Leena Saini takes Princeton ‘Around the World in 80 Purees’

When Leena Saini’s now 5-year-old daughter first start eating solid food, she was not wowed by the bland basics. Rice cereal made her cringe, and plain yogurt made her wince. However, once mom added a dash of ground cardamom, some pureed mango and substituted packaged grains with smashed avocado with lime and cilantro, little Kirina only uttered, “Mmmm.”

Since then, it has become Saini’s passion to develop her children’s palates – she has another daughter with adventurous taste buds, Ela, 2. As of Aug. 16, Saini has expanded her mission and launched her cookbook, “Around the World in 80 Purees,” to encourage all parents to try a little spice.

“The premise of the book is to teach your kids good and healthy food practices from the beginning,” Saini said.

From about 6 to 7 months of age, Saini finds many children throughout the globe are eating mashed versions of the very food their families eat at the dinner table. This means no adjustments to how much curry or ginger or whatever other spices are traditional in one area’s cuisine are being made for the baby. So why should parents do so in the U.S.?

The misconception that bland is better – starting with rice cereal, with grains or plain yogurt – is not always better for all babies, and, according to Saini, can often lay the foundation for a picky eater. The recipes Saini provides for parents in her book are anything but bland.

Drawing inspiration from many countries, Saini includes purees such as a rosewater vanilla smoothie from the Middle East, pumpkin millet porridge from Russia and chicken poached in spiced coconut milk from Thailand. When she came to Princeton to offer tastings to local babies after the Princeton Public Library’s storytime and down at the Thursday farmers’ market in Hinds Plaza, Saini served a saffron and cinnamon infused applesauce. Adults and infants alike came back for seconds.

“Mmm, wonderful,” said Yunyi Lin who had her 2-month-old niece, Kira, dozing on her shoulder. “I never would have thought to put apples and saffron together. But it’s so good it makes sense. I like the floral flavors.”

A 19-month-old boy named Ethan Battaglia didn’t voice his love for the Spain-inspired spin on applesauce. But his messy face and unwavering grasp on his second cup were testament to his approval.

“My favorite part of the whole experience creating the book is just watching children enjoy food for the first time. It’s fabulous,” Seini said.

Seini reminds her readers to focus on baby-friendly spices that are mild yet zesty. She believes each spice, in addition to being healthful and safe, has its own benefits to a child, such as turmeric or ginger for an immunity boost and tummy soother.


About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida