Even in this age of blogging and Pinterest, where "food porn" sites are a dime a dozen, there's something lovely about having a good, old-fashioned cookbook on your shelf, especially when it's one as beautiful as Monica Bhide's Modern Spice. The subtitle, "Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen" says it all: the book may not be filled with traditional Indian recipes, as Bhide addresses in her introduction, but she does offer just the right amount of spice for cooks longing for that irreplicable Indian flavor.
Much of Indian cuisine is vegetarian, and Ms. Bhide doesn't disappoint when it comes to this arena. From chutneys and marinades to an entire chapter of vegetable, bean and lentil recipes, this book is a vegetarian's dream. This isn't to say that omnivores are left in the dust--poultry, meat and eggs do figure --but it's nice to have such a wide variety of dishes that are naturally and organically vegetarian. Here's a little taste of the recipe selections in Modern Spice:
- Pan-Seared Eggplant with Ginger and Honey
- Acorn Squash with Five Spices
- Roasted Cauliflower with Fennel
- Anaheim Peppers with Paneer and Mint-Cilantro Chutney
And that's just the beginning.
Learning to Love Your Pantry
Nearly 20 pages at the beginning of the book are devoted entirely to preparing yourself for following these recipes and integrating modern Indian cuisine into your day-to-day; for Ms. Bhide, this means learning to love your pantry. From where to buy certain spice mixes to how to make your own, Ms. Bhide does it all. She breaks down words like masala and curry, words that we think we know, and makes them simpler and easier to understand. After reading this chapter on herbs and spices, each of which is accompanied by three short sections--Brands, How to Use it and To Store--any cook will feel ready to tackle the recipes that follow.
Between easy-to-read and -follow recipes and a few (not enough, in my opinion) beautiful pages of color photos, Ms. Bhide offers asides that remind us of why we love food bloggers so much: they tell you personal stories about their lives. And in book form, Ms. Bhide has done the same, recounting tales of buying mismatched tea cups as a foreward to a tea recipe and teaching Hindi to her reticent son as he grew up, using pea shelling as a bonding activity, providing us with a pea curry recipe as the heartwarming story comes to a close. By threading these stories into her recipes, Ms. Bhide brings the reader even closer to her kitchen and her cooking.
For the amateur or experienced Indian cook, Modern Spice is a delectable book. It lends a modern look at a traditional cuisine, all the while respecting the combinations of flavors and textures that have made it an international favorite. Bringing organic Indian food into your kitchen has never been so simple, or delicious.
Image: Monica Bhide