A taste of India, made in Pemberton – meeting Nidhi of Nidhi’s Cuisine
If you’re hankering for organic, locally sourced vegetarian cuisine around Pemberton, you don’t have to look any further than Nidhi’s Cuisine. And thanks to Nidhi, you don’t have to go to Kashmir to enjoy Pemberton produce with an Iranian and Muslim twist. As the weekly Farmers Market winds down, Nidhi Raina will showcase her food at Alpine Cafe at McKeevers Place in Whistler where she also works through the winter as a morning chef. We chat to our local samosa queen about the most important ingredients in life and food: love, service and Pemberton potatoes.
What are you most famous for? Samosas, traditional and seasonal chutneys and these interesting swiss chard and spinach basil potato cakes that sell like hotcakes at the Whistler and Pemberton Markets.
When did you start Nidhi’s Cuisine? I started out with an invitation to join the 2006 St. David’s Christmas Bazaar in Pemberton. I had met the Helmers in 2005 on a school trip to their farm and used their potatoes as the filling for the samosas. Pemberton potatoes seemed the natural choice and what better showcase than a samosa with its warm potato and vegetable filling?
I did not think of getting into cooking or the food business till 2008. I stayed home working with my younger son with special needs who was born in 2004. Mike & Tanya Richman who operated The Pony Espresso at the time were extremely kind and gave me a several opportunities to showcase Indian Cuisine at their restaurant. When Ram joined daycare I baked part time and did these events at The Pony. Pembertonians were generous in their praise and that spurred my entry into the Whistler Farmers Market in the summer of 2008.
How does a strong sense of place influence your cuisine? I love Pemberton and the farmland. I grew up in various medical schools in northern India that just happened to be located on the outskirts of the city and well within rich farmland in the 1970’s and 80’s. I would visit homes in our medical school campus just to sample Mrs. So and So’s famous dish, a traditional sweet treat and taste secret recipes of seasonal chutneys… I’d steal raw and ripe mangoes from the big gardens near our home… I am married into a family of fastidious cooks and I have to take my “cap” off to my mother-in-law who is all of 75 and makes exquisite vegetarian and meat dishes! Kashmiris both from the valley and Uttar Pradesh are influenced by Iranian and Muslim cuisine. We cook with cinnamon and cardamom, use seasonal fruits like plums, peaches, apricot, cherries and apples in our stews. Dried fruits are used in relishes. Kashmir has the best almonds, crabapples, sour cherries and walnuts that are turned into delectible treats… The possibilities are endless. My grandmother had a root cellar that worked in their snowy winters and she dried fall apples, turnips and rutabagas, harvested wildflower honey in Srinagar at our family home.
When did you and your family move to Pemberton? What brought you here? My husband moved to Canada in 2000 and started out in Whistler. I followed and we made Pemberton our home in 2004. Pemberton reminds me of my childhood and the fresh produce and dairy we had access to everyday. The milk was delivered fresh every morning to our doorstep and the vegetables were local and pesticide free and the banter with the vegetable man or sabziwallah great fun as mum bargained for every item on the cart! Despite my previous professional work in instructional design, writing and customer service I now find inspiration in food and fresh produce that grows in Pemberton. Pemberton offers me eveything I could possibly use to whip up a feast fit for kings.
How traditional are your cooking methods and your recipes? Your early influence came from growing up and raiding the recipe books and brains and kitchens of local Kashmiri families in the neighbourhoods you grew up in. Are your methods still grounded in those traditions, or are you more experimental now, combining influences from here and there?
I love to experiment with different flavours as well as cooking methods. Whilst my background gives me a good knowledge of spices and delightful Kashmiri cuisine, travelling worldwide gives a deep appreciation of different cuisines and local influences. I choose to bake versus frying samosas on customer request and it is appreciated. I also incorporate local fruits and vegetables from Pemberton and create new flavours at the market. The swiss chard/parsley and basil/ spinach cakes as well as plum, rhubarb, cherry and apricot chutneys use fruit from the Pemberton valley and Lillooet.
What is your vision for Pemberton? A truly vibrant and eclectic community producing world class cuisine through well-organized events backed by passionate exponents of healthy produce.
You are such an amazing champion of local growers, makers, movers and shakers, your market vendor colleagues… Tell me, who are some of your favourite folks and products? All the farmers from Lillooet, Pemberton, Squamish and the Lower Mainland who give me great delight in showcasing their produce and inspire creative recipes that are so liked by visitors and customers at the farmers markets! I do have a soft spot for Barbara Teump from Lillooet, The Helmers from Pemberton, North Arm Farm, Jessie from Riverlands, Rootdown Organics and Paradise Valley Farms from Squamish!
What is the secret to an amazing dish? Love and service.