Of course, restaurants worry more about pleasing your palate than watching your weight, so the cooks pour on the butter and cream. But even allowing for that difference, the food at Indian restaurants tasted spicier—not just hotter but deeper. We decided to start adding more spice to our homemade Indian recipes.
At about that time, we came across a new book, Modern Spice, by Monica Bhide (Simon & Schuster, 2009). The author's No. 1 recommendation for cooking Indian food: make it vibrant and bold by boosting the spices.
She takes recipes learned from her mother and grandmothers and converts them so that they can be made in modern American kitchens with ingredients that are widely available.
The spices of Modern Spice are not hard to get, but when we began to try the recipes, we used up our store of fennel seeds in two days. Replacing them reminded us of an earlier tip: even if you're not cooking Indian or other ethnic food, buying spices at ethnic markets can save you a lot of money.
Our old 1.5-ounce bottle of fennel seeds cost about $5. Our replacement bag from an Indian market was more than four times as big at seven ounces and cost only 99 cents. It was worth the small side trip to the Indian market, particularly because we always see other deals when we're there, such as the plump bunch of cilantro we picked up for 99 cents.
There are lots of valuable spice lessons in Ms. Bhide's book. As Mark Bittman says in his foreword, "There is not a cuisine that uses spices with more grace and craft than that of India."