New at the Co-op: Monsoon Kitchens

One of our enduring goals at River Valley Co-op is to strengthen our local food system by buying directly from producers in our area. This leaves us with a question: What if the foods I want typically come from another part of the world?  Yes, there are plenty of amazing locally-owned restaurants that offer international fare, but what about at-home solutions? Many of the international offerings in larger grocery stores are still limited in taste and quality since they often do not prioritize the sourcing of all-natural and responsibly sourced ingredients. These qualities are of central focus as the co-op continues seeking out the best local products along a wide range of tastes, including foods made close to home with big flavors that aren’t so local in origin.

India is known for great things. It has a rich history and culture, thriving music and film industry, several world-famous landmarks and of course outstanding food. India is admired for its reputation as the “Land of Spices” after all, but the real secret to its beloved cuisine is in how these flavors are combined and used to create unforgettable dishes. According to a study from the Indian Institute for Technology, chefs in the West can have a tendency to lean towards overlapping flavors when preparing meals, whereas chefs in India look for precisely the opposite. Researchers arrived at this conclusion by breaking down dishes from different parts of the world and comparing their core ingredients with those of Indian meals to learn how often flavor compounds are shared. For Indian recipes, it turns out “similar” flavors are not used in combination very often, which has been a key factor behind their worldwide popularity.

Swati Elavia, President and Co-Founder of Monsoon Kitchens (image: Worcester Business Journal)

One person who understands complex flavor combinations and can distinguish the subtle nuances that make up an exceptional Indian dish is Swati Elavia, President and Co-Founder of Monsoon Kitchens. Based in Shrewsbury, MA, she founded Monsoon Kitchens as a way to introduce world-renowned, genuine Indian dishes to local communities. Whether you’re a connoisseur or newcomer to Indian food, the ability to purchase an
authentic Indian meal at the co-op can be more accessible than going out to a restaurant, so we are thrilled to be stocking them from a local business that gets its all-natural herbs, spices and other ingredients from clean and responsible sources at home and internationally. 

We asked our friends at Monsoon Kitchens to share some of their knowledge about the art of cooking Indian food. They highlighted what differentiates their products from the big corporate brands, as well as revealed some intriguing secrets to help explain why Indian foods are among the most beloved in the world.

Check out what's available from Monsoon Kitchens at River Valley Co-op!

What is the story behind Monsoon Kitchens and what inspired the name?

Monsoon Kitchens began in 2003 when a passionate restaurant owner and Registered Dietician with a Ph. D in Nutrition Science saw a need for authentic Indian offerings that met the demand for all-natural options. Using family recipes and the traditions learned growing up in India, we set out to create delicious and healthy products that were easy-to-use. 

The name Monsoon Kitchens was inspired by the monsoon season in India. Growing up in India, families would get together when the monsoons would come and enjoy boldly flavored treats that warm your heart. It is from these wonderful times together in India that we came up with the name Monsoon Kitchens.

A typical rainfall pattern in India. Annual monsoons are vital for the country's rural economy.
(image: Google Earth)

How long have you been preparing Indian food and how did you make your passion into a business?

I have been preparing Indian cuisine for my entire life. I was born and raised in a Punjabi family and lived in various states. I moved to the United States in 1982 to seek a higher education. With my nutrition education, love for good food and a whole bunch of family recipes, Monsoon Kitchens was born. Now, I can share the vibrant flavors of India with all of you.

Punjab is known for its rich farmlands. Click here to learn more about the region. (Image: Al Jazeera)

What separates your ready-to-make Indian foods from big corporate brands?

From its inception, a focus on quality has been the cornerstone of all Monsoon Kitchens products. As a registered dietitian, I use my knowledge of nutritional science and work with our team to develop products using high-quality, minimally processed ingredients that are delicious and nutritionally sound. Clean eating is of paramount importance to us, and we do not see the need to use artificial ingredients to enhance the flavor of our foods. Our products are cooked with spices and herbs that are natural and good for you. We are obsessed with using ingredients that are free from trans fats and MSGs, as well as artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and sweeteners. We want you to experience our food as if it was made fresh that day in my kitchen.

Swati looks on as a chef prepares a meal during a recent trip to India.

How do you source your ingredients for more authentic recipes?

We try and source our ingredients from purveyors both locally and globally to ensure authentic flavors and sustainable products for our customers. The spices and Basmati rice used in our products are sourced from well-reputed importers who believe strongly in clean sourcing.

Chaat, a popular Indian dish, is delicious over Monsoon Kitchens Samosas. Click here for the recipe!

What are some interesting facts about Indian foods versus others from around the world?

Indian dishes have some of the most delicious and complex flavor profiles due to the unique blend of herbs and spices that goes into each recipe compared to any other cuisine in the world. Known as the “Land of Spices,” India produces over 70% of the world’s spices and is home to the largest variety of spices than any other country in the world. At one time, spices were considered as precious and valuable as gold. Travelers near and far would come to India to seek out a variety of unique and exotic spices. The most used spices in Indian cuisine are cumin, mustard, coriander, fennel and fenugreek seeds, turmeric, red chili powder, asafetida, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace and black pepper.

Indians love to make spice blends known as “Masalas” for different recipes, and they can be very specific to a cooking style depending on the community one belongs to. Some of the most popular Indian spice blends are Garam Masala, Tandoori Masala and Chaat Masala. Interestingly, curry powder is not a blend that is traditionally found in Indian kitchens, however the individual spices in these blends are used to make different recipes. Fresh spices used include curry leaves, ginger and garlic.

A small sample of the many quality ingredients used in Monsoon Kitchens' cooking.

Turmeric is considered the most widely used spice in Indian cooking. It has a warm aroma, brilliant gold color and a distinctive, earthy taste. It has been used for thousands of years in both medicine and cooking and is known to contain many therapeutic properties. Curcumin, the chemical compound found in turmeric, provides the spice with its recognizable color, contains high levels of antioxidants and has immense anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric is even used as a dye for clothing! Salt and pepper are two more common spices that have deep roots in India. Salt was produced in India over 5,000 years ago and is believed to have been used as a form of payment to Roman soldiers. Black pepper was extremely valuable in the 4th century B.C. and was even known as “black gold.” Cumin, known for its pungent aroma and taste, is another common spice. It is a member of the parsley family and is one of the first ingredients often used in Indian cooking. Cinnamon, found commonly in Indian desserts, contains high levels of antioxidants and is known to have the ability to lower blood sugar levels in the body, as well as provide other therapeutic benefits. Red chilis, one of the most common spices used in Southern India curries, were introduced to India by the Portuguese. They give Indian food their famous heat profile. Coriander, one of the oldest spices in the world, is another staple in Indian cooking. With a subtle, citrusy flavor and sweet taste, coriander is also a member of the parsley family and is grown throughout India.

At Monsoon Kitchens, we blend these spices, herbs and more to create a delicious experience, employing a thoughtful use of ingredients that represent various regional flavors from across India. We hope you love our food and enjoy a “true taste of India.”

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