Homemade Podcast Episode 47: Ayesha Curry on Rasta Pasta, Pantry Prep, and Pancake-Battered Shrimp
She's a mom of three, cookbook author, TV host, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and founder of Sweet July magazine. At 32 years old, Ayesha Curry boasts a lifetime of accomplishments. But even Ayesha has felt burned out in the kitchen. Rather than turning to takeout, however, she's focused on finding the excitement in cooking again, and bringing her kids into the process. Her best, burnout-proof recipes and time-saving tips found home in her latest cookbook, The Full Plate: Flavor-Filled, Easy Recipes for Families with No Time and a Lot to Do.
On this week's episode of Homemade, host Martie Duncan chats with Ayesha about her cookbook, the influence of her Asian and Jamaican heritage on her cooking, and why she prioritizes cooking with her kids. They also discuss Eat. Learn. Play., an organization Ayesha founded with her husband, NBA All-Star Stephen Curry, that aims to provide children with nutritious food, a quality education, and a safe place for sports and activities. Listen to this episode of Homemade on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, PlayerFM, and everywhere podcasts are available beginning July 7.
About Ayesha Curry
After finishing high school in North Carolina, Toronto, Canada, native Ayesha Alexander Curry moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. During her time in Los Angeles, she began dating a North Carolina friend and then-college basketball player, NBA All-Star Steph Curry. After the two married, she began a food blog and YouTube channel, a precursor to her two Food Network series, "Ayesha's Homemade" and "Ayesha's Home Kitchen."
Ayesha took on the role of restauranteur through a collaboration with chef Michael Mina, opening the globally-inspired International Smoke in San Francisco in 2016. Within the year, she released her first cookbook, The Seasoned Life. Her second cookbook, The Full Plate, came out in 2020. Ayesha and Steph launched Eat. Learn. Play. to serve underprivileged children in the Bay Area. The couple resides in California with their three children.
MARTIE: Welcome to Homemade, I'm Martie Duncan. This show was built on the premise that a recipe is a story that ends with a meal. Well if that's true, my next guest is not a recipe but a whole menu. On top of being a mom, an entrepreneur, and a restaurateur with a namesake cookware line, she has a magazine, she's a best-selling cookbook author and she's appeared on shows like "Rachael Ray" and "The Ellen Show," discussing quick meals for busy families that don't have to sacrifice flavor.
Along with her husband, three-time NBA champion Steph Curry, she launched the charitable organization Eat. Learn. Play. It helps children in underserved areas stay safe, well-fed, and get a quality education. She's going to tell us more about that today, will also talk about her most recent book, and wonderful recipes inspired by her Jamaican and Asian heritages. I'm just so happy to welcome Ayesha Curry to today's episode of Homemade. Ayesha, Homemade is something dear to your heart, isn't it? I mean your whole brand is centered on home cooking.
AYESHA: So my most recent cookbook is called The Full Plate. And obviously, I'm a home chef. I wasn't classically trained. I have educated myself along the way and have had some amazing mentors.
MARTIE: Right. And, you are also a restaurateur these days. So I think you kind of qualify all the way around as a chef. But anybody who's got to get meals on the table every day for a family, to me, you're a chef. I don't care if you're — don't work in a restaurant. You're putting out food like that every day. You're a chef, right?
AYESHA: I agree. Some of the best chefs are making food for their kids and their families.
MARTIE: I have loved going through your new book, The Full Plate: Flavor Filled Recipes for Families with No Time and A Lot To Do. And, I don't care how big your family is, I think that everybody has a lot to do and everybody has no time.
MARTIE: I love the book. I've got so many questions I want to ask you about the family and everything, but let's start with the cookbook because that's something tangible that people can get their hands on. It was best of the year last year for NPR and then it was on the top of the list for Amazon and lots of places. So it's gotten a lot of acclaim. People have really enjoyed it. But tell me why you decided to do this second book and why you decided to gear it toward the family.
AYESHA: Yeah, so it was about four years almost to the day between my first cookbook and this new cookbook and people had been asking, you know, 'when's the next book? When's the next book? When are you going to do another one?' And my answer was, 'when I feel inspired.' Because I'm just not the type of person to just put something out into the marketplace just to do it. Especially not when it comes to publishing something like a cookbook. I feel like it lasts forever. It's always there and it needs to be impactful and a part of the legacy that I'm going to leave for my kids. And so I finally one day felt inspired and realized how different my life looked several years later from the first cookbook and how the time that I used to have to prepare a meal even when I had one child and a new baby, compared to now having three children was just entirely different. And trying to run the business and just keep everything together. And I was like, 'ugh, I do this for a living and I'm exhausted.' Like sometimes I don't want to get the meal on the table. But that's the message that I'm sending, is to get people around the table. So how do I create that in an easier way, and an exciting way to get people to try new flavor profiles and do it with their family and to keep people cooking around the table, but in a fast, easy, and efficient way.
MARTIE: One of the quotes that I read from you is really sort of the thing that I base my whole career and my whole mantra is 'I want to inspire people to love food and create memories with the ones they love.' And I love that because that's what you're trying to do, is to create memories with your children. If you look at the book, you can see your daughter standing on a stool at the kitchen counter, looking up, like, at you with adoration. I used to do that with my own mom...
MARTIE: ...50 years ago. So these are things she'll remember for the rest of her life...
MARTIE: ...And they'll be so important to her as she grows up. So you're trying to encourage everybody to have those moments, and those memories, and those dishes that you take with you no matter where you go.
AYESHA: Absolutely. I feel like you can pinpoint well, at least for me, any moment that is a lasting moment in my memory, there's always a meal involved. There's always something I can pinpoint that I tasted that takes me back to that moment. And then on top of that, when it comes to cooking with my kids and leaving that impression with them, there are so many studies that show that if you cook with your children, they're going to be better humans. Like when it comes to education, social skills, communication, it's very cyclical. And so something as simple as, you know, preparing a meal with your child and making it a habit is a game changer.
MARTIE: Now, was there a lot of cooking going on at your house growing up? Did you learn to cook with your mom or the women in your family? Was that sort of a thing?
AYESHA: Yes, definitely. So I come from a big Jamaican household. I grew up in Canada, I'm Canadian. Then moved to North Carolina in my teen years. Now I'm in California, but have always had deep rooted Jamaican culture and heritage in the forefront of my life. And so growing up, it was big pots of curry, no pun intended, and crab and seafood and oxtail and rice and peas and plantain. And my mom, my grandma — Even if there was initially going to be like four people eating, they would cook for a small army and people would just show up. They just knew it was a revolving door at our house. We always had people over. And so it's so funny, I actually had to train myself when I got married to cook smaller.
MARTIE: I can't. I try. I live alone, and I used to have to cook for my dad and, you know, a lot of other people along the way, and then it's just shrunk, shrunk, shrunk. And like, I can't cook for, like, too many leftovers.
AYESHA: Yeah. yeah.
MARTIE: Trying to cook smaller. What do you think is the one dish that sort of takes you back to your childhood, your favorite thing that was always on the table, or always on the stove, or something that you remember as a child? What would be that one thing, that signature thing?
AYESHA: I would say the Rasta Pasta in this current cookbook is a staple. It is this hyper fusion of flavors. We use fettuccini noodles, which is Italian. Which is like ok Rasta Pasta. And the sauce is coconut based, but then we add a little bit of curry in there. It has all the vegetables, the bell peppers, the scallions. And it's just so flavor forward, but comforting.
MARTIE: Was it a recipe from your aunt? Is that what I read?
AYESHA: My Auntie Donna. Yes. Yes. So, it's something that everyone requests from her. And so, of course, I had to put my spin on it. Now she asks me to make it when she comes to visit. I'm like, that's — I'm sweating bullets because I'm like, you are the matriarch of this recipe. I gotta do it justice. But it really is a family favorite. Whenever I'm missing my family that's still over in Canada, because most of them are, that is what I make.
MARTIE: OK, can you, off the top of your head, walk me through how to make it?
AYESHA: Absolutely. So obviously, you want to get your noodles going. We're not going to walk through how to boil water. But with the Rasta Pasta sauce, what I do is I coat — so I make a jerk seasoning and I coat — and a little bit of sugar, salt, pepper, thyme, all the herbs. I coat my shrimp in that first and my chicken if I'm doing both, and then I reserve a little bit of that jerk seasoning for the sauce. And then in the sauce goes onions, bell pepper, we saute some garlic, of course. Then in goes the coconut milk and we kind of let the coconut milk steep with the curry powder, a little bit of paprika. Sometimes I'll put chili flake, if I'm in the mood, and as that simmers off, then we add in some canned, chopped or crushed tomatoes. My personal secret ingredient is sweet chili sauce.
AYESHA: Which, in Jamaican cooking, there's a big Asian fusion thing going on, which I think a lot of people don't know. But there's a huge Asian community in Jamaica and my mom is actually Jamaican-Chinese. That's a huge influence in my cooking. But so that starts to simmer. And as that's simmering and the flavors are mending together, that's when I sear my shrimp. And I usually like to do it in cast iron so I get a nice char on the shrimp, and it's quick. Two, three minutes. You know, shrimp cooks quickly. With that yummy spicy jerk seasoning on there. Then I take the noodles and toss it in that sauce. I add half of the shrimp into the pasta mixture, mix it together, the rest of the shrimp on top before serving. And I garnish with either parsley or scallion.
MARTIE: I love the pictures of your kids eating that, too. That makes you want to make it. When you see — they're just so excited. That must be one of the favorite dishes at mealtime at your house.
AYESHA: It is. It is. It's highly requested these days.
MARTIE: I love that that chapter's called Pastafarians. I thought that was so cute. And I really didn't know your Jamaican heritage when I was reading through it, but I kept seeing all these Jamaican notes. That's your heritage, those are your roots.
AYESHA: Yes. Those are my roots.
MARTIE: I love the fact that in the book you talk about the pantry and what are some of the essential things to put in your pantry. I think hardly anybody realized how important the pantry was until we had a pandemic and then you just couldn't get out like normal.
AYESHA: So true.
MARTIE: And then everybody's like, 'oh, I need to make over my pantry.' And I love the fact that in the book you kind of outline some things that you have in your fridge and your freezer, you always have chicken, always have shrimp. And even give everybody an OK to use a jarred marinara sauce.
AYESHA: Absolutely. You can zhush just about anything out of the can and that is OK. If anything has proved that, it was this pandemic. And people used to think I was crazy for stocking the pantry and vacuum stealing my meats and things like that. And they're like, 'oh, I get it now.' And I'm like, 'yes, I've got kids to feed.'
MARTIE: So much on your plate. Plus, your charitable endeavors. I want to talk about that, too. Eat. Learn. Play. That's your mission to end childhood hunger and have universal access to quality education.
MARTIE: It's a problem. It is a problem all over America. You and Steph. That's your charity that you guys have put together to try to eliminate childhood hunger.
MARTIE: So when you have time? So you have to stock up, right?
AYESHA: Yeah, it's nuts. And when you list it all out like that, it sounds even crazier. I mean, there are a lot of moving parts, let's be honest, that make things run smoothly. But at the end of the day, my husband and I do look at each other like, 'oh my gosh, what are we doing?'
MARTIE: Plus, three kids…
AYESHA: Plus, three kids. And we started so young, like I had my first child at twenty-three years old. I don't...
MARTIE: Well I want to go back further than that. Y'all met in high school?
AYESHA: We did, yes…
MARTIE: Can you tell me the love story? I want to hear from you.
AYESHA: Yeah. He's actually one of the first people I met when I moved to the States, oddly enough. But we were just friends and we had a ton of mutual friends. But I always thought he was just so adorable. So fast forward what? I was nineteen and we went on our first date. And honestly, the rest is history. We've been together ever since. His mom actually told us a story years later, after we married, that she remembers sitting in the car after church one day, because I guess the the the boys were interested in some other ladies, and she said she saw me and my sisters walking out and she actually pointed and was like, 'you should, you should date a girl like that.' And I was like, 'what?' She told me years later and I'm like 'awww.'
MARTIE: So sweet.
AYESHA: So weird.
MARTIE: You're listening to Homemade. Stay tuned as Ayesha tells me about her magazine Sweet July, her charitable organization for kids, and talks me through some of her favorite recipes. We'll be back with this and more right after the break.
I'm Martie Duncan and my guest today is Ayesha Curry.
So the charity. Tell me how it works? Your charitable component is called Eat. Learn. Play. And your mission is to help end childhood hunger.
MARTIE: And then have access to education. So tell me how you go about that?
AYESHA: So it's ensuring children have access to quality nutrition, quality education, and safe places to play. When you say it like that, it's three fundamental things that we think that every child should have. And I think anybody would agree with that.
MARTIE: One hundred percent.
AYESHA: The sad part is a lot of children don't have that opportunity. Especially, here — out here in the Oakland community. And so how we do that is we start in our community, we look for people who are doing the right things around us. We're not reinventing the wheel. We look for people who are doing great things and we help bring and connect and link those people together so that we can amplify the help in the community. And we started in July, right before the pandemic, and I'm so glad we did because six months later, who would have thought that the kids who are already not getting enough...
AYESHA: ...Were now going to be getting even less.
MARTIE: Especially because they weren't getting school meals.
AYESHA: Exactly. So we were able to step in, partner with some amazing people, like World Central Kitchen, which is José Andrés. And we've done over 15 million meals this past year, just in the Oakland community, and it's a need that's still growing, which is unfortunate. But we're, we're boots on the ground and doing everything we can to help.
MARTIE: I think that's fantastic. And I like the fact that you circle back around to food, you know? Because even if a child is hungry, they don't learn well.
MARTIE: If they come to school hungry or if they don't have enough nutrition, they can't focus. They can't learn. And so there they are at a deficit because they will not get the education even if it's available if they don't have enough nutrition.
MARTIE: All right. So let's talk about Sweet July. I love the fact it's a quarterly lifestyle magazine. Y'all, I saw it in the grocery store the other day. So you can definitely find it wherever you look for magazines or you can subscribe to it. But it's wellness, fashion, fitness, beauty, entrepreneurship, and food and other things that are just important. Like your charitable things, and community things. Tell me why you decided you wanted to do a magazine and how it all came to be?
AYESHA: For me, it's all about representation and inclusivity. And when I was approached to do this magazine it was really a no brainer for me, just because I feel like representation truly does matter and there's space for everybody. And I felt like it was a great opportunity for me to tell stories from my perspective and have the opportunity to tell people's stories that may have otherwise never — they may have never had the opportunity to tell those stories. And so we really lean into small business and families of all different kinds. And so I feel like we really cover the bases, and it's just been great to be able to have a voice in that space. It's called Sweet July because all three of my children were born in July.
AYESHA: Not planned. Completely unplanned. And we were married in July. And it's just this month of immense happiness in my life...
AYESHA: ...And joy and celebration. And I started to realize I should be feeling like that every day. I should be grateful for the small blessings just as much as I am for the big ones. So it's kind of a mantra and a call to action for people to figure out what that moment is that makes them so happy and to find ways to carry that through day-to-day, not just in that certain moment of celebration. We should be celebrating everything, every day.
MARTIE: Just waking up at my age is a blessing. Every day I wake up, 'thank you, God.'
MARTIE: 'Thank you for my good health. Thank you, I get out of bed and walk around.'
MARTIE: 'Thank you for my job.' Yes, I couldn't agree more.
MARTIE: I love this quote from you, too. You said, 'If my life experiences can help other people on their path to living their best life, I'm thrilled to be part of that journey.' And I think that's so important to tell people like, 'hey, I did it, you can do it.'
MARTIE: You know? And especially women who don't always find their reflection somewhere, you know?
MARTIE: Let's face it, you probably have a lot more help than the majority of people do. But I think when you can give people some hope and just show them a glimmer of light. And then especially by showing other people's stories and then that helps people, I think feel like, OK, let's do this one more day.
AYESHA: I think the goal also is to show that it's not always roses as well and to give glimpses of reality and to let people know that it's OK to have bad days and it's OK to not have it all together and that we're really all running around like chickens with their heads cut off, even if it looks great. You know what I mean?
MARTIE: It's not all Instagram perfect.
AYESHA: Yes. Yes. And I think that that's really the goal with the magazine is that sense of community.
MARTIE: All right. So let's talk a little bit more about the book. What is your favorite date night recipe that you might make for Steph if it's just the two of you?
AYESHA: I actually have it right here. And it's my quick chicken tagine.
AYESHA: I went to a friend's house one night and she made this amazing tagine. It was my first time having one. So naturally I had to go home and figure out my own quick way to do it. And where typically a tagine, for people that are listening that don't know, takes hours...
AYESHA: ...This one takes 20 to 30 minutes. And it's done and it's delicious and you can't tell. So we're using store bought rotisserie chicken and then adding in all of your classic tagine ingredients. The lentils, and olives, and preserved lemons, and dates for a little bit of sweetness. And I just feel like it's so the Moroccan nature of it all is just kind of sexy and I think perfect for a date night.
MARTIE: I like the fact that in the book, too, you have a cocktail section where you have classic cocktails and then you have your own spin, modern cocktails.
MARTIE: Now, which one are you and which one is Steph?
AYESHA: Stephen's pretty classic. So he's an Old Fashioned type of guy. Likes his whiskey neat. Like, that's him. I prefer — so I have a cocktail called Smokey the Bear in here. I love bourbon so much. But I love my bourbon with a little bit of tang. So a good, likem smoky lemony Smokey the Bear cocktail that puts a little hair on your chest?
MARTIE: Well that sounds great with the tagine, too.
AYESHA: Yes. Yes.
MARTIE: That sounds like a perfect thing. Another thing I wanted to ask you from the book, that coconut — pancake battered coconut shrimp. Can you tell us the story about how that came to be?
AYESHA: Yeah. So when Stephen was in college, you know, the local place to go, 'fancy, fancy' was the Outback Steakhouse. And I would always order the coconut shrimp. He would always order a petite filet with the Alice Springs chicken and the blah blah blah. But me, I was a coconut shrimp girl. And a lot of people don't get coconut shrimp right. And in my opinion, the Outback does it right.
MARTIE: Yeah, they do.
AYESHA: I still feel that way to this day. But I figured out a hack using pancake batter to make it very easy and in a flash. And to have it at home and fresh and crunchy and hot and delicious and sweet.
MARTIE: Oh, it sounds so good.
AYESHA: It's just — it's so good and it really takes me back every single time I make them.
MARTIE: The picture of it, it makes you want to eat the page, it's a beautiful picture.
AYESHA: They're so crunchy. It's, it's great.
MARTIE: That was one recipe that I can't wait to try. Another one was where you do the shrimp boil in a bag?
MARTIE: I forget what you call it.
AYESHA: So we have two different crab boils. So we have the traditional crab boil that's with the corn and kind of that low country boil style. And then we have the curry crab bag with okra and that's a very — I wouldn't say Jamaican. It's more like a Trinidadian-style crab recipe and you've got that, like — I know people aren't going to like this word, but that's slimy okra with a little bit of chew and the curry. It's just divine.
MARTIE: I love okra. I grow it in my backyard.
AYESHA: Oh, nice.
MARTIE: Yeah, yeah. I've got a little mini farm here. A little farmette. 20 acres.
AYESHA: Beautiful. Oh, 'a little farm, 20 acres.'
MARTIE: I don't farm the whole 20, trust me.
AYESHA: That's amazing.
MARTIE: But I love all these recipes for, you know, just a quick bite, too. Like, your savory s'mores. That's a really good one with the brie, the prosciutto and the shortbread.
AYESHA: Hmm. Mmm.
MARTIE: And that's easy. It's so easy.
AYESHA: Easy. It is easy.
MARTIE: So Ayesha, just tell me your number one thing that you want us to all remember from this book, the one takeaway. What would it be?
AYESHA: I think the one takeaway from this book is that recipes can be done in a flash and that this book is just a baseline. So to play around with flavor you don't have to follow the recipe exactly. That's the beauty of cooking. It's all about finesse. It's about how you feel in that moment. And just to use it as a guide. Write all over it, make the changes, do the substitutions and everything's going to be OK. It's about the time you spend at the table.
MARTIE: Well I want to close with the quote that you have in the book, and it said, 'Make mealtime seem worthwhile.' Like all that effort, all the shopping, the cooking, the prep, make it all seem worthwhile.
MARTIE: Quality time with people you love.
MARTIE: I think that's wonderful. Well, I thank you so much for being with us today.
AYESHA: Thank you for your time.
MARTIE: I've enjoyed every second and I hope to talk to you again one of these days.
AYESHA: Yes. Thank you so much.
MARTIE: You can pick up a copy of Sweet July magazine from your local newsstand or bookstore, and it's available online also. Be sure to visit Ayesha's websites SweetJuly.com, EatLearnPlay.org, or follow along with her life and career on Instagram like I do.
Next time on Homemade, I talk to cookbook author, entrepreneur, and sometimes vegan Jessica Seinfeld.
JESSICA: I think food is such an issue in people's lives. There's a really deep emotional aspect to food. How you grew up, how you felt being in a kitchen. I think that all plays a part in how we eat.
MARTIE: Her new book hits the shelves October 12, but it's already available for preorder, so Jessica's giving me a little sneak peek. It's called Vegan, at Times: 120+ Recipes for Every Day or Every So Often, written to help us all to eat healthier and feel better by cooking affordable and robust plant-based meals with plenty of flavor. You won't want to miss it.
Be sure to follow Homemade on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or however you listen. And please, I'd love your feedback. If you could rate this podcast and leave a review, I'd really appreciate it.
And don't forget, you can find thousands of recipes, meal ideas, and cooking how-to's from the world's largest community of cooks at Allrecipes.com.
This podcast was recorded in Birmingham, edited in Atlanta, and produced by AllRecipes with Digital Content Director Jason Burnett. Thanks to our Pod People production team: Rachael King, Matt Sav, Danielle Roth, Jim Hanke, Maya Kroth, and Erica Wong.
I'm Martie Duncan … and this is Homemade.