Noor Shams speaks to Irfan Aziz about her journey and how to preserve Bengali culture in a foreign land
Noor Shams can be credited for showing the world the beauty and finesse of Bengali cuisine through social media. A New Yorker of Bangladeshi origin, she has gained quite the fan-base with her mouthwatering recipes and vibrant photography. ICE Today got the opportunity to catch up with her and know all about her exciting ventures.
Tell our readers a bit about yourself
I’m a Bangladeshi who grew up internationally and I currently live in New York with my husband, who is from Sri Lanka. Growing up, I moved back and forth between Dhaka several times and spent the rest of my childhood years living in Abu Dhabi, Seoul, Singapore, Moscow, and Los Angeles, before finally moving to New York. I’m very much Bangladeshi in my identity, given its where my roots are, but I’m also equal part New Yorker, given its where I’ve now lived the longest stretch of my life.
I work in international development and am also an entrepreneur and a food blogger. I currently freelance as communication and fundraising consultant in the non-profit and international development sector, where I previously worked with organizations such as the United Nations and Grameen for nearly a decade. In addition, I am the co-founder of a company called Cue-rated (www.cue-rated.com), which focuses on promoting South Asian art, culture and community causes through bespoke events in New York. Finally, I also run a food blog (www.noorieboorie.com) through which I share my love for Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and global cuisine with recipes, photographs, and stories from my travels and experience living internationally.
When did you start food blogging? How has your response been so far?
I started my food blog in 2015. I had started posting photos of things I cook (and fun things I do!) on my Instagram (@noorieboorie) at that time and people would sometimes ask for recipes, so I figured I’d start a blog for fun. It was never meant to be a big undertaking, just a casual space where I’d post recipes that people were asking for on social media or in real life, but since then I’ve gotten an overwhelming amount of positive feedback and reinforcement from people telling me that they’re really inspired by the content I share. It’s been nice to get feedback like that so I’ve begun to think about the blog more seriously and put more effort into it. It’s still mostly a place for me to be creative and have fun with the content though.
A good portion of your content is related to food from this subcontinent, what’s the reason behind this?
I’ve always been very passionate about cultural exchanges through food – it’s basically how I grew up – so talking about South Asian cuisine is my way of sharing my culture with others. Growing up in a diplomatic household, I was always taught to embrace my culture and my parents always encouraged us to share our Bangladeshi traditions with others, particularly through food. I didn’t always appreciate this fully when I lived with family and had constant access to our food and culture, but now that I live so far away from home I really value it a lot more. I know that a lot of others in the diaspora feel similarly, and I want my blog to be able to help people in recreating some of the food they grew up with so that we can celebrate and uphold that part of our culture.
There’s a lack of representation of South Asian cuisine within the western food media and I’d like to also contribute towards changing that while encouraging others to do the same.
How can one hold on to their own culture while living in a foreign land?
It’s not always easy, especially if you live in a community with little access to various aspects of your culture. Even in a place like New York, which does have a large Bangladeshi immigrant community and an even bigger South Asian diaspora, it still takes a conscious effort to remain in touch with my roots. The best thing you can do is to make sure that you have at least a small community of people in your network who share similar cultural values and that you foster friendships with people from other cultures who will take an interest in learning about yours. Besides that, I make sure to celebrate events of cultural significance even in the smallest possible ways, adorn my home with some Bangladeshi decor and introduce food from Bangladesh to people whenever I can in an attempt to hold on to and spread my culture.
Noor Shams is a Bangladeshi New Yorker who has been putting the cuisine of her homeland on the map through social media. She has achieved great success in her quest to show the world how amazing Bengali cuisine is and she shared with us four exclusive recipes for our readers to try at home.
Bangladeshi Chicken Korma
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp ghee
5-8 cardamom pods
2-3 cinnamon sticks
2-3 Bay leaves
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1-2 tsp salt, or to taste (this will depend on the tartness of your yogurt)
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp garam masala powder (optional — don’t use this if you want the more traditional lighter colored korma)
6 chicken thighs, cut into medium sized pieces
4 tablespoons yogurt
1/4 cup milk
3-5 green chilies, whole
1-2 tsp sugar, or to taste (also dependent on tartness of yogurt used)
2-3 tsp lime juice
2-3 tbsp water, or as needed
1/8th tsp kewra water(optional)
Raisins, a small handful (optional)
Fried onions, for garnish
Slivered almonds, for garnish(optional)
Start by setting a pot or deep pan over medium-high heat and pour in oil and ghee when the surface is hot. Once the oil & ghee has heated up, add to it the cardamom, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. Fry for a minute to release the flavors. Add the onions and sautee for several minutes until they are translucent and mostly cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Add the ginger & garlic pastes, salt, cumin, coriander and garam masala (if using) and continue cooking for a few minutes, adding a sprinkle of water every now and then so that the mixture doesn’t get too dry or burn. When the oil has separated from the onions & spice mixture, add in the chicken pieces. Cook the chicken on medium high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5-8 minutes, or until it changes color and starts to release some water. Add in the yogurt, milk, green chillies and sugar. Cook for several minutes until the liquids start to boil, about 6-10 minutes. Turn the heat down and simmer with the lid on for 10-15 minutes, or until the chicken looks tender and is cooked through. Remove lid and cook another few minutes to thicken the korma as desired. Add lime juice, kewra water and raisins (if using). Taste and adjust seasonings as needed at this point, adding more salt, sugar or lime juice to balance out the flavors before removing from heat. Garnish with fried onions and slivered almonds (if using). The dish is all set to be served.
Sri Lankan Inspired Easy Oven-Cooked Chicken Curry
This is an easy one-pot chicken curry that is entirely slow cooked in the oven. The result is tender roasted chicken with an extremely flavorful gravy of stewed tomatoes, spices and coconut milk.
2 tbsp vegetable oil
8 chicken legs or thighs
2 handfuls cherry tomatoes
1-2 springs curry leaves (about 8-15 leaves)
10-12 cloves garlic, peeled
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1-2 red bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 – 1 cup coconut milk (use more if adding chickpeas)
1 can chickpeas, drained (optional)
Salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F. Throw all the ingredients except coconut milk, chickpeas and cilantro (if using) into in a snug oven-safe pot (a dutch oven works well) and mix everything together gently, rubbing the spices into the chicken a bit and pushing the tomatoes underneath. Place in the oven and let cook for 1 hour. After an hour, add the coconut milk and chickpeas (if using) to the pot. Give everything a gentle stir and place back in the oven for another thirty minutes to an hour, or until the chicken is cooked through and tender to the point where it’s nearly falling off the bone. Remove from oven. Adjust salt and sprinkle with cilantro, if using. Serve hot with rice.
Spicy Shrimp and Roasted Delicata Squash Salad
Shrimp, 8-10 pieces
Winter squash (such as delicata or acorn squash), 1/2 of one medium-sized squash
Romaine lettuce (or use mixed greens), one small head, shredded
Bell peppers, 1/2 of one red & 1/2 of one green, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
Trader Joe’s cilantro dressing, 2 tbsp
Chili-garlic sauce or sriracha, 2 tbsp
Fresh cilantro (optional), finely minced
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp sumac
1 tsp cumin
¼ cup crispy fried onion
2 tsp roasted squash seeds
Salt & pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 F. Season half of one winter squash with paprika (or cayenne), sumac, cumin, salt, pepper and half of the olive oil. Roast in 400 F oven for 25-35 minutes, or until slightly golden. When the squash is cooked through, remove from oven and let it cool down. Once cooled completely, slice into 1-inch or bite-sized pieces. Heat remaining olive oil on a skillet. Add shrimp, chili-garlic sauce or sriracha, cilantro dressing and fresh chopped cilantro, if using. Cook the shrimp thoroughly on low-medium heat, about 5-8 minutes, and set aside to cool along with any liquids remaining in the pan The liquids collected in the pan will become the dressing for the salad, so add more cilantro and chilli-garlic sauce if everything dries out during the cooking process. Combine the lettuce and chopped peppers in a large bowl. Toss in roasted squash , shrimp, remaining cilantro-chili-garlic dressing and all of the crispy fried onions. Mix gently, taking care not to break pieces of squash. Test salt and seasonings, adding more chili-garlic & cilantro dressing if necessary. Top with roasted squash seeds or more crispy onions if desired and serve immediately.
Spicy Squash Blossom Frittata
8-10 squash blossoms, cleaned
1/4 cup cooking oil, or enough for shallow frying
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp dried red chili flakes
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small tomato, chopped
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
4 large eggs
2-3 tbsp milk
Black pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
Cilantro/coriander, chopped (optional, for garnish)
Fried onions & garlic (optional, for garnish)
Lightly shallow-fry squash blossoms in a skillet, turning each one over once. Remove and set aside on paper towels to drain excess oil. Sautee red onion with the dried red chilli flakes in a cast iron pan (or other oven safe skillet), using a couple of tablespoons of oil. Once the onions are caramelized, add the minced garlic, turmeric, cumin and chili powder and tomato and cook everything down. While the tomatoes cook, beat the eggs in a bowl along with the milk. Add salt and pepper according to your taste and set aside. Preheat oven to 375°F at this time. When the tomatoes and onions have finished cooking, spread the mixture out evenly throughout the pan. Keeping the pan over low heat, pour in the beaten egg mixture. Move the eggs around gently to make sure everything is evenly mixed in the pan, while taking care not to scramble the eggs. Arrange all the squash blossoms on top of the eggs in whatever pattern you like. Cook for 2-3 minutes, keeping the pan over low heat. Season the blossoms with freshly ground pepper and salt before transferring the skillet to the oven. Cook for 8-12 minutes in the oven, or until the frittata is almost set. At that point, turn on the oven broiler (low setting) for 1-3 minutes before removing pan from the oven. Add in some chopped cilantro for a colorful garnish or top with crispy fried onions and garlic.