UPDATED with winner! Interview with cookbook author Monica Bhide (and giveaway of her cookbook Modern Spice!)

Monica Bhide, author of "Modern Spice"

Update–we have a winner! The comment chosen at random to win a copy of Monica Bhide’s Modern Spice is:

Jenni:

“I have recently stumbled across a recipe for curried rice and raisins. It is just enough spice but not too much for the kids to enjoy. My husband loved it and that was great because he doesn’t always like to try new recipes I bring into the house. Here is the link
http://kosherfood.about.com/od/sidedishes/r/medricepilaf.htm

Congrats Jenni! I’ll be in touch to get your mailing info. Thanks to everyone who entered.

I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a region known for physical beauty, hard winters, hardy folk and no-nonsense stews and meat pies–but not exactly renowned for its exotic flavors. I think the only flavorings my mom ever cooked with were garlic, onion, salt and pepper–and that’s barely an exaggeration. For years I avoided flavorful, spicy foods and always opted for the blandest possible versions of any dish (sauce on the side, please.) One of my goals with my kids has been to introduce them to a wider range of foods so they won’t be afraid of strong flavors. But since I’m not always confident in actually preparing those foods or using unfamiliar spices, it’s not always easy to do.

So today I’m thrilled to welcome Monica Bhide to The Happiest Mom. Monica is the author of several books, most recently Modern Spice. She also teaches food writing courses online and recently started a section on her blog called SPICECAPADES that helps parents introduce kids to spices.

Meagan: Thanks for spending some time with us today, Monica! Tell me a little about your family.

Monica: I come from a very close-knit family most of whom are in India and I miss them terribly. Here in the US, we are a tiny family of four: my two boys, Jai and Arjun, and my hubby Sameer. Jai is 11 1/2 and Arjun is 3 1/2. The kids love to eat and help in the kitchen (although they dont really cook per se). My hubby loves to clean and we have sparkling counters. Since all he loves to clean are the counters. But hey, I will take it.

Meagan: Please tell me a little about the role food plays in your life. Was it a big part of your growing up? How do you involve your kids in the kitchen now?

Monica: I come from a family obsessed with food, to put it mildly. At breakfast we discussed morning snacks, during snacks we discussed lunch and during lunch the next meal. Our focus always seemed to be what dish is best where and who cooks the best whatever and how we could learn to do it. Both my parents are amazing cooks and I love being with them in the kitchen. They live overseas and so it is hard to see them as much as I want but they really instilled me a love of good food. I think it is safe to say that spices run in my blood.

My kids love eating and love being in the kitchen. They love to help lay the table, clear the dishwasher, water my herbs etc. The older one loves to bake and can make a mean pound cake!  I think the best part of having them in the kitchen is that they love to talk when we are there. It seems like the safest and most comfortable spot in the house.  I get to hear all about school and what happened to who and how many goals were scored during recess and what else they did. The little one, who just started preschool, shares his day too — he tells me that yesterday he was napkin helper and that today he is going to be the “door opener.”

Meagan:  If somebody (like me!) came to you and was unsure about cooking with new spices or trying to make Indian cuisine, where would you tell them to start?

Monica: You know, I cook with all kinds of spices not just Indian.. I adore spices. And yes, if you did not grow up with them, they can seem intimidating. When I teach classes or talk to people, I always ask them what types of things they like to eat. If they like sweets, I tell them experiment with cinnamon or cardamom. Sprinkle a little cinnamon on a finished stew or grind one green cardamom pod into your oatmeal. It is critical to eat spices not just for taste but because they are GOOD for you. Cinnamon has one of the highest antioxidant content of any spice. Think of it this way, as my friend Rebecca Katz taught me, spices are like suncreen for your inside.

But back to your question: I would also advise using turmeric. It adds a lovely yellow color.  It is bitter so use sparingly. Turmeric is soooo good for you. It is a natural anti-inflammatory. It does NOT have an overpowering taste so you can add a touch and benefit a lot. Here is a link to an article I did for KIWI which includes a simple recipe using turmeric which kids and adults will love equally.

Meagan: What are some of your biggest challenges when it comes to feeding your family?

Monica: I think making sure that they eat healthy. Sometimes we are all on the run and it seems easier to grab something at a fast food place. i try to discourage that but I dont forbid it. As long as they are eating healthy 90% of the time, junk food here and there is okay.  I try to focus on creating flavorful, seasonal dishes that are reasonable and delicious but can also be cooked quickly so when the boys are starving and want food NOW, I have something ready to go!

Meagan: On that note, can you recommend an easy, flavorful dish that a busy parent can get on the table in a flash?

Monica: This is one of our family favorites. It showcases how easy it is to use spices and how a single spice can add such accent and depth to a dish. You can also make this dish with brown basmati rice. The rice in itself is fragrant and has a nutty flavor. Use petit peas, they add a touch of natural sweetness and the cumin adds a toasty flavor. You can eat this by itself or serve it with your favorite side or curry.

Basmati Rice and Peas

Basmati Rice and Peas: A Match Made In Heaven

Serves 4

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

1 cup Basmati rice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1 cup frozen peas (no need to thaw)

2 cups of water

Table salt to taste

1.                   Rinse the rice at least 3–4 times with water. Drain and set aside.

2.                   In a deep pan, heat the vegetable oil on medium heat.

3.                   Add the cumin seeds. When the begin to sizzle, add the peas.

4.                   Sauté for about 2-3 minutes

5.                   Add the rice and salt. Mix well. Add the water and bring to a rolling boil.

6.                   Reduce the heat to the lowest setting.

7.                   Cover  the rice with a lid and cook for about 15-20 minutes or until most of the water has evaporated. You will see small craters forming on top of the rice.

8.                   Remove from heat. Let it sit for about 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving. Serve hot.

Would you like to win a copy of Monica Bhide’s book Modern Spice? I know I would. She’ll be giving one away to a lucky reader–to enter, just leave a comment on this post answering this question: What’s the spice you are most afraid to cook with? You can enter a second time by posting a link to your own favorite spice-loving recipe. The giveaway will end at 1:00 PM EST Monday, November 15, and a single winner will be chosen at random. Winner must live in the continental U.S. or Canada. Good luck and thanks for reading!

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