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From Masala comes Kaarma

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At Kaarma Indian Grocery, a new shop in south Ashland, it’s easy to fill a shopping basket with tantalizing imported goods that are packed floor to ceiling: flours and grains, lentils and beans, sweets and snacks, spices and more.

The store at 1908 Ashland St. is the brainchild of restauranteur Sumesh Bakshi, who with his family runs Masala Ashland, an Asian fusion restaurant on A Street. Bakshi also operates restaurants in Vadodara and Dabhoi in India.

“I could not reliably get the quality ingredients I wanted for our restaurant locally and had to order from Seattle and San Francisco,” Bakshi says. Now he has established import relationships with Indian vendors for the products he knows well and values and, through Kaarma Indian Grocery, makes these available to the community.

The soft chimes and melodic strains of India echo as you enter Kaarma. Legumes, snacks, packaged goods and teas are on the right, and on the left are spices, Ayurvedic products, flours and frozen goods. Toward the back are stainless steel cooking and serving dishes, useful for the preparation and serving of Indian foods. But the first thing that you see as you walk in the door is Kumud Gokani’s cookbook, her friendly smile inviting you to enjoy the best that Indian vegetarian cuisine has to offer.

Gokani is Sumesh Bakshi’s mother-in-law and plans food demonstrations, cooking shows and more events at Kaarma Indian Grocery that feature Indian cuisine.

Gokani’s mantra, repeated at the end of her Rogue Valley Community Television shows, is “food is love,” and food prepared at home is indeed a gift to a family. Kaarma’s many different lentils and beans are packaged in two-pound bags that run from $3 to $6, certified organic by India Organic and the USDA.

There are a wide variety of flours, such as buckwheat, rice, millet and chickpea, as well as milled wheat. Some flours are suited for special preparations like dosa and many are gluten free. The two-pound bags are priced at $2.50 and up.

For home cooking, these shelves also carry jaggery, a beautiful big cone of cane molasses sweetner, rice oils and ghee and blocks of microbial rennet vegetarian paneer.

Not everyone wants to cook, though, or at least not every day, and Kaarma Indian Grocery has a good assortment of family-sized frozen goods, many not found in other Rogue Valley stores. There are wraps, samosas (stuffed savories), parantha (flatbread, stuffed and plain), motichur ladoo (sweet, butter soaked chickpea spheres) and more.

For breakfast, 3 Minute Breakfast cups are great for a quick and healthy meal. These breakfast cups are porridges of beaten rice, vegetables and spices; two others are intriguing, sweet Kesari Halwa and another made with spicy tomato and oats. Just open, add boiling water, stir and give it the three minutes and you’re good to go.

Kaarma Indian Grocery has snacks that satisfy cravings for a quick handful of crunchy flavor. The Mo’pleez line has products with exotic names like Phalhari Chiwada and Khatta Meetha in snack-size 5 ounce bags. Phalhari Chiwada is a sweet and salty mix of potato sticks, peanuts and spices, and Khatta Meetha, translated as Sweet and Sour, has rice flakes, chick peas, lentils and peanuts. Not for the calorie conscious, these snacks are delicious. Better for your health might be Phool Makhana, roasted and puffed lotus seeds which are low in cholesterol, fat and sodium, gluten-free and high in protein.

Also on the shelf are two-pound sacks of Bhel Puri, a traditional Indian savory snack made with puffed rice, sev (an extruded chick pea cracker), peanuts and more. Nosh on Bhel Puri dry if you like, but on the streets of Mumbai, Bhel Puri is prepared with tamarind, hot sauce and vegetables, eaten quickly from a paper cone before it gets soggy. Every vendor has its own special recipe.

Kaarma’s weekend manager, Manali Parab, says that Bhel Puri is easy to make at home because all the spices are right in the sack, but you can also try the prepared dish at Masala Ashland before you experiment.

Not to be missed is Kaarma’s extensive collection of teas, infusions and chai. Comically, front and center of the collection is a pyramid of LiptonTea in bright yellow boxes with Hindi script. The tea is packaged in Canada and exported to India. Bakshi reads the labeling, raises his eyebrows, then shrugs.

“What can I say, India was under colonial rule for almost 400 years,” he says.

Kaarma Indian Grocery is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. For information on retail sales and wholesale purchasing, phone 541-708-6700.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Photo by Maureen Flanagan BattistellaFrom left, Sumesh Bakshi, Avinash Parab and Manali Parab are partners in Kaarma Indian Grocery in Ashland.