A few weeks back I highlighted Monica Bhide's new cookbook, Modern Spice. Remember her Baked Chile Pea Puffs stuffed with peas, paneer cheese, chiles, and garlic? So. Good. Monica and I got to chatting a bit over email, and I asked her if she'd do a favorite cookbooks list for us. For those of you who aren't familiar with Monica's work - phew, it's hard to keep up. She has written for just about every publication you can imagine - The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Salon.com, National Geographic Traveler. And those are just a handful of the domestic titles - she writes internationally as well. She was born in India, now calls D.C. home, and traded in a corporate career to be a full-time food writer and cooking teacher. For those if you interested in that transition, I linked to an interview Monica gave (and a couple other related links) down below.
MONICA'S COOKING STYLE (in her own words):
I think I have a very easy going cooking style. I don't like to cook things that are very complicated and require hours of slaving in the kitchen. I have young kids, a full-time career and this keeps me very busy. My focus is always how to take good ingredients and bring out the best in them without messing with them too much! I don't like to recreate dishes from restaurants in general preferring mostly to create my own creations. I am a voracious reader and love to browse through books to look for ideas on dishes, usage of herbs or spices and love to be in other people's kitchens watching them cook. It really is the best way to learn.
FAVORITE COOKBOOKS (the ones she turns to most often for recipes and inspiration):
- Come for Dinner, Leslie Revsin - The late Leslie Revsin was actually the first woman chef at the Waldorf Astoria. I had always enjoyed reading about her but wondered how simple this amazing chef's recipes would really be. When I got my hands on this book, I was really stunned - simplicity married to intense flavor is really the charm of Leslie Revsin's recipes. Her approachable recipes reflect her innate understanding of ingredients and how gracefully they can come together. This book enables you to easily create classic dishes with Revsin's twists like a roasted tomato gazpacho with cumin.
- Savoring India, Julie Sahni - Julie Sahni is a cooking teacher and leading authority on Indian cuisine and has written this book. It has all the earmarks of a Williams-Sonoma publication-- it is simply divine! It is a gorgeous book with sumptuous recipes and mouth-watering photos. The book spans the Indian spectrum, bringing recipes from the deserts of Rajasthan, the beaches of Goa, and the emerald lagoons of Kerala. I often pick it up when I am homesick! It reminds me of my India.
- Taste Pure and Simple, Michel Nischan - Chef Michel Nischan's recipes showcase the essence of his philosophy: Use pure ingredients and get intense flavors. Chef Nischan, well known for his rich French style of cooking, changed course about ten years ago when he found out that his young son, Chris, had juvenile diabetes. "I got rid of processed sugars, cream, butter, and processed flours. It caused me to totally rethink my entire way of cooking," he says. His younger son Ethan, then 2, was diagnosed with the same disease. The chef made it his life's work to educate people on how to cook more healthfully. "It was hard back then," he says. "It was 1994 and fat was in - 'The flavor is in the fat' and 'No fat, no flavor' were the catchphrases." His first book, Taste Pure and Simple (Chronicle, 2003), became an overnight bestseller, second only to Harry Potter on Amazon! I adore this book for its simple yet flavorful recipes - sounds clichéd I know, but its true.
- Fat, by Jennifer McLagan - I know you only like to focus on vegetarian recipes but this really is one of my all time favorite books. The minute I read it, I knew it would win an award. It is amazingly well done and totally non-apologetic in its praises of fat and why different types of fat are essential to one's health. Fat is clearly controversial--but this book is really worth a read. The book has sections on butter, pork fat, poultry fat and beef and lamb fats and since many of these are not commercially available, McLagan shows readers how to render each fat.
- Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes, Jeanne Kelly - When I first got this book, its gorgeous cover caught my eye and it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship! The recipes are inviting not only because of the gorgeous pictures but also because they offer simple ingredient lists and the instructions are clear and easy to follow. In particular, I love the Hummus with Jalapeno-Cilantro pesto, Black beans with orange and chipotle, and Asparagus and peas with green garlic - YUM. All this and desserts too! You simply will not go wrong with this book.
- How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman - Mark's books have helped me every time I have struggled with the dilemma of - how exactly does one cook "insert vegetable name." I really like the simplicity and common sense of his approach in his books and one of the best things is that they are not intimidating. I read them and feel smarter and not stupider ( which I do feel when I read chefs books sometimes - I always walk away with the sense of "I could never do that."). Although this book has been parsed into smaller volumes (How to Cook Everything: The Basics; Holiday Cooking, etc.), I recommend buying the original.
- 660 Curries, Raghavan Iyer - I have always enjoyed Raghavan's books so when this one came out, I ordered it right away. It lives up to its promise to be extensive and very intense! This book will make you rethink the word and concept of "curry." Yes, there are traditional dishes like Mangalorean Chicken Curry with tamarind and coconut milk, Slow cooked creamy black lentils with whole spices and Eggplant with roasted chiles and tomatoes. But, ah, there is so much more - Cashew stuffed baby eggplant, Eggplant with apples and fennel, Unripe mango with pigeon peas, Cauliflower and spinach in a black-pepper-coconut milk sauce.. I could go on and on, there are over 600 recipes in this collection (as the title suggests.) Oh and for the lovers of Bend it Like Beckham, there is a lovely recipe for "Bolly Cauli" the cauliflower dish the heroine of the movie is, um, forced to make!
A big thanks to Monica for taking the time to share with us. For those of you interested in more links to her work...
- Monica's weekly spice column on the Washington Post website. (I Spice)
- Interview with her about being a freelance food writer (bizzia.com)
- Monica on Salon.com