Karen Paly has fed a life-long appetite for curry, from her childhood in South Africa to her more than two decades of a full family life in Asheville.
About four years ago, she launched Karen’s Spice Kitchen to make and sell her own curry spice blends. She’s been actively connecting with fans, while also seeking to make curry converts out of folks, one blended spice pack at a time. It’s been an entrepreneurial journey of learning the finer points of everything from food safety regulations to package design.
That said, it’s also all about Paly’s curry compulsion. “I love to cook, and these spice blends allow anyone to create authentic international meals,” Paly says.
Paly launched Karen’s Spice Kitchen to spread her curry credo and help make cooking with authentic, worldly flavors easier for home chefs. Now her colorful spice packets can be found in dozens of retail locations around Asheville and Western North Carolina. Shoppers online and in stores can find a shrimp curry, a mango chicken curry, a chicken and chickpea curry and much more in the colorful Karen’s Spice Kitchen packaging. A connection with Earth Fare has her spice blends on shelves in South Carolina and Virginia.
Paly says she learned at the side of her stepmother in Durban. South Africa’s history of cultural and ethnic diversity has led to a variety of curry recipes that define its cuisine. Durban has a large Indian population known for marking rich curries with roots in a region of southern India. Paly says her stepmother was an excellent cook who was meticulous in sourcing the spices, grinding them, toasting them. “It would be a two-hour process,” she says.
But spending that much time in the kitchen eventually became untenable for Paly and her husband, Scott, who were raising two daughters and tending a farm. On a visit to Australia, where her dad and stepmom had moved, she was ready to once again pitch in to make a meticulously crafted curry when her stepmother “said no, I’ve got this,” Paly recalls.
She was hooked. Paly bought dozens of the packets, and considered working as a distributor for them. She finally decided to make blended spice packs herself. With the encouragement of her husband, a successful serial entrepreneur himself, she dove in.
Paly says she buys 50-pound bags of spices and mixes them herself in an East Asheville kitchen that’s been fully inspected and audited to meet all food safety regulations. The packets are triple-sealed and have a two-year shelf-life.
Her goal: to help people save time and have more fun in the kitchen. Why fill a cabinet with a bunch of different spices that rarely get used when you can buy a blended spice packet with carefully selected ingredients such as cumin, paprika, turmeric, nutmeg, curry leaves, cardamon, cinnamon, coriander and mustard seed, Paly reasons. Her packets for dishes such as a curried meatloaf, called South African Bobotie, and a chicken tikka masala are easy and delicious, she says.
“I love it when people say you make my life so easy, you help me cook,” she says, adding that she gets a real thrill when “people say I’m not into curry and you converted me.”
“I want to make people happy, and myself happy,” she adds.