Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Modern Spice Cookbook Review and a Cookbook Give-Away

If you love Indian food but are intimated by authentic recipes with 20+ ingredients -- most you've never heard of -- then Monica Bhide's new cookbook Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen is for you.

Bhide's book presents authentic Indian flavors in refreshing, modern ways. She often blends traditional Eastern and Western flavors creating unique, contemporary Indian dishes that are sure to inspire. The recipes tend to be short and straight forward, many ideal for easy mid-week meals. There are several vegetarian options and many meat dishes could easily be made vegetarian. The 100+ recipes are divided into the following categories: chutneys and marinades; modern drinks; appetizers, snacks, and salads; vegetables, beans, and lentiles; poultry, meat, and eggs; fish and shellfsih; rice and breads; and desserts. For each recipe, Bhide gives cooking tips and/or serving suggestions, and she personalizes the book by including several engaging stories about her family life. By the book's end, Bhide feels like a friend.

saffron and cardamom macaroons DSC_0377
Saffron-Cardamom Macaroons; I will post this recipe in the near future.

I highly recommend reading Bhide's introduction prior to starting in on the recipes. In the section "The Modern Spice Pantry, she provides an extensive list of Indian spices and ingredients, such as tandoori  masala, paneer, tamarind paste, and fenugreek seeds. She defines them, explains how to store them, and where to buy them, including online sites. If you do this step first, it'll make the actually cooking a breeze. It also helps to read "Monica's Kitchen Rules," which address issues such as the best cookware for Indian cooking (nonstick) and ingredient substitutions (coriander seeds, for example, are not a good substitute for fresh coriander leaves).

As for photos, the few that are included are beautiful. My only regret is that there weren't more.

Here are the recipes I made and my thoughts about them:

Pomegranate Chutney is made from pureed pomegranate seeds seasoned simply with lemon juice, ginger, chaat masala, and light brown sugar. This colorful chutney takes minutes to make and is wonderfully versatile. The sweet-tart flavors pairs well with chicken, pork, and, my favorite, sauteed shrimp.

Green Beans Subzi consists of green beans (I used fresh) and potatoes sauteed with garlic, tomato, and spices, including cumin seeds, and turmeric. This dish is easy to prepare and makes green beans and potatoes a lot more exciting than usual. The flavors are bold without being overwhelming, which makes this an ideal side dish for chicken, fish, pork, or beef.

Monica's Tomato and Coconut Fish Curry: Bhide's recipe introduction enticed me to make this one. She writes, "I have been cooking [this] for as long as I can remember. It is a favorite with adults and kids alike. My dad once told me it was his favorite. I cannot tell you how happy I was, since he has such discerning tastes." I'm with Monica's dad on this one: this recipe was my favorite as well. Catfish stars in this dish and is elevated to something special. The fish is gently cooked in a tomato-coconut milk bath that is seasoned liberally with spices such as mustard seeds, curry leaves, ginger, and turmeric. It's a perfect mid-week meal, since it's inexpensive, fast, and easy. I served it atop brown basmati rice. Although Bhide says one pound of catfish fillets serves 4, Jeff and I nearly finished it all.

Saffron-Cardamom Macaroons: I'm a sucker for macaroons and baked goods laced with cardamom, so it didn't take me long to make these cookies. They were amazingly fragrant and very sweet. I think they'd make a lovely holiday gift since they're both unusual and travel well.

Modern Spice will definitely secure a spot on my cookbook shelf; in fact, I already have a few more recipes marked to try soon. I hope you'll be making some of Bhide's recipes as well. 

Now for the exciting part! Two lucky Food Blogga readers will receive a complimentary copy of Monica Bhide's Modern Spice cookbook. Here's how to enter for your chance to win:

Just leave a comment below telling us about your favorite Indian dish. That's it. The deadline for entries is next Monday, November 9th, 11:50 pm PST. Winners will be selected randomly and announced on the 10th. Each winner must provide her or his full name and mailing address to receive the cookbook. Good luck!

Tomato and Coconut Catfish Curry DSC_0372

Monica's Tomato and Coconut Fish Curry
Recipe from Modern Spice
Serves 4
Prep/Cook Time: 40 minutes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoons black mustard seeds
10 fresh curry leaves
1 inch piece peeled fresh ginger, grated
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small green serrano chile, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon red chile powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound catfish fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 of a 13.5 ounce can coconut milk (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons)

1. In a large skillet heat the olive over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the mustard seeds. As soon as they crackle, add the curry leaves, ginger, garlic, and green chile. Saute for a few seconds to combine.

2. Add the tomato. Cook gently for 10-12 minutes, until the tomato is soft and the oil begins to leave the side of the mixture. You can add some water if the tomatoo begins to stick. I sometimes add a quarter-cup of water and cover the pan for 5-6 minutes. This helps cook the tomatoes faster. Then I uncover it and continue to cook until all the water evaporates.

3. Stir in the turmeric, chile powder, and salt. Cook for 1 minute.

4. Stir in the fish and cook 5 minutes.

5. Add the coconut milk. Let the mixture come to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the fish is tender. Serve immediately.

Monica Bhide was born in India and moved to the U.S. in 1991. She resides in Washington D.C. She is the author of The Everything Indian Cookbook and The Spice is Right and also writes a blog called A Life of Spice. Click here to view a short trailer about Bhide and Modern Spice narrated by the author.