As Indian cuisine gains popularity -- with chic restaurants opening worldwide and serving inventive Indian dishes -- home cooks are becoming more adventurous with the ingredients that make Indian food so alluring. Monica Bhide, author of Modern Spice, shares the inspiration for her book as well as 10 tips for cooking Indian cuisine.
Modern Indian cuisine updates classic Indian cooking
According to Bhide, who was born in New Delhi and raised in the Middle East, traditional Indian cuisine is wonderful, aromatic and complex, requiring many types of spices and time-consuming techniques.
The intricacy and time involved in preparing classic Indian food can be quite daunting to the novice or time-challenged cook. Bhide, who treasures classic Indian food, says the new generation of Indian Americans love tradition but desire Indian dishes that fit with their modern lifestyles.
She explains, "There is a new generation of Indian American cooks emerging. We love tradition but embody change. We respect technique but are playful. Our style is refined; our tastes are global. Just like traditional curries and dishes cooked painstakingly from scratch reflect our mothers' and grandmothers' generations, our dishes reflect our modern lifestyles."
For Bhide, modernizing Indian cuisine has meant learning how to use spices in a simpler way -- to show off their flavors without complications and confusion, as she so eloquently presents in her cookbook.
"Modern Spice is about capturing the cuisine of this new generation," she says. "The dishes are vibrant and have enticing flavors, yet they are simpler, refined and adapted to modern lifestyles. I feel that this book takes my mother's cooking and translates it for my generation, which embraces the same flavors but is not stuck on any absurd marker of authenticity that no longer exists."
10 Tips for cooking Indian cuisine
Bhide's recipes are based on childhood memories, her extensive travel and conversations with friends and renowned Indian chefs. They reflect the traditional flavors of Indian cuisine but aren't wrought with long lists of hard-to-find ingredients. Modern Spice gives home cooks an accessible guide to cooking Indian food along with personal essays, time-saving and flavor-boosting tips, and factual tidbits about her cherished cuisine.
If you are new to Indian cooking, Bhide suggests to start simply by adding Indian spices to recipes you already make. Then start experimenting with other Indian ingredients. Here are her 10 easy cooking tips to bring Indian flavors to your table.
1. Put an Indian spin on everyday dishes. For example, try adding spices to dishes you already make. Sizzle some cumin, saffron or other Indian spices in hot oil and pour over mashed potatoes.
2. Warm up chili and stews. Spice things up with cumin, coriander and cinnamon.
3. Add a bit of cayenne. Cayenne, just a touch, adds zing to bland soups.
4. Give meatloaf new depth. Darker spices like cloves and cinnamon, freshly ground, add wonderful depth to meatloaf and other meat-based dishes.
5. Make curry marinades. Mild curry powder is a very flavorful mix to add to marinades for chicken, beef and lamb. Bhide says, "I advise adding it to yogurt, along with minced ginger and garlic. Mix well and then marinate your meats in it."
6. Try Indian cheese. Paneer is made with cow's milk and is sold in brick form in most Indian stores and even in local grocery stores now. Bhide suggests grating it on a cheese grater and using it instead of eggs for a scramble! Heat some oil, and add cumin, bell peppers, paneer, salt, pepper and turmeric. Saute for a few moments or until bell peppers are soft.
7. Make paneer croutons. Paneer is also wonderful in place of bread croutons, and it's certainly more nutritious. Cut the cheese into small cubes and pan fry for a few moments.
8. Be creative with chutney. Blend up some cilantro, mint, red onion, salt, pepper and lemon juice for a super-simple chutney that does triple duty as a salad dressing, simmering sauce for chicken and spread for buttered bread!
9. Spice up your rice. Add a few cloves and a touch of cumin seeds to hot oil, add the rice, and cook as you would normally. This yields a very toasty flavor.
10. Don't forget the drinks. Add a touch of saffron to homemade lemonade or other beverages to make them exotic and delightful.
For more information and to read Bhide's blog, A Life of Spice, visit MonicaBhide.com.