinese Five Spice Meatballs. Taking one look at the recipe (and the gorgeous photo!) pretty much sums up why. “They sound crazy adventurous, but kids love them because they have shredded apples and carrots, so they have vegetables,” Koya notes. “And they have minced beef and pork and Chinese Five-Spice, which I actually made kid-friendly in the book by substituting Szechuan peppercorn for black pepper.”
Serving children healthy food that just so happens to taste amazing is Koya’s goal for her blog and cookbook, as well as keeping parents from overthinking mealtime. “I wanted to send the message that feeding kids delicious healthy food isn’t that hard,” she adds. “I also wanted to show that spices can be part of everyday cooking regardless of your ethnic background. They are really wonderful flavor enhancers, they’re great with expanding kids’ palates, and they have a range of amazing benefits!”
Another one of Koya’s biggest motivations was to inspire families to take time to gather around the table. “I know it’s hard and kids can be picky, but I feel like parents are cooking too many separate meals for everybody and I don’t think it nurtures our kids to eat well,” Koya says, adding: “Every dish is designed to be appealing to my toddler all the way to my great grandma. That’s why the tagline is ‘Family Table’—I feel like that’s something that’s missing and we need to work towards that a little bit more.”
To learn more about Kanchan Koya, visit spicespicebaby.com!