A Conversation with Monica Bhide, Author of the Modern Spice Cookbook
If you don’t know who Monica Bhide is, perhaps you’re not reading enough books, magazines or essays about food because this woman is everywhere. She’s a Virginia-based food writer who writes beautifully about how our lives, cultures and emotions are influenced by food. She has written books, has an iSpice app every cook can use and recently launched a line of spiced chocolates that sold out in a few short days. She’s also a writing coach, mentor and speaker who helps people carve out a career in the food writing world.
I told you she was everywhere…
I learned of Monica Bhide myself when I began this blog in 2008 and desired to perfect the craft of writing about food, conveying recipes and simply communicating the art of describing anything edible. I took a correspondence course by Monica and learned so very much about this career and what I needed to do if I wanted to be good at it. I’m still not done learning, of course, but she helped me to start out on the right food and I’m so glad I had one of the best in the industry to guide me.
Last year I was fortunate enough to meet Monica in person at the Eat Write Retreat in Washington, D.C. where I got to hear her speak passionately about building a career as a food blogger and developing a mindset for success, which can really be translated into any career one chooses. It was a gift and blessing to hear her speak and be able to ask questions in person of this dynamic woman who built her career after she had already established one in an entirely different field. I love to hear about people who not just follow their gut about what they’re meant to do in life, but they actively pursue it and don’t stop until they get it.
What’s more is that Monica helps others do the same.
I think you’ll find her fascinating not only in this interview but also in her own blog, A Life of Spice. Please pay it a visit and see for yourself after this…
And don’t forget to enter to win a copy of her cookbook, Modern Spice, at the end.
MHK: Monica, I’ve been a fan and admirer of your work for quite some time now, really enjoying the way you bring your love of spice, Indian food and culture to the forefront of your writing. I personally feel that you make Indian cooking approachable, especially for those who may consider it complex and something too unfamiliar to cook at home. I also love how your writing is a window into aspects of Indian culture that I don’t get anywhere else.
Your background and where you grew up is really quite fascinating. Can you tell our readers more about how you came to the decision to make a career in the food industry which involved a transition from a completely different field of work?
Bhide: I like to call myself a recovering engineer! About nine years or so ago, I decided that the life that had been chosen for me – that of an engineer with a couple of advanced degrees and a full-time corporate job – was not what I wanted to do with my life. I would like to say that I chose writing as a career but, in truth, I don’t think it was a choice. The yearning in my heart was so strong that I had to pay attention to it or else, I feared, a part of me would have died.
MHK: Very powerful words, indeed. How many of us can truly relate to that? I know I can…
Your essays, columns, articles and books have all been featured in some very notable media outlets (i.e. Saveur, Bon Appetit, The Chicago Tribune, and many, many more). What is it about the topic of food that really drives your passion to write so eloquently about it, and make an entire career out of doing it day after day?
Bhide: Even though I am a food writer, I don’t think I ever really write about food!! My focus is what food means to us – the memories it creates, how it nurtures us, how it (sometimes) divides us, and how it defines us….
MHK: I really love the Monica’s Indian Express: Simple & Sassy Weeknight Dishes series on your site where you offer recipes that inspire and make it simple for anyone to cook Indian food. It seems to be characteristic of your overall fresh, trend-setting approach to Indian cooking. Do you see this as the future of Indian food made at home? What was your inspiration for offering this?
Bhide: Thanks! When my book, Modern Spice, came out, the response was tremendous because the book introduced a simple way of looking at Indian ingredients and recipes and creating meals that were delicious but did not take forever to prepare (or use a million ingredients for that matter).
That was my inspiration to create this new series. I wanted to continue what I had started with Modern Spice and the response has been amazing so far.
MHK: It goes without saying that you don’t just write about food; you also cook and present your readers with truly flavorful recipes and meal inspiration (which I love to follow on Pinterest, by the way). In addition to your cookbooks and your website (A Life of Spice), you also offer an app with the same name. Can you tell us more about what the app is like and how it can be used?
Bhide: I like to call it the little app that could! It is basically your cheat sheet for spices. When you are at a store and you want to buy a spice, look it up on the app. It tells you what to do with it, recipes, how to store it, etc. and also gives you alternate places to buy it.
MHK: You are a busy mom of two adorable young boys- I’m sure a lot of our mom readers would love to know how you make Indian food fast, fresh and simple. What are your top three tips for putting Indian meals on the table over and over again? Are there some staples to always have on hand or shopping shortcuts that would help?
Bhide: My three tips are very simple – eat what you love, bring the family in to help you cook, and always be mindful of the way food effects you and yours. Here is what I mean by that last one: if we buy healthy ingredients and prepare them well, they will have a positive effect on us. If we focus on boxed ingredients and a lot of prepackaged meals filled with preservatives, then the effect is not so positive. We may think these things are saving us time and money but in the long run, they may be costing us our health.
I think sometimes people are afraid that good meals require long complicated recipes and nothing could be further from the truth. If you use good ingredients – say a sun-ripened luscious tomato – you have to do very little to it to make it work in a recipe. The focus of my weeknight series is just that – taking real ingredients and making good meals. Every once in a while I do admit to cheating and using something from a bag (but try to make sure it is preservative free and good for my kids) but ninety percent of the time, I rely on seasonal vegetables and good quality meats to make a meal.
My secret to cooking – use spices. They add flavor without fat and offer amazing health benefits. You have hundreds to choose from and so the combinations are unending!
MHK: Wonderful tips anyone can implement, thank you!
You have published four different books, three of which are cookbooks. Which one would you suggest for a newbie to Indian cooking and which do you suggest for someone who is experienced in Indian cooking?
Bhide: Definitely– Modern Spice
MHK: And you are so generous to be giving away TWO copies to our readers- I can’t wait to see how they use your book and what they make from it.
For those who want to know where they can read more about you, learn about Indian cuisine, the variety of ingredients and meal inspiration, please give us all the ways we can follow your work:
I am an engineer turned food/travel/parenting writer based out of Washington DC. I have been published in many major national and international publications, including Food & Wine, The New York Times, Parents, Cooking Light, Prevention, AARP-The magazine, Health, SELF, Bon Appetit, Saveur, and many more. I wrote a weekly syndicated for Scripps Howard Media, for a year, called Seasonings, and am a frequent contributor to NPR’s Kitchen Window. My work has garnered numerous accolades, including my food essays being included in Best Food Writing anthologies (2005, 2009 and 2010). I have published three cookbooks, the latest being: Modern Spice: Inspired Indian recipes for the contemporary Kitchen (Simon & Schuster, 2009, which Padma Lakshmi called her personal – “BESTS.BOOK.EVER” in Newsweek. I also have a spice app for Apple products. In 2012, The Chicago Tribune picked me as one of seven note-worthy food writers to watch. And Mashable recently picked me as one of the top 10 food writers on Twitter. I am a monthly columnist for Cooking Channel on lucky foods.
Monica’s website: http://www.monicabhide.com/
Pinterest page: http://pinterest.com/mbhide/
Now for the Giveaway!
UPDATE: this giveaway is now closed- thank you to everyone who entered! Our two winners are: Bonnie K. and Megan. Please contact me with your full name, shipping address (no P.O. Boxes), and phone number. Congratulations!!
Monica is giving away TWO copies of her book, Modern Spice. To enter, please leave a comment at the end of this post telling us what your favorite part of this interview was. Winners will be selected randomly. Please follow these Official MHK Guidelines, as your entry indicates you have read those. Winners will be announced on this page on February 22, 2013. Please check back to see if your name is here and there will be follow-up instructions. Deadline to enter is February 21, 2013 at 12:01 am.
I, too, have been seeing Monica Bhide in several magazines. I follow her on facebook and subscribe to her newsletter by email. I love Indian food but haven’t tried many dishes because of the many ingredients and steps to take to cook the dishes. I would love to win her book, Modern Spice. I was given a gift set of international spices and would like ideas for somewhat easy recipes to cook ethnic dishes. Her book, Modern Spice, looks like the answer to what I need. As you can see, my favorite part of the interview was about cooking using her Modern Spice cookbook. I’m also impressed by her making the change in her career from engineer to food writer. I can say for certain that it looks like she has been successful.
I follow Monica Bhide on Pinterest and have visited her website. I really enjoyed getting to hear more about her. Her recipes speak for themselves but I loved hearing about who she is. A recovering engineer? That part was my favorite. I like to learn about people’s paths in life and how they came to be who they are.
I love this: “My three tips are very simple – eat what you love, bring the family in to help you cook, and always be mindful of the way food effects you and yours.” I’m expecting my first baby and have really been thinking about what kind of food culture I want to pass down to my children and these are three of the key things that I’ve been thinking of. I grew up in the Midwest with much convenience food and have slowly worked my way toward mostly home cooked and meaningful food and really want to instill those kinds of values into my family.
I really like that Ms. Bhide was an engineer by education/training, and was working in the engineering field when she totally switched gears and pursued her passion for cooking and writing, and did so successfully. That is such a gutsy move, and I congratulate her on her success!
I liked the description of the app, I knew it existed but never knew what it was about; sounds really interesting.
Loved Monica’s three tips. Looks like this book is ideal for a busy professional or a parent that wants to put fresh Indian food on the table for a busy weeknight dinner. Would love to meet this multitalented lady in person one day!
i love the part ‘I think sometimes people are afraid that good meals require long complicated recipes and nothing could be further from the truth. ‘ this is so true, i was afraid of cooking as i felt it was too long or complicated but once i got into it i loved it so much, im always up for trying new cooking ideas so one these book would be a treasure
I’m fascinated by the spice app and plan to check it out. Monica is amazingly multi-dimensional as a writer and foodblogger.
She’s awesome – heard her speak last year at Eat, Write, Retreat.
My favorite part of the interview, is definitely this part: “The yearning in my heart was so strong that I had to pay attention to it or else, I feared, a part of me would have died.”
That’s more than inspired, that’s being led to your destiny. Way to go, Monica, and appreciate how great that worked out for the rest of us, as well!
I LOVE the app. There are too many times I want to use some spice or to alter a recipe. The app tells everything I need to know to produce a flavorful meal
I really enjoyed this interview! My favorite part was learning about her career change. An inspiration!
Nice short interview. Enjoyed reading about her diverse background!
I follow Monica Bhide o FB and read and also comment on her posts, my favorite is when she puts up her dinner posts.
What I like about the interview, how she has embraced her calling, it is a BIG shift, to be sure and how well she has transformed from an engineer to a food / cook book author… “…a part of me would have died…” , sums up her passion, her calling and the reason why she excels at wht she does!
I love her focus on fresh seasonal ingredients! I’ve always been intimidated to make Indian food at home. I’d love to give Modern Spice a try!
I so agree with Monica’s advise to use spice! I love exploring adding spices from cardamom to cumin in everything from drinks to sweets 🙂
I liked her description of herself as a “recovering engineer”. And I am most interested in the simple way to look at Indian spices so I can increase the number of Indian dishes I make.
I love when Monica talked about food and how it evokes memories….so so so true!
What a great interview! Monica has such great wisdom! I really took her 3 tips to heart. Being a mother and having the responisbility of feeding them and nourishing them, you want to feel good about what you are putting in their mouths.. I love how she left Engineering to do what she loves. Thank you for introducing her to us.
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