Conquering culinary fears at Niema’s Cookery Corner

Niema's Cookery Corner - Youree Drive Shreveport

I have to admit, as much as I’ve enjoyed using Nima DiGrazia’s special seasoning that I picked up on a whim at Cuban Liquor several months ago on my culinary pursuits, visiting Niema’s Cookery Corner in the back of the Sunshine Health food store at 5751 Youree Drive wasn’t something I’d placed high on my “must try” list. 

Not because I don’t see the dozens of reviews on the 318 Eats page that tout the boldness of flavors she and her team of talented chefs produce out of that “interesting” location. But mostly because I’ve never had or heard of anything she had on her menu.

I’d gone in there several months ago but walked out before placing an order. Just not knowing what any of it was and never having seen photos or experienced anything like it was intimidating. 

The day I went into Niema’s Cookery Corner for the second time, the smell of lavender-patchouli-spearmint soap clung to the air like the South Park Mall Bath and Body Works used to as I walked in the door. Followed by the smell of vitamins … all too familiar from my childhood.  (My mother was so into vitamins in my youth she often began to smell like them.) There’s nothing wrong, per se, with the smell of health and shelves lined with bottles of things I’ve never been able to pronounce. But walking through them made me miss my chewable Flintstone vitamins and remember that “free radicals” and “probiotics” weren’t the names of bands I listened to in the 90s.

As I arrived at the cafe area of the store,  it was like I’d entered another establishment. African art on the walls featured a large mural of a woman wearing a brightly colored dress. 

The smells emitting from the kitchen made me forget I was in a health food store entirely. The counter where I ordered was manned by a woman named Carol who patiently waited while I thoroughly read the menu.

There are no TV screens of menus with photos perched above the extended counter like most international food places I’m accustomed to…  the ones that dumb it down for people like me.  I stood in line behind two sharply dressed women discussing what they’d have on their lunch date. Did she say Ox tails?

What are ox tails? Where would one even find an Ox around here? Do we only use their tails? I’ve heard of Buffalo burgers from our dearly departed Twisted Root but never Ox burgers. I was struggling just to remember what an Ox looked like. Was there one at Gators and Friends? Or was that a Yak? Or a wildebeest? She definitely said Ox tails. I wish the Discovery channel was about animals again, I obviously need a refresher.

I wasn’t there for the Ox Tails. In fact, I didn’t know what 99% of the menu was really. Fried Green Tomatoes, check. Chicken and Beignets, ok I got that… but everything else was a mix of Caribbean and African food I’d never put a fork to before. Never seen, never smelled, never tasted. 

And here was Carol, expertly explaining the menu to me with as much detail as a seasoned PR person. I couldn’t see the dishes, but after telling her my dislikes, I would have felt comfortable ordering whatever she suggested. 

I didn’t run away this time.

Since it was 318 Restaurant Week, and because I had seen the photos of it on Facebook and the Restaurant Week app and because it’s Lent and I’m seeing fish everywhere, I decided to go with her special this week of Fried Mahi-mahi, topped with in-house citrus pickled veggie accompaniments and a side of seasoned fries. Something I knew wouldn’t be so far off my culinary radar, and I would actually know if it was “good” or not.

It was better than good. I’d quipped with a friend, “This is a meal that The Little Mermaid would eat everyday. Would that be cannibalism? What DO mermaids eat?”

I’d asked for it “to go” but said I’d eat some of it there and just take the rest with me. I lied. Not a crumb of that went anywhere with me outside of my stomach. My take-out tray was empty. I ate it all there.

There was a bit of a wait, but with a cafe full of eager diners and a warning from Carol that the kitchen was missing a regular crew member, I didn’t mind. I picked up a “Taste of the South” magazine sitting on a table and flipped through it, taking photos of recipes that are bound to be lost with the hundreds of other photos I collect on my phone. 

When Carol came to my table she asked if I’d seen the article in that magazine about Niema. I hadn’t gotten there yet. She giggled, “It’s two pages!” Her eyes lit up like a young girl telling me about a love letter she got from her school crush. You could tell there is a real bond there. This whole place, despite being in the back of a health food store, felt more homey than I’d expected. 

Carol watched me open my take-out box as if she were watching one of those models on “Deal or No Deal” to see if they’d won the million dollars. “Isn’t it pretty?! You can get good pictures!” she said as I was pulling out my phone to do just that.

The vibrant red tomatoes, pickled red onions, orange bell pepper, and some green peppers (I am too much of a pepper novice to identify), all propped atop a toasted ciabatta bun next to its other half hosting a crispy battered filet of fresh mahi-mahi with a swirl of what looked to be a spicy aioli. It was flavorful but not too heated/spicy. I’d put the spice level somewhere close to Arby’s curly Fries… only so.much.better!

My eyes widened at the tomatoes. I didn’t even start eating raw tomatoes until last year when I discovered that farmers market fresh tomatoes are a whole different animal… vegetable… errr fruit? than store-bought tomatoes. I couldn’t wait for my first bite.

I layered the crispiest, meatiest bite of fish with the rainbow of veggies that were not tender, not crisp, but just right … and slightly juicy from the pickling liquid. I licked my fingers, expecting a sour vinegar kick, but instead was surprised by a citrusy tangy flavor I couldn’t quite put my finger on… ok, well, it was on my finger, but you know what I mean.

The first bite was an explosion of flavor in my mouth. The flaky, perfectly cooked fish reminded me of all the times I’d watched Gordon Ramsay say in his delightful British accent to a terrified Hell’s Kitchen contestant, “That fish is cooked beautifully, you donut!” It took everything in me not to say it the same way he would, out loud.

The crunch of the breading and the toasted bun was still there, but the citrusy pickled veggies were flavoring it with exactly the taste I was looking for. A light yet filling, easy on the tummy, yet bold culinary experience that I look forward to experiencing again.

I suppose to truly understand food I need to step out of my comfort zone and jump head-first into new experiences. I think this was my peckish attempt to slide into the shallow-end toe first— and honestly, I don’t regret it. But next time… I’m getting the ox tails.

Sorry for walking out the first time Niema… I should have just asked Carol for help.

Picture of Ami Sue Healy

Ami Sue Healy

Ami Healy is a travel writer, baker, home cook and technology nerd as well as an expert in PR and Advertising. A native Texan with deep Louisiana roots she’s spent her life living and traveling through the south, enjoying the food, the fun and the friends that makes southern culture diverse and unique. She is currently exploring the mom-and-pops, local eateries and food trucks in Northwest Louisiana and East Texas while based right here in the SBC and shares her experiences on her page Ami Eats Everything You can connect with her on Facebook and Instagram @amieatseverhthing or email her directly at

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