October 19, 2009

Modern Spice by Monica Bhide: A Review & Tomato-Basil Pilaf

This book review came about thanks to BloggerAid…Changing the Face of Famine. BloggerAid...Changing the Face of Famine" is a growing group of international food bloggers who are determined to make a difference in aid of world famine. As part of this effort, they will be releasing “The BloggerAid Cookbook" which compiles recipes contributed by food bloggers across the world. The proceeds from the sale of this cookbook will benefit Friends of WFP.

BloggerAid has also partnership agreements with various cookbook publishers to offer its members book and product reviews.
As a part of this agreement Simon & Schuster, publishers of "Modern Spice- Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen" by Monica Bhide, sent me a copy to review.

An engineer turned food writer, Monica Bhide was born in India, raised in the Middle East and now lives in the U.S. She writes for various publications and her blog.

The foreword of Modern Spice is written by Mark Bittman who says, "Indian cooking remains the most under-rated and probably the least understood of the world's greatest cuisines.

Monica Bhide's book "Modern Spice" tries to address this by introducing Indian spices to contemporary kitchens with a different approach. As she says in her book, "As a new generation of modern Indians, we are changing everything. We love tradition, but embody change; our style is refined, our tastes are global".

This change is reflected in her recipes in this book. Monica uses the spices found in most Indian kitchens to cook up dishes with a more modern and international flavour. Her recipes are really not Indian, but more Western in many of the basic ingredients she uses in her recipes.
What is Indian about this book are the basic techniques and the spices Monica uses. If you are looking for a book with recipes for "typical" Indian cooking this is not the book for you.

So her book has recipes for drinks with very Indian flavours, even though alcoholic beverages are not traditionally served in Indian homes. There are relishes with unusual flavour combinations, very Indian and not so Indian appetizers/ main dishes/ sides/ desserts with very traditionally un-Indian main ingredients like broccoli, kumquats, squash, Brussels sprouts, etc.
Yet, every recipe in this book has a very unmistakable Indian flavour in it somewhere.

The recipes in this book are well presented and one thing I liked about them is that they require relatively few ingredients and very little time spent in the kitchen.
The recipes are categorized under Chutneys and Marinades, Modern Drinks, Appetizers/ Snacks and Salads, Vegetables, Lentils and beans, Poultry, meat And Eggs' Fish and Shellfish, Rice & Breads and Desserts.

There is also a particularly useful chapter on the various spices used in an Indian kitchen (and in this book), with descriptions of each spice, how to use it along with information on the various brands available in stores (in the U.S.). She also provides some mail order sources for many of these ingredients.

I found this book of Monica's a bit different from many other cookbooks in that she has included essays, throughout the book, about some of her experiences and memories which are food related. This has the effect of a cookbook that not only tells you how to cook, but also talks to you.

On the negative side, perhaps more pictures of food cooked with these recipes would have made this book more helpful to readers who are unfamiliar with these dishes.
As a vegetarian, I found that many of the recipe are non-vegetarian, but with a little imagination and creativity, many of those recipes could be adapted to a suit a vegetarian.

Indian Onion Rings with Chaat Masala (Perfect with Tea/ Coffee)

V's Ps (Seasoned Potatoes)

Chilled Mango-Papaya Soup (Unusually Good Dessert!)

Some of the recipes in this book that I tried and we liked very much were the Indian Onion Rings with Chaat Masala, V's P's (Monica's friend Vrinda's style of cooking potatoes), Tomato-Basil Pilaf and Chilled Mango-Papaya Soup.
While I might not have bought this book because of the non-vegetarian recipes, I'm definitely going to try some more of the recipes now I have this book!

Tomato-Basil Pilaf

Here's Monica's Tomato-Basil Pilaf which I made (Serves 4, Prep/ Cook Time: 30 minutes).


1 tbsp vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed

2 small tomatoes, diced

1 1/2 tsp dried basil

1/4 tbsp salt (I used 1/2 tsp)

1 cup basmati rice

2 cups vegetable broth or water

Fresh basil leaves for garnishing


In a deep lidded saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, tomatoes, dried basil and salt. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes are slightly softened, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the rice and mix well. Add the broth and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook until the rice is tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Do not lift the cover while the rice is cooking.
Remove from the heat. Remove the large garlic pieces. Serve hot, topped with fresh basil.

I served this rice with V's P's, and a raita (a seasoned yogurt preparation) to make a light yet filling lunch.


Helene said...

Love the review, can you post the potatoes recipe?

sra said...

V's Ps? That's funny and nice :) Nice pic of it too, and that of the onion rings as well. I will look out for this and see if I want to buy it!

giz said...

Great review Aparna - happy to see that you found things that are either very interesting or can be converted easily. Did you send a link to the publishers?

DK said...

Luv the pilaf! Actually I dont buy that many cookbooks owing to the fact that I consider buying say 100 page cookbook which has about 50 pages full of non veg (usually its more)! I am better off noting down recipes from a library or something! - May be I am miserly may I am not! ;)

I am trying the pilaf!

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

This sounds like a great book for people to fuse Indian flavours and traditions with foods available in mainstream North American markets.
I'll put it on my wishlist - thanks for the great review!

Prathibha said...

That indian style onion rings r really tempting....hmm y dont u post the recipe of it??
Lovely pilaf with basil flavor in it..I m sure it would hv tasted yumm..

Jamie said...

I love Indian cooking/food but I am also glad that she has brought Indian flavors and spices into more American cuisine, as you say, because that is one way of jazzing up otherwise plain recipes but also getting people who tend to stay away from more exotic cuisines to try and fall in love with this wonderful culture and cooking.

Your dishes look fabulous, especially those Onion Rings. MMM.

arundati said...

i was wondering if basil in a pulav would taste good, and now you posted this... must try... i also love the pic of the potatoes... its one of your best....

jayasree said...

Sounds like a honest review of the book.

Liked the onion rings. Looks perfect. All the pics are lovely.

Cham said...

I was wondering seeing the cover page what u might have cooked! The pilaf is simply gorgeous!

Spice Rack said...

Thanks for the review, I'll have to get the cookbook.

Happy cook said...

Looks like you made lots from the book. I too have the book which i won :-) in a comment and i totally agree it is having delicous different recipes.

Anonymous said...


The onion rings look mouthwatering ..is it possible to share the recipe it looks real tempting nice pics


Anonymous said...


The onion rings look mouthwatering ..is it possible to share the recipe it looks real tempting nice pics


Aparna said...

Yes, Helene. I shall post the recipe for the potatoes soon. Will let you know when I do.

Catchy name, Sra. Tastes good too.

Thanks Giz. Yes, I did. A mail and link to the publishers and to Monica as well.

Dhivya, I tend to resist buying cookbooks fr the same reason. I somehow seemed to have collected a large number of baking books though. :)

Do that Natashya, I think you will enjoy this book.

Prathibha and Anu, I'm not sure its a great idea to publish all of Monica's recipes. Would be glad to send them to you if you e-mail me though.

You just said it, Jamie. The Onion rings ae good.

Oh basil is excellent in pulav, Arundati. And you have plenty of it too. :)

LOL, Cham.

Good, so you won it huh? There's plenty in it for you to cook, HC.

M D said...

Love all ur pics and recipes. They are outstanding. Nice review on the book too. Well written.