Once upon a time, the Indian spice trade helped establish world empires and opened the seas for commerce. These days, Indian spices are just friggin’ awesome and should be considered over the blander spices. Monica Bhide , The Queen of Spice, is the world’s authority on when to shake a little cumin, and I’m one of her biggest fans. You’ll want to read Monica’s books, including Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen and The Everything Indian Cookbook: 300 Tantalizing Recipes–From Sizzling Tandoori Chicken to Fiery Lamb Vindaloo. In this edition of Fred’s Friends, we drop the salt & pepper and pick up the curry. But like most things in my life, we started talking whisky.

So, you’re the Queen of Spice. Or at least that’s what I call you in Twitter and Facebook. You recently shared you’re becoming a fan of whisky. Or is that whiskey? Tell me about your whisk(e)y experimentations? 

Author Monica Bhide knows her spice. (Photo courtesy of Monica.)

Author Monica Bhide knows her spice. (Photo courtesy of Monica.)

Whisky is the drink of choice in my parent’s home in India. As far back as I can remember, Dad, his brothers and their friends were all whisky drinkers. In fact, I don’t ever recall him buying wine. At the most, there would be rum and vodka in the house but mostly, whisky. I sipped it once, a long time ago, and decided it wasn’t for me. And then, it was about a year or so ago that I tasted it again and now we are friends! I have really enjoyed trying different types of whisky and find that most of them taste better straight up. I kept asking my husband to put ice in mine and he would keep telling me that would ruin the taste. Once I learned HOW to drink it, I became a fan (small sips, savored. Not to be drunk like soda.)

Your palate must be so well trained that you can taste anything. When you are tasting these whiskies, are you picking up hints of the spices you’ve enjoyed your whole life? 

So here is where I will let you down. I have been trained to taste such heavy spices that I rarely pick up the nuances in any drinks. I guess that is not good! But I am being honest.

I have to be honest with you: I’ve always looked up to you. You’re one of the most accomplished writers I personally know and the only person I know to turn down an NPR interview. But even a writer of your stature has faced rejection from time to time. Many newer writers may look at you and say, “wow, she’s made it.” Do you feel like you’ve ‘made it’ or is there a hunger that drives you?

Oh, that NPR interview. I felt so bad about turning that down but I was so sick and did not want to share my germs!!

You are very kind and I appreciate the sweet words, thank you. I don’t think I have made it at all. I struggle with my demons on a daily basis. I can tell you this, you can call me the Queen of Spice, but in reality, I am the Queen of Rejection. I get so many rejection letters because I pitch constantly. I figure, if I want to play, I need to stay in the game. Being a writer is not the easiest way to make a living but I cannot imagine doing anything else.

My drive? My love of writing and my very strong fear of having to back to a cubicle-based corporate job!! (I am a recovering engineer)

We occasionally see Indian spices popping up on cocktail menus. How do you feel about that?

I just love that! I have seen jalapenos, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, basil, mint, and so many more lovely spices being used in cocktails and I just love it. What a great way to add a boost of flavor and a touch of class to a drink!

Monica Bhide's Favorite Cocktail. Photo provided by Monica. "Manish Kumar, the lead mixologist at The Park hotel in Bangalore, taught me how to mix this drink. He is the genius behind the spicy cocktails at the hotel's super popular i-Bar. The secret to making this drink is to use really fresh curry leaves. Dried leaves or curry leaf powder will not work in this recipe."8 curry leaves1 thin lemon wedge1 teaspoon sugar1/4 cup citrus vodkaIn a glass (a short tumbler works best), muddle the curry leaves, lemon wedge and sugar. Top with crushed ice and citrus vodka. Serve immediately.

Monica Bhide’s Favorite Cocktail. Photo provided by Monica.
“Manish Kumar, the lead mixologist at The Park hotel in Bangalore, taught me how to mix this drink. He is the genius behind the spicy cocktails at the hotel’s super popular i-Bar. The secret to making this drink is to use really fresh curry leaves. Dried leaves or curry leaf powder will not work in this recipe.”
8 curry leaves
1 thin lemon wedge
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup citrus vodka
In a glass (a short tumbler works best), muddle the curry leaves, lemon wedge and sugar. Top with crushed ice and citrus vodka. Serve immediately.

You’re stranded on a desert island. You have one Indian spice to take. What is it and why? (Mine is cumin)

Curry leaves! They have nothing, by the way, to do with curry powder. They are gloriously fragrant lemony leaves that make a dish taste delightful. Oh, and you can use them in drinks!!