Favorite Cookbooks: Monica Bhide Recipe

Food writer and cookbook author Monica Bhide shares her favorite cookbooks with us.

Favorite Cookbooks: Monica Bhide

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

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Thank you for this post – great reading.
I tried Monica’s pea puffs recipe the other week for a pot-luck dinner and after everyone tried their first one, they fell on the plate like ravenous dogs and they were all gone within five minutes.


Heidi, I love when you share favorite cookbooks/authors.
I just met Bryant Terry of Vegan Soul Kitchen at a book signing in DC on June 2. Thank you for introducing his work to me! I love his cookbook and look forward esp to the section on watermelon.
HS: So glad you were able to meet Bryant! He’s fantastic. I pulled some of his Jamaican Veggie Patties out of the freezer and popped them in the oven last weekend. So. Good.


I love trying out new cookbooks … those look good … especially Bittman’s … sounds like the perfect book my brother 🙂
I’m actually waiting for a new one right now … Ratio: the Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking!!! I can’t wait!


I’m at my local libary today requesteing this wonderful cookbook!
Thanks for your recommendation:)


I requested that cookbook from your recommendation and got it for my birthday! It’s such a great book… I look forward to trying it out. Thanks again for suggesting it.


You always have such great book recommendations! I will definitely have to check this one out. Thanks!

Tabitha (From Single to Married)

Thanks for more recommended reading.
I love to cook simply. I think the fresher the ingredients, the nicer they are to leave as simple as possible.
But, then, it is also nice to add some spice now and again.

Myrtle Luma

I just reviewed Modern Spice for a book review magazine and have to agree that it is a truly beautiful and wonderful book! I highly recommend it also. Love your blog, your suggestions, recipes, and pictures!

jen boda

Oooh! I’m with her on Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes! I’d highly recommend the pecan sticky buns recipe and those serious serious brownies. Just a small square will do! I have a young child and so tend not to try complicated new recipes anymore, but both of these were very simple but outta this world good. Heidi, just like your site and cookbook features fresh seasonal produce, so does Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes. The book also has a section on vegetable gardening and keeping a brood of hens for eggs!


I read the article in Salon on coffee. I then spent the rest of the day researching coffee. It has changed the way I will buy, brew, and enjoy coffee. Thank you!


i wish we had those books here 🙁 i didnt see even one of them in a regular book store. how sad is that?!
well i guess thats what amazon’s for. 😛


What a great list! I am only familiar with two of the books on Monica’s list. I’ll be doing a search on the library’s database for the other books first thing tomorrow. Thanks for a great post!

Cookin' Canuck

Great profile and a helpful list too! Thanks! Appreciate the links as well.

nithya at hungrydesi

Thank you so much for including a review of Michael Nischan’s book, which can be a great resource for people who have elevated blood sugar, whether type 1 or type 2 diabetes. We write extensively about related issues at http://dentistryfordiabetics.com/blog, especially the links between elevated blood sugar and gum disease that can interfere with diabetes control and significantly increase risk of serious health events such as heart attack, stroke and blindness.
– Charles Martin, DDS
Founder, Dentistry For Diabetics

Dr. Charles Martin

Oooh I’m interested in Fat! Been reading and thinking a lot about this topic lately.

Michelle @ Find Your Balance

Great selection! I especially like the book on Fat.


thank you for sharing.


What a great list—thanks for posting. LOVE Michel Nischan too, and have had the pleasure of interviewing him for an article. Good man, good food!!!!

Season to Taste/The Secret Ingredient

Heidi, just where do you store all these wonderful books you review. You must have a whole library room full of cooking books. I can just see you saying in such a room, “The recipe I’m looking for is in here somewhere! Now let me see. Hmm!” …or maybe that’d just be me!


Great list and comments. I do feel deprived, though, of my daily recipe!
HS: No worries Hetal, I have a good one ready to post Wednesday night!

Hetal Dalal

What a beautiful portrait.
Thanks for sharing – so many books I’ve never heard of.

Heidi Robb

This is just what I was looking for when I came to your site today :] I wanted to put together a list of cookbooks to check out. Thanks Heidi!!


I love the Savoring India cookbook. I’ll have to check out the others – they sound wonderful!

Sarah (Coffee Beans and Curry Leaves)

Wow! That was really helpful and inspiring! I loved the mix of books here! I will be checking these out! I liked that Monica shared that she has to keep it simple too. Because of time & kids, I, am in the same boat as well! This will give me some great reading! Thanks! – Chris Ann


More book recommendations – yippee!
If anyone reading Heidi lives in or around northern Virginia, Bryant Terry, the author of Vegan Soul Kitchen (profiled herein a while back) is appearing at the Shirlington Library (Arlington) Wednesday, June 3, at 7 pm. Hopefully with samples …


Great interview — also enjoyed her interview on food writing.


I’m enticed. I love cooking and eating Indian food and Monica’s style sounds like it fits with mine; easy and full of flavour. Yet keeping it simple and letting the natural flavours shine through.

Marissa Makes

A word of advice to HappyTummy: Go NOW and buy this amazing book! You won’t be disappointed. The yummy dishes she has included are just as Reginald observed: simple, engaging and fun. This is my first attempt at really delving into Indian food cooking, and I feel like Monica’s warm, wise and witty presence is looking over my shoulder as I chop, cook and celebrate this food. She’s so inspiring!


i love indian food, but i’ve yet to try a recipe by monica bhide. i’ve had modern spice on the top of my wish list since it came out last month–this post may just be the kick i need to go out and buy it!


While I haven’t had a chance to pick up her new book, I was introduced to Monica’s work a short time ago (through her WP column).
She’s a great talent.
Her writing style is much like the dishes that she highlights – simple, engaging and fun.
I have become a fan of her column (and its unique dishes/flavor profiles) because I often walk away challenged and thinking, “That sounds amazing. Why didn’t I think of that?”
For budding food writer like myself, her work definitely inspires.


I love these cookbook sections. Would it be possible to put the publish date next to the cookbook? Thanks


Thanks for sharing Monica’s favorites! I must admit cooking Indian is something I haven’t quite gained the confidence to do much at home. My husband really loves Indian food so I’m trying to cook more of it. Reading the ingredients list from some of the prepared jarred curries always turns me off, so I’ve added Monica’s book on my never-ending “I want this cookbook list”.


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