Whether you want your kiddos to eat better or your mini master chef is keen to get more active in the kitchen, new children’s book The Magic Spicebox brings the joy of food to life!
Colours, textures, smells and powders galore—
Anya knew the spicebox was magical for sure.
On the heels of her super popular spice kit, website, and cookbook Indian Spicebox, Sassy Mama contributor Namita Moolani Mehra has collaborated with artist and designer Heetal Dattani Joshi to publish The Magic Spicebox, a combined children’s storybook and cookbook geared toward ages 3 to 8 that brings to life the magic of spices and the special role that food plays in our lives. And we’re giving away five copies (deets below)!
Inspired by their own children (Namita’s 3-year-old son is a picky eater with a number of food intolerances, while Heetal’s daughter has already shown a passion for cooking at the tender age of 4), the mamas have collaborated to create a gorgeously illustrated picture book that tells the story of nine spices: each rhyming tale focuses on a particular spice and is followed by a kid-friendly (both in taste and cookability) recipe. “Tea Time Cardamom Cake”, “Reach for the Stars Kiddy Kurry” and “Magic Masala Shepherd’s Pie” are among my faves — but they’re all adorably named and are brought to life not just by Heetal’s wonderfully bold and vivid illustrations, but by gorgeously styled photos of each dish.
It’s so important that food for kids not only tastes good, but looks good, explains Namita, because you want to get them engaged and excited to explore. Its sensory powers go beyond that, too, whether they’re smelling cumin, shaking a jar of peppercorns, or delicately handling star anise. What’s more, so many spices have amazing medicinal benefits: Namita has sung the praises of turmeric before, but gives it the true glory treatment with her recipe for “Get Well Soon Turmeric Soup”, which is perfect for comforting little ones with the sniffles.
The idea for the book came about when Namita was promoting Indian Spicebox at the Tanglin Trust School Christmas Fair. A gaggle of schoolkids ran over to her spicebox and couldn’t keep their hands (or noses) out of the colourful compartments. The phrase magic spicebox popped into her head as she watched the kids marvel over the box’s contents. In that moment, she says, “I knew I wanted to tell stories about spices”. Shortly thereafter she met Heetal (who’d previously co-authored the wonderful children’s book Brown like Dosas, Samosas and Sticky Chikki) and they decided to collaborate.
Whereas Namita is a natural chef, Heetal had limited cooking experience growing up, and both she and her daughter are vegetarians, which can sometimes be limiting in Singapore. Over the past year or so, though, she’s discovered that her daughter absolutely loves to cook — she can be quite picky, but Heetal’s found that giving her ownership and agency over what she eats has made her a more adventurous and open-minded eater — a good lesson for mamas everywhere!
In addition to trying the recipes out on their own kids, they worked with over a dozen other cooking friends (mostly parents) to fine tune the dishes. Every recipe in The Magic Spicebox has been tested at least four times, though some are far more timeworn: “No-bake chocolate mousse is the first recipe I ever remember making”, says Namita, who takes things up a notch here with the cookbook’s truly delectable Chili Chocolate Mousse.
The book launched at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in May 2016 at the National Library. The Magic Spicebox is actually an AFCC success story: Namita and Heetal scored a book deal with major children’s publishers Scholastic India after a speed-pitching session at the 2015 event. That they brought the book to life in just one year (oh and by the way, Heetal also had a baby along the way!) is a true testament to these two mamas’ laser-like focus and determination.