Our goal for ringing in the new year? Do it with a flash of color, vibrant flavor, heat, soulfulness, and, of course, sparkle. And no food said that for me this year like the creations coming out of Asha Gomez's kitchen. Last year year, the chef and restaurateur became a cookbook author and published one of the year's most celebrated cookbooks: My Two Souths.
Asha shared a few recipes with us for a New Year's Eve menu inspired by her two souths — Kerala, the southern-most Indian state where she was born, and the American South, the region she now calls home. I chatted with Asha about the power of spice in her cooking, why fusion is considered the "F word," and how food is always about celebration.
The Power of Spice
Asha Gomez's food has been putting spice at the forefront of the conversation since she opened her acclaimed restaurant Cardamom Hill in Atlanta in 2012. Famous for her ability to blend the parallel flavors and techniques of her home state, Kerala, with the nuances of the American South, it's unsurprising that it was her Kerala spiced chicken that put her on the "map." After closing Cardamom Hill in 2014, she opened Spice To Table, the Indian pâtisserie I visited earlier this year that introduced me to the very unique flavors Asha has become known for.
There are quite a few dishes that best capture the work she's doing with spices, but perhaps only second to her Kerala fried chicken is a spiced carrot cake, scented with fresh ground spices like cardamon and cloves, that shows it off best.
"Fusion is the other F-word," says Asha. "It feels too explosive for what's a very thoughtful process."
But don't call it fusion. "Fusion is the other F-word," says Asha. "It feels too explosive for what's a very thoughtful process." Whether it's her two souths or her role as both a home cook and chef, identity is the driving force dictating how and why she cooks the way she cooks. It's intentionality behind her food and the way she's brought spice to the Southern pantry that's made the resulting food so memorable. "I wanted to make spices approachable with recipes familiar to the American palate."
And for Asha spice isn't just about heat. "The crux of what I do comes from spice," says Asha. "But I'm never just talking about heat on your palate." This sentiment of spice not heat doesn't mean you won't find a kick in Asha's cooking. In her black salt-and-pepper roasted cashews, perfect for serving at your New Year's Eve get-together, spice shows up in the form of heat, but it's thoughtful and layered, making use of both cayenne and black pepper. Although not a spice, this approach of layered flavors shows up in a sparkling rosé cocktail, infused with just the right amount of thyme simple syrup and rose water.
You'll see similar elements of spice in all the recipes in this menu. From the cumin added to the mango and jaggery mixture for samosas to the turmeric that infuses the aloo tiki with its golden hue, Asha "chooses one spice that's the star of the dish" and then works in other spices to support it.
Ringing in the New Year with Spice
The new year is about renewal and rebirth. Celebrate with boldness of flavor and with food you can share. Every item on this menu is made for munching all night long — and it's made for scaling. So if your party is you and your cat watching the ball drop from the comforts of the sofa, or a swanky get-together with your family and friends, you can make any or all of this menu and feel the warmth not only from the spices generously used throughout these dishes, but also from celebrating the promise a new year brings — just the way you like.