Cookbook Review

About the Author
    Monica Bhide, author of The Spice is Right: Easy Indian Cooking for Today, was born in India and moved to the United States in 1991. This is her first cookbook and it reflects her desires for simple, healthy meals that are inspired by the Indian cooking that she grew up with while blending elements from her new home in the United States. She is an established home chef and successful caterer. She currently resides in the Washington, DC area with her husband, Sameer, and young son, Jai.
About the Cookbook
    The Spice is Right: Easy Indian Cooking for Today is a perfect cookbook for home cooks that want to introduce elements of Indian cooking and cuisine into their established American fare. If you are looking for a cookbook that will recreate the traditional Indian dishes offered at an authentic Indian restaurant, you find that here. Instead, dishes like hummus and tandoori chicken get a treatment that makes them simple to make in a modern Western kitchen. In addition, traditional Western dishes like chex mix and coleslaw get Indian makeovers that are sure to become welcomed additions to your menus.

    Presented as a versatile softcover book, The Spice is Right offers a simple format that is easy to use. It begins with an introduction to the author's cooking philosophy and inspiration for the book, she offers a look at Indian cooking, spices, techniques and even some basic recipes. After that, the chapters are arranged according to complete menus -- a welcomed treat to those unfamiliar with planning Indian-inspired meals. The beginning of each chapter includes a brief description of the meal's theme (e.g. "a picnic basket" or "turkey day")and a list of the recipes arranged according to beverages, appetizers, entrees, side dishes, desserts and -- a personal favorite -- meals that take advantage of any leftovers that you might have when the meal's done. Of course, the author adds a little levity to it all by choosing designations like "Bottoms Up" for appetizers and "Live a Little" for desserts!

    The recipes in each chapter serve the same number of people, which ranges from two to six, so that you don't need to do any extra math when preparing a full menu. The margins of each recipe page include interesting background, hints and tips, and suggestions about how to make cooking easier and fun. Each recipe includes nutritional information, an indication of how hot or spicy the dish is, and variations that can be used if certain ingredients are not available or if you're in the mood for a change of pace.

    Here is a list of the recipe chapters in the Table of Contents to give you some ideas about the type of themes included in The Spice is Right:

    • Seafood Sunday
    • Let's Try Indian
    • An Indian Super Bowl Party
    • Happy Birthday to You
    • The Boss is Coming
    • Hearty Sunday Brunch
    • A Picnic Basket
    • Delhi Fare for Four
    • An Intimate Dinner for Two (South Indian)
    • Turkey Day
    • Backyard Grilling
    • No-Meat Fridays
    • Some Like it Hot
    • Our Daily Bread
    • The Chelsea Platter

    After the recipe chapters, some sources for Indian ingredients on the Internet, through mail order and even some local Indian groceries in the United States are listed.

    To give you a taste of the kinds of recipes you can find in The Spice is Right, here are a few choice examples for you to try out. In the cookbook, both English and metric units are included, as well as nutritional information.

    Chicken Tikka

    From the "Backyard Grilling" chapter.
    • 1 cup fat-free plain yogurt
    • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
    • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
    • 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
    • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
    • 1 teaspoon red chile powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
    • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
    • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    • Garnish: Onion rings

    In a medium bowl combine the yogurt, lemon juice, fresh coriander, ginger garlic paste, ground coriander, chile powder, cumin, and pepper; mix well. Add the chicken, turning to coat. Marinate, covered and refrigerated, for about 3 hours.

    Preheat the grill.

    Thread the chicken onto skewers. Grill for 8 to 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through, turning the skewers occasionally and basting with cooking oil.

    Remove tikka from skewers. Serve garnished with onion rings.

    Variations: This is also a wonderful marinade for shrimp.

    • Yields: 4 servings
    • Preparation Time: 35 minutes, plus 3 to 4 hours for marinating

    Indian Chex Mix

    From the "Happy Birthday to You" chapter -- this mix has replaced popcorn as our favorite movie munch mix! For the Tadka:
    • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
    • 1/4 teaspoon mango powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
    • 2 cups plain corn flakes
    • 2 tablespoons peanuts (optional)
    • Pinch of salt
    • Pinch of sugar

    To make the tadka, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the cumin, coriander seeds, mango powder, and mustard seeds. When the mustard seeds start to splatter, remove from the heat. (You can cover with a splatter guard if you wish.)

    Add the cornflakes, peanuts, salt and sugar. Mix well.

    Variations: Add salted peanuts to the mix.

    • Yields: 6 servings
    • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

    Shrimp in Coconut Milk

    From the "Seafood Sunday" chapter.
    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
    • Leaves from 3 sprigs of curry
    • 1 large tomato, chopped
    • 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
    • 6 cloves garlic, mashed
    • 2 to 3 green chiles, chopped
    • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and devined
    • 1/2 teaspoon red chile powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
    • Salt to taste
    • 1/4 cup light coconut milk
    • 1/2 cup water
    • Garnish: Finely chopped fresh coriander

    In a large saucepan heat the oil over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds; as soon as they crackle add the curry leaves, tomato, ginger, garlic, and green chiles. Saute gently for 5 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft. Stir in the shrimp; cook for 5 minutes. Add the chile powder, turmeric, and salt; cook for 1 minute.

    Add the coconut milk and water. Let the mixture come to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are tender.

    Garnish with the coriander before serving.

    Variations: If you do not like coconut milk, you can replace it with water.

    • Yields: 4 servings
    • Preparation Time: 35 minutes

    With a blend of time-tested cooking approaches and a light and friendly attitude, The Spice is Right is a great cookbook for anyone wishing to add a taste of India to their kitchen routine. It encourages creativity but gives you just enough guidance to make the experience refreshing and fun. It's a welcomed addition to any outgoing home chef's cookbook collection.

Where to Buy
    If you are interested in purchasing the The Spice is Right: Easy Indian Cooking for Today by Monica Bhide, you can buy it online right now by clicking here. The publisher's list price for the cookbook is $18.95.