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Author Profile - Monica Bhide

Monica Bhide is an award winning, bestselling fiction and internationally renowned cookbook author. She is known for sharing food, culture, mystery, and love in her writing. Having roots and experience in many places, Bhide inspires readers everywhere with present day stories which transcend cultural, chronological, geographical, economical, and religious borders.

Bhide's short story collection, The Devil in Us, topped the list on Kindle as a bestseller in its category of Literary Short Fiction. Her memoir, A Life of Spice, was picked by Eat Your Books as one of the top five food memoirs of 2015. Padma Lakshmi picked Bhide's Modern Spice, as one of the "Best Books Ever" for Newsweek in 2009. Her list of accolades is long and well-earned.

I thought I would share a little about Monica's books and in the future do a series of Author Profiles. Let me know in the comments if there are any authors you would like to see profiled. Monica's fiction writing involves food themes and some titles include recipes as well. These titles would be the perfect gift for the food lovers in your life. Her cookbooks are wonderful and Modern Spice is definitely one of my favorites and would make a perfect gift with a selection of warm Indian spices. Hint to my family and friends - my copy is getting worn. 

The Spice is Right: Easy Indian Cooking for Today was published in 2001 and is a down-to-earth Indian cookbook for the time-squeezed, health-conscious home cook. The book highlights more than 150 simple, healthful versions of traditional Indian dishes as well as Western dishes with an Indian twist. The book is organized into menus, with takes the guesswork out of planning an Indian meal. I made the Shrimp in Coconut Milk Curry years ago when my husband was out of town (he is anti-seafood of any type) and it was incredible. I think I need to send him out of town again.

The Everything Indian Cookbook: 300 Tantalizing Recipes--From Sizzling Tandoori Chicken to Fiery Lamb Vindaloo contains 300 recipes and is a part of the "Everything" series. I do not have this title and I don't know why - time to remedy that. Recipes include Indian-Style Coleslaw, Rice Pudding, and Indian Corn Flatbread and guides readers through preparing delicious Indian cuisine right in their own homes. From basic Indian flavors and spices to Indian cooking methods and meals, this offers a diverse set of recipes perfect for both vegetarians and meat-eaters.

Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen is my favorite cookbook written by Monica. It is beautiful that takes traditional dishes and updates them for modern American lifestyles and tastes. The recipes are not diffcult but are complex in flavor. I believe I have made almost all the chicken recipes in this title: the Indian Chicken Wings, Tamarind Chicken and Chicken with Mint and Ginger Rub are my favorites. Everyone needs Modern Spice in their collection.

A Life of Spice delivers Monica's relatable writing style that pulls you in and keeps you with her.  Sprinkled in the stories are helpful essays on a variety of spices - sage, turmeric, fennel seeds and more.  Monica is a gifted writer and her work is engaging and delicious! After all, Eat Your Books picked this title as one of the best food memoirs of 2015.

The Devil in Us is a collection of intriguing short stories that share a common thread - a moment in life that may change them forever. Train wrecks, addiction and other gripping tales that will haunt you long after you have finished the book. A great stocking stuffer for the reader in your life.

Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken is Monica's newest work of fiction. I have it downloaded and am just beginning it. Eshaan, the main character, wants to feed and nourish the hungry so they do not end up like his mother who suffered an untimely death. He runs into many barriers along his journey but finds a sliver of hope:  a local TV cooking competition that could be the answer to his prayers. I need to find time to devour this book because it reminds me a bit of The Hundred Food Journey. 

I hope you enjoyed this profile of Monica Bhide's work and I look forward to hearing your thoughts as well and suggestions for future features. If you would like to purchase any of these titles for yourself or as gifts - using the Buy Book button helps to aid in our indexing efforts for Eat Your Books and we greatly appreciate your support. 

A friendly reminder - a little less than three days to get your cooking and baking questions into Rick Rodgers. 

Author spotlight on Monica Bhide

Monica BhideIf you peek at EYB Member libraries, you are likely to find a volume or two from Monica Bhide. Jenny wrote an author profile back in November. The influential cook and author is known for sharing food, culture, love, and life with a lyrical voice and universal appeal. She has been named one of the top 10 food writers on Twitter, and has been featured in too many food magazines to mention. If you aren't following her blog, monicabhide.com, you should add it to your list of food sites to bookmark. 

It was while reading the blog that we became aware that Monica is going through a difficult time right now. Her husband suffered a devastating brain bleed in January, and although his prognosis is good, Monica will need to take time away from her writing to care for him. She has reached out to her fans, many of whom asked how they could help, and said the best thing they could do is buy one of her books. 

Not only would you be helping out a talented writer, you would also be helping yourself, as Monica's books are treasure troves of delicious recipes and enchanting stories. Her most popular book among EYB members is Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen, which offers a fresh, no-fuss take on the vibrant flavors of Indian cuisine. The book is rated with 4 out of 5 stars.

Monica has a few other books in the Library, incuding a few novels, such as the recent Karma and the Art of Butter Chicken, which has been nominated for an award for fiction from the Library of Virginia. You can learn more about her writing style by reading an essay she wrote for our blog a few years ago on how family recipes change over time. We wish the best for Monica and her husband during this difficult time. 

May 9th -update:  Jennifer Farley, on behalf of Monica and her family, has set up a GoFundMe to help the Bhides during this time. 

Monica Bhide

Monica Bhide looks at how family recipes change over time...

This morning I was making a lentil soup for my family, almost exactly the way my grandmother, in India,  taught me decades ago. Monica BhideOr so I first thought. Her recipe used six tablespoons of butter,  onions, garlic, red lentils, about eight different spices, loads of cilantro and a touch of salt. I recall my mom making this, but with much less butter, baby peas for us kids and no salt as Dad was watching his sodium. As I smelled the aroma of garlic from the soup that I was stirring, it occurred to me that my soup today was in truth a reflection of my life here in the US, far away from India: butternut squash, chicken stock instead of water and no cilantro as my hubby thinks it tastes soapy.

The changes to the recipe had occurred so slowly, so gradually, that I never really noticed that I had changed it. It made me think about all the recipes I made and how in fact, I had begun to change them to reflect our way of living.  At first, I have to admit I felt guilty, almost as if changing the recipe meant I was changing the memory of a childhood taste. Familiar childhood tastes give us a place to belong: they bear witness to our lives. Changing them seemed sacrilegious.

When I told my mother this, she reminded me that she in fact cooked the same way.   In fact, I remember, over thirty years ago, my mother had sat down and jotted some of her favorite recipes in a note book that I took with me to college.   What l loved in it most was not the recipes but her notes along the margins:  Reduce the chili. Add extra sugar for Monica. Reduce butter because the taste is too greasy.  This could easily qualify as our family cookbook because in addition to recipes, it holds our memories.  My mother lives oceans away but her cookbook is my constant companion in the kitchen providing warmth, support and comfort. In the margins now are my own notes of what my family likes.

But it is not just recipes that get passed down and changed.  Even the way food is cooked depends on so many cultural traditions, and can change as we grow. As each successive generation learns what and how to cook, they often just accept that what they've learned go hand in hand. But then, without even realizing, they do something different.

It's funny how culture shows up where you least expect it. I remember learning to cook without tasting my food. You see, when I learned to cook from my grandmother, she taught me never to taste the food during cooking. Why? Because in our household,  the first serving of food was always intended for the Divine. To taste the food when you cooked it would make it impure. So I learned how to cook by watching the potatoes brown until just tender in heated oil, singing a song, just long enough, to perfectly boil eggs, , listening to the spices sizzle in hot oil and to the herbs impart their aroma in dishes when added at just the right time.  And now I teach my son to cook the same way-I am always making him smell, touch, listen to food to learn how to cook it perfectly. But he breaks with "my" tradition:  he does love to taste!

When I was growing up, one of my best comfort foods was watching my father prepare his pièce de résistance - his Indian-style scrambled eggs. He would shimmer some oil,  throw in onions, tomatoes, green chilies and cilantro. Chat with me until the tomatoes softened,  then add the eggs and scramble them. The final addition would be turmeric and cayenne. The sweet smell of the onions, the lemony scent of cilantro, I associate them all with my father's love. Not only did I love the recipe, I loved breaking the eggs for him, feeling all grown up when he would let me pluck fresh cilantro from the herb pots, and chatting with him as he cooked.   I introduced this dish to my husband and then to my sons.

On a recent visit to India, it warmed my heart to have to wait in line for my father's scrambled eggs behind my boys. As I waited patiently, I heard my husband explain to my dad how much he loved the dish. And then he went onto explain our family rendition of the scrambled eggs-- using Indian cheese instead of eggs, mint instead of cilantro and jalapeno instead of green chilies.   Changing a recipe, it turns out, doesn't make it less of an heirloom--in fact, it only makes it more our own.

NPR stories worth catching

Susie was featured on NPR yesterday talking about her selection of the best cookbooks of 2009 - you can hear her discussion with Lianne Hansen on Weekend Edition.

Another interesting piece on NPR recently was a discussion between Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker and Monica Bhide, author of Modern Spice, with Rebecca Roberts on Talk of the Nation. This is a fascinating analysis, prompted by Adam's piece in the New Yorker, "What's the Recipe? Our Hunger for Cookbooks" about why we buy, use and above all love our cookbooks.

Top food writers on Twitter

There are thousands of food writers on Twitter, many of them amateurs, so Mashable has selected what they consider the top 10 professionals on Twitter.  Included are some friends of Eat Your Books:

 Twitter

Amanda Hesser @amandahesser of Food52

Monica Bhide @mbhide

Kenji Alt @TheFoodLab (of Serious Eats)

Check out the list and let us know who else you think should be included - we are always happy to find new food writers to follow.  Others that we like are:

Joe Yonan @joeyonan (Washington Post food editor)

David Leite @davidleite of Leite's Culinaria

Jay Rayner @jayrayner1 of The Guardian

An Interview with Faith Durand

Faith Durand

We recently chatted with Faith Durand. Durand, the executive editor of the Kitchn, is not only a blogger extraordinaire (over 11,000 posted), but the author of a recent cookbook, Bakeless Sweets: Pudding, Panna Cotta, Fluff, Icebox Cake, and More No-Bake Desserts. She discussed the motivation and purpose behind the cookbook, as well as the difference between writing a blog and a cookbook.

(And she's also offering three copies to EYB members - just post a comment below by June 7 describing your favorite no-bake dessert. Make sure you are signed-in so we can contact you.) 

"When I tell people I just wrote a cookbook with 150 recipes for pudding and other no-bake desserts (B), their eyes go wide. "What did you DO with all that pudding?" they exclaim. Then come the consoling noises about the prolonged sugar coma I must have endured. Yes, my refrigerator was consistently studded with bowls of pudding this past year (not to mention Deepest Chocolate Mousse, and Salted Caramel Risotto, and Yogurt Pudding Squares with Raspberry, and Lemon Icebox Cake…), but far from this being a hardship, I felt like the luckiest cookbook developer in the world. Pudding is one of the great desserts, and it deserved its own book. 

Pudding, to me, is one of the most deeply luxurious desserts, made to be slowly licked off a spoon, swirls of butterscotch or coconut cream pudding in a pretty bowl. I grew up with homemade custards and chocolate pudding, and as I fell in love with cooking, I found some of my favorite authors shared a nostalgic love for this homey, often British-inspired dessert. Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and More Home Cooking  frequently celebrate the simplest pleasures, like the slow-cooked lemon rice pudding made of just four ingredients, or the deeply awesome coffee fluff  - a blend of coffee jelly and whipped cream. She introduced me to Jane Grigson, whose honeycombed lemon jelly beats Jell-O to a pulp with its fresh lemon sweetness. Trifles, custards, jellies, no-bake cookies and the homey American icebox cake - these are all the desserts that are special and delicious (a strawberry icebox cake recipe at The Kitchn has been viewed over a million times; people love these!). 

It's very rare to find a space in the cookbook world that is not comfortably covered a dozen times over by other authors. But the cookbook that celebrated the art of pudding and other no-bake desserts was nowhere to be found. I couldn't believe my luck; these are the desserts I love the most, and that bring the most pleasure when I make them, so the opportunity to write this book, Bakeless Sweets, felt like the biggest treat in the world. It's different from nearly every dessert book out there right now, and while I adore my well-read shelf of baking books, I wanted this pudding book to stand beside it. 

Writing a book, however, is very different from writing for the web - which is what I do every day. In my day job, as executive editor of The Kitchn, I write and edit for home cooks (over the past 6 years I've written over 11,000 blog posts). The feedback loop is immediate: I can have an idea, write it up, and hear from a reader five minutes later that it really could use some improvement!

Cookbooks have a different cycle, obviously. The website is a work in progress; it's easy to change and update as time goes by, and we're always working to make our recipes, tips, and cooking lessons even better. With a book, however, eventually you get to a point where it's all set firmly and irrevocably in ink on paper. But I love the way that readers talk back to us about our recipes at The Kitchn, and bring their own stories into the mix. I wanted that for this book, even in a small way, so I asked some food writer friends to share their own stories about puddings and some tips for their favorite no-bake desserts. Dorie Greenspan told me what she loves most about creme brûlée; Monica Bhide describes what makes a really good kheer; Nancie McDermott instructed me in the classic Southern banana puddin'. I felt I drew a little of the blog world into the book, with many voices adding their experience. 

And of course every cookbook, in some way, offers many voices, each recipe rising up out of many kitchens. The butterscotch pudding in Bakeless Sweets, while tested and tweaked in my own kitchen, is very close to the butterscotch pudding, thick and creamy, that has been delighting people for hundreds of years. I'm just the latest voice in the chain of cooks, and I hope that more carry on with their bowls of pudding, their tiramisu, their summery panna cotta, because of Bakeless Sweets and the voices inside."

As mentioned above, we have three copies of Bakeless Sweets to give away - just post a comment below by June 7 describing your favorite bakeless dessert.  Make sure you are signed-in so we can contact you if you win.

This contest is now closed.  Using a random number generator, our lucky winners are ellabee, dbielick and rivergait.


Bakeless Sweets 

Indian Cookbooks - A World of Spice

Often in The Cookbook Junkies, members ask "what is your favorite fill-in-the-blank (Indian, Mexican, Thai) cookbook." I've been collecting the responses and will be doing a series of posts sharing the results.

Today's post features Indian cookbooks which definitely are favorites in my collection. The warm, earthly spices used in Indian dishes can bring an awakening punch to our menus. 

Raghavan Iyer is a trusted name in food circles and his title 660 Curries: Plus Biryanis, Breads, Pilafs, Raitas, and More always comes up multiple times in these types of threads in the group. Raghavan has authored a number of titles that are all in my collection - and his latest Smashed, Mashed, Boiled, and Baked...and Fried, Too!: A Celebration of Potatoes in 75 Irresistible Recipes was covered in my review which shared his recipe for Kung Pao Potatoes - incredibly delicious.

Suvir Saran is another favorite with three cookbooks: Indian Home Cooking, American Masala and Masala Farm. I found Suvir on Top Chef and have been in love ever since. He is the Executive Chef/Owner of Dévi, where he shares the authentic flavors of Indian home cooking in his Michelin star New York City restaurant. I've made a number of dishes from his cookbooks all with stellar results.

 

Madhur Jaffrey is a trusted name in Indian cooking - I have a number of her many books in my collection. Now regarded by many as the world authority on Indian food, Madhur Jaffrey was born in Delhi and is an award-winning actress (her daughter is an actress as well; her recent roles include Sleepy Hollow and Timeless) as well as a bestselling author. Her first book, An Invitation to Indian Cookery, was published in 1973 and since then she has written over 15 cookbooks, now considered classics in their field, including Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible and Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian. She has appeared in over 20 films, including Merchant Ivory's Heat and Dust and Cotton Mary. In 2006 she published her memoir of childhood, Climbing the Mango Trees.

Prashad Cookbook: Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Prashad at Home: Indian Cooking from Our Vegetarian Kitchen by Kaushy Patel are two favorites of mine. Prashad at Home I reviewed last year here at Eat Your Books. Both titles are very approachable and will allow you to experiment with flavors and spices. without being overwhelmed.

 

The Indian Accent Restaurant Cookbook by Manish Mehrotra is a stunning book that my friend, Marc, sent me a while back and it is glorious. The Indian Accent restaurant opened in 2009 with an inventive Indian menu at The Manor, New Delhi and the cookbook is based on the restaurant's path-breaking contemporary Indian menu by award-winning chef Manish Mehrotra. With photographs by Rohit Chawla, among India's foremost food photographers, the cookbook has a selection of recipes to excite the adventurous while satisfying traditional palates. The New York location of this restaurant opened last year to critical acclaim.

Monica Bhide's books are keepers whether they are cookbooks or her works of fiction. I've profiled Monica and her books previously and direct you to that post for more information about this talented writer and cookbook author.


Vikas Khanna
's books are simply gorgeous as well and I have most of them (and want them all). They are full of stunning photographs, delectable recipes and will survive any future cookbook purges. Vikas is a Michelin-star chef, amongst other accomplishments - in addition to being a humanitarian - and it doesn't hurt that he is incredibly handsome. (which has little bearing on my love of his cookbooks). 

Vikram Vij's books are all in my collection and recently I reviewed his latest cookbook for Eat Your Books. The Canadian chef is well respected and I hope to eat in his restaurant - it's on my bucket list with Suvir's, Vikas' and Indian Accent.

A stunner of a book last year's My Two Souths: Blending the Flavors of India into a Southern Kitchen by Asha Gomez is a beautiful balance of Indian flavors colliding with Southern favorites. You can check out more about My Two Souths in my promotion post.

Five Morsels of Love by Archana Pidathala is a book that caught me by surprise with its touching story of the author's love for her grandmother and the unfinished cookbook ammama had left behind. "Her incredible culinary art and a lifetime of cooking had been captured in a rather modest looking Telugu cookbook", Archana was not a cook herself but vowed to finish this labor of love and what an amazing job she did.  Vibrant photographs of the dishes that dance from the pages accompany each recipe. Sweet Potatoes in a Jaggery-Infused Tamarind Sauce, Stir-fried Plantain in a Spiced Lentil Powder, Raw Mango Rice and Meatball Biryani tempt us to break out of our comfort zones and create these dishes warmed with spice and the love of Archana and her grandmother.

The Indecisive Chicken by Prajna Desai shares the stories and recipes of eight Dharavi cooks. The book's title comes from one of the contributors who did not cook chicken because her husband thought it was a "silly bird" and eating it would make one stupid. The title grabbed my attention, the story grabbed my heart  and opened my eyes. This book was brought to life as a result of a culinary seminar offered by Prajna Desai, who is by trade an art historian. Desai did not want to impart her knowledge in this seminar, she wanted her attendees to be the teachers. Eight Dharavi women who attended each session are featured in this book. The Indecisive Chicken delivers a look into the everyday world of Indian working class families - what they cook and what they eat. This bi-lingual book which is written both in English and Hindi is packed with photos of both the beautiful women behind the stories as well as photos of the dishes and preparation photos. These are recipes not found in Indian restaurants - these are recipes shared from the heart of Dharavi - the home kitchen. Recipes for Phara (channa, urad, and rice flour dumplings - a photo of these delectable bites is shared in the NPR story above), Bakheer (sugarcane rice),  Besan Bhauri (stuffed puri) and Dhapate (healthy parathas) are examples of what you will find in this one-of-a-kind book.

Other titles that have come up on our favorite Indian book posts include:

Lastly, I am so excited for The Juhu Beach Club Cookbook: Indian Spice, Oakland Soul by Preeti Mistry which is coming out in October.

Please leave a comment here with your picks for best Indian cookbooks.

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