Spice Up the Kitchen with Monica Bhide's Modern Spice

Modern SpiceMany people would agree that Indian food has a certain mystique. Maybe it’s the combination of unique and unusual ingredients and spices or it could be the pungent fragrances that seem to drift for miles. It is in fact the combination of spices so expertly blended that makes Indian food so particular and different from any other cuisine. There are the famous curries, named so by the English, and then there is garam masala, a main spice if you will. Every household, every Indian mother has her own special mix of it. My first attempt at cooking Indian food many years ago found me making my own garam masala, toasting the whole spices to bring out their flavors and then grinding them in a coffee grinder. All those spices seemed so intimidating then and are still that way to many people. We eat Indian food out at restaurants, but find it so very difficult to make those elaborate Indian meals at home. With our time-crunched lives, it's almost impossible, we say.

Modern Spice, the new cookbook from food writer Monica Bhide changes all that. Bhide shows us that the flavors of India can be achieved easily at home by using spices in a modern new way. And who better to show us than Bhide herself, a food writer and cookbook author of two very traditional Indian cookbooks. Her new dishes don't take hours of labor to create, but are simple and satisfying and use fewer ingredients with less intimidating spice blends. Any dish from this cookbook can taste just as Indian as an Indian grandma’s cooking. Bhide’s cooking is neither less flavorful nor less authentic, it just provides a new direction.

Not only a collection of recipes, the book also has woven throughout elegantly written anecdotes about Bhide's experiences. First, a visit to find local food culture in Dubai. A humble and unassuming dinner shared at the home of famous TV chef Sanjeev Kapoor. A dinner of a special biryani prepared by the famed chef Imtiaz Qureshi. A special friendship shared over a mutual love for rice pudding. And a gathering of multicultural women celebrating good food and friendship. These stories show us Bhide’s dedication to her cuisine and reveal a true understanding of the culture underneath.

Born in New Delhi, Bhide grew up on the tiny island nation of Bahrain in the Middle East. She later moved to the United States to attend college and luckily for us food lovers stayed behind. It was the constant pattern of food and eating throughout her life that led Bhide to change her career path and become a food writer. The soul-numbing study of engineering led her to find solace in food, which even led her to meet the man that would later become her husband. Food has played such an important part in her life. Doesn’t it do that for all of us?

In the first chapter of the book, Bhide recalls a vacation to Dubai, the favorite city of her father. There she goes on a hunt to find local food, but can only find Lebanese, Moroccan, Chinese, and Indian foods, among many others. Disheartened that she will never find the true local Emirati food of Dubai, Bhide meets a chef who explains to her that Dubai never developed a local food, but that the people who migrated to Dubai brought their home cuisines, and Duabi’s local food scene became a melting pot. Bhide realizes that it sounds a lot like the cuisine of New York with its vast pizza restaurants and Jewish delis. Bhide discovers that the food of a culture is not always stereotypical, but is ever-changing.

Modern Spice ultimately provides an in-depth look into a culture and cuisine marching toward a new future of tradition. Here are new everyday recipes that reinterpret the more traditional Indian recipes while keeping intact the essence of what makes the food Indian, spice. One of the best and most useful parts of the book is Bhide’s glossary of spices and ingredients. Bhide shares with us her sources for top-notch ingredients and the brand names that she has come to appreciate for achieving short cuts in the kitchen. She also teaches the reader how to use spices in their correct quantities. A pinch of this and a spoonful of that are all allowed as long as you follow her recommended ratios. We learn to use each spice to its utmost potential.

This book has everything to offer to anyone who appreciates Indian cuisine and desires to learn new ways of thinking about spices and ingredients. Utilizing Bhide's tips and techniques is just the beginning of a path toward multicultural discovery. Recipes like pomegranate shrimp, green chutney chicken, guava bellinis, and paneer and fig pizza push the boundaries of traditional Indian cooking all in a good way. Who wouldn’t love spice, crackle, and pop, Bhide’s Indian version of rice krispies? I know I would. The photograph of saffron mussel stew makes me want to jump right in. I can’t wait to try her recipe for whole roast chicken with fenugreek. But first I must buy some chaat masala to sprinkle on my fries.