For Ayesha Curry, Food Needs Big Flavor to Score

By day she runs a growing food empire. By night she's committed to putting nutritious meals on her family table. Ayesha Curry is a master of the balancing act!

"I'm not about to sugarcoat it," Ayesha Curry says. "Weeknights are hard, and I'd be lying if I said takeout wasn't often tempting." Dinner takes serious planning in her home. Husband Stephen is on the court 82 nights a year with the Golden State Warriors. The couple has two young girls and a new baby boy (who arrived after our photo session). Ayesha has her own cookbook, television series, cookware line, and restaurant. "Steph and I look at our calendars every weekend and carve out a few nights each week when we can cook together and reconnect as a family over a memorable meal."

Cooking with Spices from Her Childhood

For Ayesha, food means a memorable meal home-cooked and full of flavor. The author of The New York Times best-selling cookbook The Seasoned Life and host and executive producer of ABC's Family Food Fight has become known for her ability to reinvent menu staples with high-impact seasonings and unique ingredient combinations.

"I want our food to refuel us and be nutritious. But it has to be easy, and it better not be bland." So she calls on the same spices she found in her mom and dad's cabinets while growing up—spices that didn't become mainstream until recently.

"My mom is Jamaican and Chinese, and my dad is Polish and African American, so I grew up in a kitchen full of all kinds of interesting flavor combinations," Ayesha says. At 12, she found her passion and volunteered to take over cooking duties. "I was one of five kids, and we were all expected to pull our weight around the house. I made mealtimes my responsibility."

Ayesha experimented with the seasonings from her parents' cultures. She quickly learned a lesson she still employs: "It's not about creating complex recipes with long lists of hard-to-source ingredients. It's about making simple dishes really sing." That might mean giving baked chicken a surprise hit of spicy harissa or bringing veggies to life with cumin and smoky paprika. "For me, weaving in all that flavor is what makes the entire meal make sense."

Go For Bold Flavor at Home

ayesha curry dining table recipes food supper lunch dishes place settings
Photo by Justin Coit.

Harissa-Spiced Chicken

"Smoky flavors have become a part of my palette, and smoked paprika is a nice way to introduce that essence," says Ayesha. She pairs it with harissa (a spicy Middle Eastern blend of chiles, cumin, and garlic) and chili powder to add kick to baked chicken thighs served over Roasted Red Pepper Rice.

Get the recipe: Harissa-Spiced Chicken

Braised Cabbage and Carrots

"My family loves the combo of cabbage and carrots in this dish. And seasonings like cumin make the vegetables exciting," Ayesha says. "I can prepare all the vegetables ahead and cook them just before dinner."

Get the recipe: Braised Cabbage and Carrots

Elements of Flavor

ayesha curry ingredients wooden board honey spices
Photo by Justin Coit.

When Ayesha was developing the menu for her restaurant, International Smoke, her partner, chef Michael Mina, shared a valuable lesson about building flavor. "He says most savory dishes have five necessary components that help to maximize flavor: salt, fat, spice, sweet, and acid. My best meals incorporate something from each group."

  • Salt: It carries the important load of intensifying sweetness and counteracting bitterness. Some, like French sea salt and Maldon salt, also add texture.
  • Fat: Olive oil and/or butter help foods lock in the other flavors you add to them. Ayesha sautés rice in butter and olive oil before simmering to add a rich, toasty note to the rice.
  • Spice: Ayesha goes for seasonings like cumin and chili powder for maximum impact. Fresh ginger marries well with them.
  • Sweet: Brown sugar is a secret weapon. It mellows spices and cuts acidity. (Honey also works.)
  • Acid: Citrus creates a contrast to earthy spices like paprika and chili powder. Food can taste flat without a burst of acidity from citrus zest or juice.
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