Making Baby-Safe Curries the Whole Family Will Love

As regular readers have probably already gleaned, Kat has an amazingly open mind (and mouth) when it comes to solid foods. I did try, sort of, to introduce the foods suggested by typical American baby books and pediatricians to Kat: rice cereal, bananas, and other bland fare, but she just really didn’t much care for them.

It makes a great deal of sense; when I was pregnant with her, I ate a steady diet of curried vegetables and spicy dals, along with very spicy stir-fried greens and tofu. After she was born, I was told while she was in the hospital by the nutritionist that since I was breastfeeding, I had to be careful what I ate, since babies’ stomachs were sensitive to what Mom ate. After she left the room, two pediatricians, one from China and one from somewhere on the Indian subcontinent, came up to me and said, “She isn’t right about that, you know. Eat what you like. Where we are from, mothers eat what they always eat, and it is never bland or lacking in garlic–and the babies are fine.”

I am happy to report that some American pediatricians are coming around on the issue of feeding babies spicy foods. Here is a great article pointing out that a lot of the “baby food rules” that we American parents have been fed all these years are not based on science, but rather guesswork and cultural bias and may not only be wrong but somewhat harmful.

I was particularly interested by this quote from the article: “Dr. David Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston, a specialist in pediatric nutrition, says some studies suggest rice and other highly processed grain cereals actually could be among the worst foods for infants.’These foods are in a certain sense no different from adding sugar to formula’ and could contribute to later health problems, including obesity, he says.”

I wondered about that myself when I first fed Kat rice cereal. It wasn’t exactly what one could call a whole grain–and since adults aren’t suppose to eat such highly refined grains, why are they so good for babies? Foods like that which are basically pure starch do have as high a glycemic level in the body as sugar, so I was skeptical. But, I did give it to her, oh, about twice–mainly because she really didn’t much like it.

So, Kat has been eating curries: Indian, Thai, Sri Lankan, and other spicy dishes from China to Mexico and all points in between second hand since she was conceived. And she seems to be fine.

As you can see from the photo above, she is growing like a weed, and has started building some nice long (and strong) legs. And she is healthy and happy. And she still really doeasn’t care for bland food, so now that she is able to eat meats, I decided to make some chicken curry she could enjoy with us–essentially baby-safe curry.

What does baby-safe curry consist of? Well, I tend to use less chilies than I usually do, because Kat hasn’t caught up with us when it comes to the truly hot stuff. I don’t like to use dairy in her curries, though yogurt would be fine, so I tend to make them based on coconut milk. Which is fine–the fats in coconut milk are reputedly good for babies, being as it is very digestible. I also tend to use a good amount of very browned onions, garlic and ginger, which I have ground to a paste, in her curries: not only do they add flavor and color, they add healthy nutrients as well. The sulfur compounds in onions and garlic are quite healthy and have antibiotic properties, and the ginger helps aid digestion.

I think it is best avoid tree nuts (and oils made from them–in this curry I used the cream from the coconut milk as cooking oil, but I could have used canola oil, too, or ghee), peanuts, milk or cream and other highly allergenic substances, but everything else is fair game. That means no korma for Kat for a while, but there are plenty of other curries, based on coconut milk, tomatoes, or tamarind, that she can have.

The spices I like to use for Kat include cinnamon, fennel, cloves, coriander seeds, a tiny bit of black pepper, green cardamom pods and a little bit of fenugreek seeds. I carefully grind them all to a powder, and mix them with the pureed browned onions, ginger and garlic, so that there are no lumps in the curry she could choke on. All of these spices have health-improving qualities, and they all tend to have a gentle, sweet flavor profile, especially when combined carefully together. The pepper and fenugreek are the exceptions, and their bite and slight bitterness add depth to the masala. The mixture comes out quite flavorful–but not overpoweringly hot. A curry flavored with this masala is wonderfully fragrant, and gentle with a nurturing quality that I quite like.

Finally–I do use a bit of dried cayenne chile, some paprika and turmeric, all fully ground into a powder, to add the final flavoring and color to the curry. I don’t like my curries to be technicolor productions, but I do like them to have some appetizing color, and the turmeric and paprika take care of that, while the turmeric also adds its own antiseptic qualities, and the chile adds zing.

That is all. I think that my feelings on making curries for a baby are this: whatever the baby likes, use it. Go easy on the spices–but don’t be afraid to use them, especially if you have been eating them all through pregnancy and nursing. Your baby is probably already used to tasting them, and will note their lack if you restrain yourself too much. Just make sure to grind your spices well, and make certain that they are all cooked carefully before the baby eats them. Raw spices are awfully hard on any digestive system.

If by chance you make the curry too strong, you can always add more yogurt or coconut milk to tone it down a bit.

Whatever meat you use, if you give your baby meat, make certain it is fully cooked, and can be ground into a puree for the wee toothless ones. I used chicken breasts from locally raised organic free-range chickens, and while these birds were well-exercised and the meat was firm and somewhat tough (and very tasty) it ground up perfectly fine after it was cooked in our Sumeet grinder.
Of course, we folks with full dentition ate ours in chunks and chewed it, but it was nice to make one dinner for all of us. All I had to do was grind up Kat’s portions and we were all together at the table eating the very same meal.

And Kat loved it–she felt like she was part of the action, and she didn’t feel like she had to cadge food off my plate, once she found out we were all eating the very same thing.

I loved it because I didn’t have to make two meals, and because I could grind up extra and freeze it for days when we wanted to eat something inappropriate for Kat, like something with seafood or tree nuts or the like.

And Morganna liked it because she got to ask me if baby curry is made from real babies.

It makes her feel a bit like Wednesday Addams when she says things like that.



Kat’s Chicken Curry

Ingredients:

19 ounce can Mae Ploy Coconut Milk
2 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
1 teaspoon salt
1 cinnamon stick
1″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 large cloves fresh garlic, minced
4 whole cloves
5 green cardamom pods
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2″ cubes
salt to taste
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
handful of quartered cherry tomatoes for garnish

Method:

Scrape about 4 tablespoons of coconut cream off the top of the can of coconut milk. Melt it in a heavy-bottomed deep pan over medium heat. Add onion slices, and sprinkle with salt. Add cinnamon stick, and cook, stirring continually until the onions are medium brown. Add the ginger and garlic and keep cooking, stirring, until the onions are dark reddish brown and fragrant.

Scrape the contents of the pan, including half the cinnamon stick (discard the other half), into a spice grinder and add other spices. Grind all into a thick, dark reddish brown paste.

Heat the rest of the coconut cream in the pan until it melts. Brown the chicken cubes well. When they are half browned and half still pink, add the masala paste, and cook, stirring, until the chicken is brown and the spice paste is fragrant. Add the rest of the coconut milk, and stir well. Turn the heat down and simmer until the chicken is completely cooked through.

Add salt to taste, and stir in cilantro leaves and cherry tomatoes just before serving.

For a baby, puree the chicken and sauce together and thin with a little bit of coconut milk or water before serving.

29 Comments

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  1. This information is quite surprising. But thinking back, neither my mom or my aunts never cut down on spices when they had babies. They only restricted certain fruits.

    Comment by Suganya — July 18, 2007 #

  2. Tiny little baby feet alert!!!

    (Something about the tiny feet is irresistible to me)

    Comment by wwjudith — July 19, 2007 #

  3. It’s refreshing, to say the least, to see others here in the United States catching on to the ‘if you ate it in pregnancy, they will have a taste for it in their young years’ philosophy and furthermore, not resorting to bitter, gross, plain, unseasoned vegetables.

    My brother and sister – age 10 and 8, respectively – have a very low tolerance for heat in food after being fed the typical bland diet. My son, age 2, on the other hand eats whatever I make and gorges on spicy salsas, chili and other flavorful dishes. Why? I think it’s because I ate spicy foods like that all through pregnancy and when he began eating, I didn’t shy away from adding flavor to his homemade baby foods. And soon, he was just eating what we ate.

    Thanks for the yummy recipe and great tips. I struggled so much with baby-izing food for my son (to avoid things like fish, berries, nuts, etc until he was 1). This will definitely come in handy with my daughter next year . . . I expect she will follow suit with my son.

    Comment by Sarah — July 19, 2007 #

  4. your beaming baby never fails to bring a smile to my face. she is just precious.

    Comment by bee — July 19, 2007 #

  5. I so agree!
    We have 8 kids. I never started them on solids until, as I was holding them in my lap during a meal, they began to pick from my plate. At that point they got what everyone else was eating, ground in a baby food grinder if necessary.
    I have 8 kids with adventurous palates and while they may be fussy over certain things they dislike they are not, as a whole, fussy eaters.
    Good for you!

    Comment by Marye — July 19, 2007 #

  6. I think it is wonderful that you are introducing her to such a wealth of flavors. Just think what a rich culinary life she will have … no fast food mush for this sweetie.

    Cheers!

    Comment by almost vegetarian — July 19, 2007 #

  7. I know that my mum fed me and my brother what they ate, just ground up. To be fair this wasn’t very spicy because it was 35 years ago and they didn’t really eat curries then – but it almost certainly was one of the reasons that neither of us are picky eaters.

    The transmission through breast milk is also well know by my family – mum eating a chocolate led to the discovery that I’m allergic to it – I errupted in hives apparently.

    I read a very interesting article where a UK based paedeatrician is performing a study regarding nuts – involving one set of children being given peanut butter at a young age; and others not. The theory appears to be that maybe removing this from their diet at a young age is more likely to result in an allergic reaction. More food for thought. The article is here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6618865.stm

    Comment by Kath Minchin — July 19, 2007 #

  8. I agree with almost everything you posted and was glad to see the link to that article. However, I think by avoiding the “highly allergenic” foods you are still buying into Western scare mythology about what to feed babies. The whole point of the article is that unless you have allergies in your family, there is no good, substantiated, scientific reason to avoid tree nuts and other highly allergenic substances either (after 6 months). Maybe you have food allergies, but otherwise I feel like you are buying into the parts of the “mythology” that scare you and ignoring those that don’t.

    I love your blog, btw.

    Comment by Laura — July 19, 2007 #

  9. Actually, Laura, I do have food allergies myself, and Kat has shown some propensity for them herself.

    We were feeding her strawberries for a while, but she started having hives after eating them. I used to be allergic to tomatoes–and when she eats fresh ones and the juice gets on her face, she breaks out–just like I used to.

    And while I was pregnant with her, I developed a nasty allergy to black pepper.

    Now, no one in our family has peanut or nut allergies, but I do know of people who developed those allergies later in life, so I am being cautious about those. However, soy does not seem to bother her, nor do green beans, so peanuts don’t worry me much. (Legume allergies seem to run in clusters in people.)

    Seafood I will not mess with. I am not allergic to it, but seafood allergies are so fast acting, and can result in death, so I don’t play with those. (Food safety classes in culinary school had horror stories about instant death by seafood, so I admit to the paranoia!)

    Besides–we don’t exactly live in a seafood prevalent area here in SE Ohio, so I am not worried about it.

    As for whole cow’s milk–that is less and allergy issue, than the fact that the proteins in it are very hard for the very young to digest. Right now I am giving her whole cow milk yogurt and cheese, as well as goat cheeses–these have been partially “digested” by the bacteria in them, so they are easier for babies to digest. Having seen my older daughter who was fed ice cream against my will at the age of eight months get painfully constipated because she couldn’t digest the milk protein taught me to not mess with cow milk until the kid is a year old. (And since Kat has issues with constipation anyway–let us not make it worse!)

    But once she is a year old, I will be much more likely to let her have a cream-based curry. On the other hand, she likes the coconut milk ones so much…oh, we will see.

    Right now we are having fun just watching what she will eat. She loves eggplant and last night tasted olives and liked them better than the first time. And a couple of nights ago, she had puttanesca and loved it–which led me to believe that she would probably grow to like olives soon enough.

    Comment by Barbara — July 19, 2007 #

  10. Since you have food allergies, it is a whole different ball of wax, I agree. I am glad you said so though, because I see so much hysteria over food allergies when there is no scientific data to support it, and it frustrates me since I get judgmental looks from other moms since I feed my kids nuts, etc. But anyway, thanks for clarifying. And I am always glad to see people encouraging more adventurous eating for babies and kids.

    Comment by Laura — July 19, 2007 #

  11. Sounds very tasty!

    Seems like people often say that what the mother eats the baby will like. But I think the causality is not always that clear. My mom loves chocolate, but couldn’t eat it when she was pregnant with me. I don’t like chocolate now — so is that because she didn’t eat it, or did she find herself unable to eat it because I (even as a fetus!) didn’t like it?

    I don’t hate chocolate and am not allergic to it, I just can’t enjoy it in high concentration. It’s a funny result.

    Comment by Alexis — July 19, 2007 #

  12. I am so glad others are coming to this viewpoint. By the time we had number three we didn’t have time to mess with the precautions of one food at a time for a week stuff. The only thing I found I couldn’t eat while I was pregnant/nursing was broccoli and cauliflower. Normally I love them, but during that time they gave me (and the babes) terrible gas. Now we all eat them just fine. I am all for introducing foods one at a time, but that doesn’t take much time really, and breastfed babies don’t shy away from flavors (texture is the only real issue and easily solved with a food processor). My third never ate baby food – refused it – tried to eat off his brothers plates from the time he figured out how to wave his little arms – he still eats most anything. My middle one is picky – a texture thing, no slimy stuff like mushrooms and olives. Well, more for the rest of us. And thanks for the mild curry recipe. I was just thinking of hunting one down to introduce my kids to more Asian/Indian cooking (very middle American fare here, but healthy). And indeed that little darlin of yours is a cutie!

    Comment by Yavaniel — July 19, 2007 #

  13. Barbara, I wish I had followed your system when my boy was starting on foods. I was good about feeding him a variety of fruit and vegetables, but never thought to give him our food – for some reason, I just didn’t get around to it. And then all of a sudden he was stubborn and two and doesn’t want to try anything new. But I’m going to try this curry and see if I can convert him! Both his dad and I love curries and I certainly ate them while I was breastfeeding! And thank heavens for number two…gives you a chance to try again!

    P.S. Thanks for pointing that out about the milk issue and allergies. My dear husband thought I was being paranoid recently when I flipped out because a dinner guest was feeding our TWO MONTH OLD cream and strawberry gel off her dessert plate! GRRRRRR. She will not be invited back again – not because she made the mistake, but because I asked her not to do it and she continued. (At which point, I removed the baby and myself from the room…)

    Sigh.

    Your Kat is absolutely darling, by the way! ; )

    Comment by Meg — July 20, 2007 #

  14. The other day I was visiting a friend who has a two-year-old, and I think she’s following the same philosophy with him that you do — babies eat whatever grownups eat, just in different-sized pieces. He was eating what we were eating, bean salad with sweet peppers and salsa, and lemonade that had very little sugar in it.

    Comment by Indefatigable — July 20, 2007 #

  15. Thank you for posting on this! My mom kept telling me I would have to change how I cook because babies need “kid food” like, you know, Mac and Cheese …

    In one ear, out the other. Mine loves fresh herbs and pesto, good cheese, balsamic vinegar, dark chocolate, all kinds of things kids aren’t “supposed” to like. Keep up the good work.

    Comment by Expat Chef — July 20, 2007 #

  16. When my son was a toddler, his favorite food was homemade pickled beets. Before he was even talking well, he would get excited and point to them on the table from his highchair. He grew up (over 6’4″) with very few food dislikes, and a love of home cooking.

    Comment by Brenda — July 21, 2007 #

  17. I just wanted to point out that some folks in the medical field are starting to think that the typical American baby diet is the cause of the rise in ADHD and other developmental disorders. Its a diet high in refined grains (baby cereal)and fruits and veggies, which all seem healthy. But its all carbohydrates and no fats or amino acids for the brain to develop properly.
    I have been adding flax seed meal and coconut oil to my babies yogurt, and giving him eggs for a long time now, plus I try to give him whatever we are eating. I think I will try your recipe, I think he will love it!

    Comment by lucy — July 22, 2007 #

  18. I have seen a photo of cute little 1 year old me being spoon-fed chili by my dad in a high chair.

    This may explain some things.

    Comment by Neohippie — July 25, 2007 #

  19. The curcumin that you get in curry is very healthy for you. It is a powerful cancer fighter, but what I notice most is that it clears my sinuses whenever I start eating curry.

    Comment by Ian (healthy recipes) Kennedy — July 30, 2007 #

  20. My 5 yr old’s favorite food is California Rolls. She can put away 12 cuts when she wants to :)

    I’m just starting my 5 month old son on solids and rice just smells so bad.

    I’m trying to work up the courage to do my own baby food. I’ll probably need to keep some jars on hand for daddy, but who knows…

    Comment by Kerri — September 11, 2007 #

  21. just made this! It smells and tastes absolutely amazing! i loved the masala, with its perfect balance of tastes – exceptional!

    I tweaked the curry a little to suit the tastes of two adults (by adding 5 green chilies), and changed the method slightly to make up for the lack of food processor/spice grinder (I used pestle and mortar only).

    would you mind if I blogged about this, too? naturally, the source will be dutifully acknowledged! :) thanks

    Comment by Maninas — November 13, 2007 #

  22. just made this! It smells and tastes absolutely amazing! i loved the masala, with its perfect balance of tastes – exceptional!

    I tweaked the curry a little to suit the tastes of two adults (by adding 5 green chilies), and changed the method slightly to make up for the lack of food processor/spice grinder (I used pestle and mortar only).

    would you mind if I blogged about this, too? naturally, the source will be dutifully acknowledged! :) thanks

    Comment by Maninas — November 13, 2007 #

  23. Maninas, please do blog about it. I am thrilled that you really liked the recipe and had a good time making and eating it.

    I will look for your post soon!

    Comment by Barbara — November 13, 2007 #

  24. Thanks, Barbara! Will do soon, and drop you a line when I do! :)

    Comment by Maninas — November 29, 2007 #

  25. [...] SOURCE: Adapted from Barbara’s recipe [...]

    Pingback by Barbara’s amazing chicken curry « Maninas: Food Matters — December 11, 2007 #

  26. Made it, and blogged about it! And yes, there’s the pingback!

    Comment by Maninas — December 11, 2007 #

  27. [...] Barbara, who writes a wonderfully inspirational and informative blog Tigers & Strawberries, makes this lovely chicken curry for her whole family to enjoy, including her little babygirl. It smelled and tastes absolutely amazing! I loved the masala, with its perfect balance of tastes – exceptional! I tweaked the curry a little to suit the tastes of two adults (by adding 5 green chilies), and changed the method slightly to make up for the lack of food processor/spice grinder (I used pestle and mortar only). Here is my post about it! [...]

    Pingback by Blog Tasting « Maninas: Food Matters — December 11, 2007 #

  28. I just stumbled on this…thank you for publishing it. you rock. and your little lady does, too!

    Comment by kat — March 27, 2008 #

  29. Wow! I know this thread is really old, but I just came across it searching for baby curry recipes on Google! I really want to introduce my 10 month old to spices – Lord knows she eats most other stuff. How many people does the recipe above serve?

    Comment by Caroline — September 8, 2008 #

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