Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto


by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


A SPICY STORY by Leah Rovner

Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen
by Monica Bhide
Simon & Shuster, April 2009
Hardcover 288 pp., ISBN: 9781416566595

Like all home-cooks, I have a few rules when it comes to finding a new cookbook: accessible ingredients, clear recipes, and a passionate story. If I’ve picked up your cookbook, I’m expecting to learn something, especially something about you: its author.

More and more authors now intertwine personal stories with the food inside their pages. Their culinary history is just as powerful to tell as the dishes themselves; it can inspire cooks to play with their own recipe ideas. It can also teach them that it’s okay to fail in the process, and that sometimes, baking the perfect apple muffin takes more than one try. It seems that people forget to look at cookbooks for what they truly are—books about cooking, not just a collection of recipes.

Monica Bhide’s newest cookbook, Modern Spice, is a cookbook that should be read from beginning to end. From a love affair with chaat masala to using peapods to teach her son how to read Hindi, Bhide shows us that the cookbook is not confined to recipes and instructions. For her, food is a kind of literary device that has the power to deepen your senses both on and off the plate.

Bhide has found what many may consider impossible—a medium between traditional Indian cooking and contemporary immediacy. Although it’s no secret that today’s home-cooks want recipes that are quick and affordable, she assures us that sometimes, taking a step back can be the difference between being a good cook and a great one.

All great cooks have one secret: diversity. Defined in culinary terms, this is the ability to take dishes from other countries and make them your own (check out page 114 for an Indian spin on the classic American hamburger). Bhide is committed to adding Indian food to your repertoire, whether you are an experienced chef or not.

Equipped with a complete set of personal cooking rules and kitchen notes, Bhide believes that the ethics of Indian cuisine can be interpreted in different ways. Whether it’s a two-hour recipe like curry leaf bread or a five-minute guava fool, it is possible to be loyal to age-old tradition while enjoying yourself at the same time.

Like most ethnic cookbooks, the tricky part of Indian cooking is locating ingredients. Yet many of the spices Bhide uses—like red chili flakes—are probably already in your pantry. Though Bhide offers several substitutes that you can use for some of the more obscure ingredients, I suggest using the correct spices if possible.

Modern Spice is a cookbook where the little things count. Garnishes become a crucial finishing touch on basmati rice with pine nuts, fresh mint and pomegranate seeds. Yellow turmeric and black specs of onion seed make caramelized shallots with turnips smoky, sweet and spicy—all at the same time.

And you’ll find new ways of cooking common ingredients. Dishes like tamarind chicken spice up boneless chicken tenders with Serrano chilies, red pepper flakes and red chili powder. Ginger tea perfectly compliments a long day at work. As long as you are comfortable with a bit of spice and heat, these recipes will not only make your diners very happy, but encourage you to experiment with new flavors and textures in the kitchen.

Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of Modern Spice is the writing. Mostly about her travels through India (as a child, and then later as an adult with her family), Bhide tells us about her personal connection to food, and how it has shaped her life. She reminds us that it can also take on a literary—and at times, transcendental—dimension.

People want to know the origin of their food, they’re curious about what’s lingering behind the dinner plate. Modern Spice gives us that bigger picture: recipes that inspire, and a great story or two along the way.

November 13, 2009