Modern Spice : Inspired Indian Flavours For The Contemporary Kitchen
This review was prepared by Shellyfish of Musings From The Fishbowl.
Have you ever found yourself craving the delightful flavours and spices of your favourite Indian food, only to opt for something else because you lacked the time or perhaps the know-how to recreate an Indian feast at home? Then Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen is for you.
Monica Bhide is a perfect example of the contemporary Indian American cook, mixing up tradition with contemporary flare and panache. The dishes she presents mirror her multi-cultural up-bringing – she was born in New Delhi, raised in the Middle East and now calls United States her home. Gathering from all the culinary traditions she’s known and grown to love, Modern Spice is the marriage of Bhide’s rich culinary experiences, with the savoir faire passed on for generations. Bhide indeed gives credit where credit is due and speaks fondly of her mother, mother-in-law, and her grandmother’s culinary influences on her own cooking.
The book is broken down into 9 sections : 1) The Modern Spice Pantry, 2) Chutneys and Marinades, 3) Modern Drinks, 4) Appetizers, Snacks and Salads, 5) Vegetables, Beans and Lentils ; 6) Poultry, Meat and Eggs, 7) Fish and Shellfish, 8) Rice and Breads and finally 9) Desserts. Each chapter offers a wealth of original takes on traditional favourites, but there are also unexpected little treasures like the Cilantro-Lemon Corn Pops, a salty/spicy take on popcorn, Cream of Wheat and Paneer Pancakes with Oven-Roasted Potatoes, a sassy spin on the more traditional « rice-bread » dishes, or the more sophisticated Paneer and Fig Pizza.
The multi-talented Bhide, a former engineer, not only knows her way around a spice rack, she’s also a talented writer and has included a handful of lovely essays peppered throughout the wealth of recipes. These moments and memories are a lovely addition to the book and a joy to read, adding significance to what could otherwise be seen as « impersonal » recipes.
The real star of the show is indeed the recipes, which are an extension of Bhide herself, the very personification of « East meets West meets 21st Century ». Indian cuisine purists be warned : Modern Spice is indeed a very modern interpretation of what could be called « classic » Indian fare. Taking the most fundamental tools found in traditional Indian dishes such as cilantro, cumin, Garam Masala, tumeric (and so many others !), Bhide crafts mouth-watering dishes such as : Butternut Squash Stew with Jaggery, Pomegranate Shrimp, Tilapia Curry with Roasted Spices, or my family’s new favourite, Pista-Mirch-Dhaniya, a fantastic pistachio-chile-coriander spread.
In his forward to Modern Spice, Mark Bittman raves about the Peanut Tikkis with Tamarind-Date Chutney, so they were the first recipe I tried. These scrumptious little patties seem rather unassuming at first. Made from the most basic ingredients : potatoes, corn, red pepper and peanuts, these tikkis come alive through the addition of fresh pomegranate seeds, red chile and cilantro. A drizzling of tamarind-date chutney makes them extra special.
I served the tikkis with the Pan-Seared Eggplant with Ginger and Honey, and they were a perfect match both in texture and taste. The Ginger and Honey Marinade (I subbed Agave syrup for the honey) is now my official favourite sauce/marinade and I’m soon to be known as the « Ginger and Honey Marinade Girl » if I don’t stop using it on everything. It’s sweet and spicy versatility is perfect for summer grilling and roasting.
The Brown Rice Pulao with Vegetables and Cumin was as delicious as it was easy to prepare. In just under a half an hour we were enjoying this hearty and flavourful (and easy !) rice dish. Served with the Curried Carrot and Ginger Soup, a delightful soup bursting with the bright, warming flavours of fresh ginger and carrot, the meal was a success.
Mushroom fans with swoon over the Wild Mushroom and Paneer Pilaf. Don’t have paneer on hand ? No problem. Bhide suggests subbing in firm tofu and I’m a witness to the wisdom of her words. The combination of flavours here is artistic : the earthy mushrooms harmonize with base notes of tumeric and lemony fenugreek leaves, while chile and cilantro add just the right momentum to keep things bright.
The Pan-Fried Zucchini and Yellow Squash with Cumin is nothing short of fantastic. As with so many of her recipes, Bhide lets the ingredients speak for themselves, adding just the spices necessary to take the ordinary into the realm of outstanding. Pushing the « modern » aspect a step further, I served this over whole wheat pasta, though it would also be fabulous served alongside any grain.
Modern Spice makes a wonderful addition to any cook’s library, especially for those who love the spices that make Indian cuisine so unique. The majority of recipes can be prepared under 30 minutes, and the techniques and equipment used are basic, making them accessible to cooks of all experiences. I was rather disappointed by the lack of photos, however. Though beautifully bound, Modern Spice offers a modest 8 photos for over 220 recipes, a ratio I found to be rather frustrating. Another caveat is that some of the ingredients could prove somewhat difficult to find, depending on your location. That being said, the majority of recipes can be prepared without too much detective work, or with simple substitutions.
Modern Spice presents fresh ideas and new twists on traditional Indian dishes using well-loved spices and ingredients. Monica Bhide’s recipes will inspire your creative side, while reassuring the less daring cook with more familiar fare. Spend some time with Modern Spice, and you’ll breathe a little fresh air into your cooking routine.