Thursday, September 9, 2010

Book review - Modern Spice

I have known Monica Bhide, almost as long as I have been a food writer. In fact she was kind enough to guide me on many early queries on aspects of food writing. I was always curious to get a look at her cookbooks (she has two previous cookbooks to her name; The Spice is Right and The Everything Indian Cookbook) but I never got my hands on one because they did not make it to India. So I was determined to change that when I heard that about her latest offering 'Modern Spice' and had asked someone in the US to pick up one. But it turned out I did not need to however, because Random House released an Indian edition and were kind enough to send me a copy. A lot of cookbooks wash up on my doorstep, but very few pass the test that gets them through to this blog. Modern Spice did.

Indian cooking is a classic example of fusion going right. And anyone that scoffs about that or about fusion is too full of themselves and needs to get a good dose of Chopsuey Dosa in Mumbai! That is a story for another post however. The point I am trying to make is that Indian cuisine is a classic example of fusion. The roots of Indian cuisine were put down millennia ago when the geographical borders of the sub continent of India were drawn. Indigenous ingredients were harvested by ancient civilizations of India and the resultant cuisine formed the base of Indian Cuisine as we know it. However, the sub continent of India spans many climates zones and is home to a variety of flora and fauna. So as civilizations spread out over the subcontinent with time, they took with them the food ways they practiced but adapted them to suit locally available ingredients.

And today the world is a much smaller place. Indians have moved all over the world taking their cuisine with them and adapting it to what is locally available. In a modern day evolution, Monica has adapted the culinary knowledge she inherited, to the foods she has found in America. The difference is that where expat accounts of food cooked abroad once read as an account of traditional curries and Indian food cooked painstakingly from scratch by mothers and grandmothers to recreate the flavours of home and carried melancholy undertones, Monica’s book reflects a more refreshing positive evolution, a reflection of the lives of Indians living abroad today, easy, fun, intensely flavourful and inclusive! This is food to welcome, become a PART of a world that is coming closer, evolving together not exclude, by saying – you would not understand Indian spices.....

In the forward, Monica says “Just because we have always done something in one way, it does not make it the only way to do it” and that to this cook who like to experiment with ingredients and push them to their limits is what appeals. Monica Bhide’s book Modern spice gives the world a small taste of what you can do with a little Indian spice and exotica such as Brussels Sprouts and Broccoli we have only just begun to experiment with in dishes other than salads and Chinese food!

I look at a cookbook for inspiration and Modern Spice offered lots of new ideas I especially loved the drinks section that sexed up homely classics such as ROOH AFZA (of all things) into a sultry Rum and roses and spiked a plain old Pineapple juice with chillies to make Hot Passion. But that said my biggest grouse is that there are no pictures. A lot of pain has been taken to lay out pages and add breaks in text with innovative touches of colour and graphics but it would have been nice to actually see what some of the more unusual recipes looked like when I was trying to decide what to make!

All eaten and tasted however, I think this is a great book to invest in, as a gift for non Indians wanting to try their hand at Indian influenced cooking; it keeps a western audience in mind, using ingredients found in most western supermarkets. But (and this is even while I am aware that some of the ingredients used are not available in India) it is also a great book for the modern Indian cook who likes a little adventure. The recipes are designed with the modern sensibilities of health in mind: lighter than most traditional Indian recipes and easy to cook in spite of frantic schedules we have these days.

Shrimp in Green Mango Butter Sauce
Serves: 4
Prep/Cook Time: 20 mintues
Green mangoes cooked in a sweet butter sauce add a delightfully different tart, tangy, and sweet touch to this shrimp curry. Serve this with steamed basmati rice.
3½ tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
10 fresh curry leaves
2 large or 4 to 6 small shallots, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon table salt to start
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
¼ cup chicken stock
1½ pounds or about 650 grams jumbo
shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup diced, peeled green (unripe) mango
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup water
Half a fresh lemon
1. Heat two and a half tablespoons of the butter and the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until the foam subsides. Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves and sauté just until the mustard seeds pop.
2. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté for two to three minutes until aromatic and golden.
3. Add the turmeric, salt, pepper, broth, and shrimp and simmer for a few minutes until the shrimp is almost cooked through. Remove from the heat.
4. In a medium pan, melt the remaining one tablespoon of butter on medium heat. Add the mango and sugar and sauté for a minute. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cook for five to seven minutes until the mango starts to soften.
5. Transfer the mango mixture to the saucepan containing the shrimp. Mix well, then reheat gently. Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon juice.

GYAAN and legend
Priced at Rs. 499, Modern Spice is published by Random House India. Monica Bhide is a cookery writer and blogger whose articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economic Times, Femina, Bon Appetit and eGullet. In addition to her writing, Monica owns and operates her own cooking school which has been featured in Bon Appetit.

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