Oh, I see!

‘Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food’ by Nik Sharma

Nik Sharma has created a beautiful book titled ‘Season’ that describes his journey from the western coast of India, in a home with diverse influences from his Roman Catholic, Goan mother and Hindu father from Uttar Pradesh, to Cincinnati where he arrived with a pressure cooker, amongst other things and finally to Washington D.C. where he began chronicling his experiments in cookery, calling it A Brown Table.

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Nik’s recipes are fresh and exciting, and the photographs in the book are unique in their treatment- the preparation and cooking of food look and feel dynamic instead of still curations of food images. Season is a delight to flip through, read and cook from. It’s going to leave you gleefully full. Check out some recipes I selected from it and illustrated, and go ahead, get your own copy soon after! Bon Appetit! 

Reprinted from Season by Nik Sharma with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018:

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Roasted Young Carrots with Sesame, Chili, and Nori

Inspired by the flavors of the Japanese seasoning shichimi togarashi, I created this satisfying roasted carrot dish, which has become one of the most popular

dishes at my supper clubs. Because these carrots are young, you really don’t need to peel them before cooking, but if you must, scrape the thin skin with a paring knife, so you remove less of the carrot. You can prepare the carrots and season them the night before. Then just stick them in the oven before you’re ready to serve.

Makes 2 to 4 servings as a side

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb [455 g] small young carrots
  • 1 Tbsp chopped nori
  • 1 Tbsp black sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp white sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp dried red chili flakes
  • 1 tsp flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Method:

Preheat the oven to 425°F [220°C]. Trim the tops of the carrots. Pull off any tiny roots that may beattached to the carrots and transfer the carrots to a baking sheet or roasting pan. Sprinkle the nori, sesame seeds, caraway, chili flakes, and salt over the carrots and drizzle with the olive oil. Roast the carrots, flipping occasionally, until they’re slightly charred and crispy on the ends, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

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The approach

Carrots are sensational roasted because when charred, they become bittersweet. When I make my shichimi togarashi–inspired spice mixture, I don’t grind the whole seeds because, left whole, they add both flavor and visual appeal. Every bite is a little different, because the seeds create random hot spots throughout the dish.

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Curry Leaf Popcorn Chicken

My husband, Michael, grew up on a farm in the Deep South, and he taught me to love fried chicken. But I learned to make this dish from our dear friend Raina Pearce, who always shakes the chicken (or even shrimp) in small batches in resealable plastic bags to get a uniform coating of flour. Her method has never failed me. 

Makes 4 servings

 Ingredients:

  • Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 2 cups [480 ml] buttermilk
  • 2 to 3 serrano chiles, seeded, if desired
  • 6 scallions (white and green parts)
  • 30 curry leaves, preferably fresh
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • One 1 in [2.5 cm] piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • ¼ cup [60 ml] fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 lb [910 g] boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 2 cups [280 g] all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 3 cups [720 ml] neutral-tasting oil
  • 4 green Thai chiles, seeded, if desired
  • Spiced Maple-Vinegar Syrup (page 200), Hot Green Chutney (page 277), or your favorite hot sauce for serving

Method:

Heat a small, dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cardamom, coriander, cumin seeds, and the peppercorns, and toast for 30 to 45 seconds, swirling the mixture occasionally until the seeds release their aroma and start to brown. Divide the toasted spice mixture in half. Transfer one half of this mixture to a spice grinder and pulse to a fine powder. (You can prepare the spices up to 1 week in advance and store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.) 

In a blender, combine the remaining toasted spice mixture with the buttermilk, serrano chiles, scallions, 15 of the curry leaves, the garlic, 1 tsp of the cayenne, the ginger, lime juice, and 1 Tbsp of the salt. Pulse until completely smooth and transfer to a large resealable plastic bag. Pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels. Trim excess fat from the chicken, and cut the flesh into 1 in [2.5 cm] cubes. Add to the marinade. Seal the bag and shake to coat evenly. Refrigerate for 4 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the dredging mixture. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the remaining half of the ground spice mixture with the flour, baking powder, baking soda, remaining ½ tsp cayenne, and remaining 1 tsp salt, shaking vigorously to blend. Finely chop 10 of the remaining curry leaves and add them to the dredging mixture. Seal the bag and shake again to mix well.

Once the chicken has marinated, use tongs to lift out half the chicken pieces, shaking off the excess batter, and transfer to the bag with the dredging mixture. Seal the bag and shake to coat evenly. Transfer the chicken pieces to a wire rack. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

In a medium Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat to 350°F [180°C]. Fry the chicken in batches, turning occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or a spider, transfer the chicken to paper towels to drain.

After the chicken is cooked, prepare the garnish: Cut the Thai chiles in half lengthwise. In the hot oil left in the pot, deep-fry the chiles and remaining 5 curry leaves until crispy, 30 to 40 seconds. Drain on paper towels.

Put the chicken on a serving plate, garnish with the chiles and fried curry leaves, and serve hot with the maple-vinegar sauce or hot sauce.

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The approach

Whenever I make popcorn chicken or fry larger serving pieces, I flavor the dish in stages. The whole spices are toasted to activate their oils. These are then blended into buttermilk to create a savory marinade. More seasoning is then added to the flour in the dredging mixture, and finally, the hot little nuggets of chicken are topped with crunchy fried curry leaves and chile peppers. While we often eat this with a hot sauce or ranch dressing, the very best accompaniment is the maple-vinegar syrup or green chutney.

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Caprese Salad with Sweet Tamarind Dressing

I’ve always enjoyed the Italian caprese because of the way acidic tomatoes play against the sweet-and-sour flavors of aged balsamic and the fruity notes of olive oil. Then there’s the beautiful contrast in texture between the soft and creamy mozzarella and the firmer slices of tomatoes. I’ve reinvented this classic by adding a dressing of tamarind and jaggery.

Makes 4 servings

Tamarind Dressing

  • 2 oz [55 g] sour tamarind pulp or paste
  • ½ cup [120 ml] boiling water
  • ¼ cup [60 ml] extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp jaggery or muscovado sugar
  • ½ tsp ground coriander seeds
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • ½ tsp dried urfa biber chili flakes or dried Aleppo pepper flakes
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Salad

  • 1 pt [295 g] cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1 pt [345 g] grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 4 to 6 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 8 oz [230 g] fresh mozzarella bocconcini, cut crosswise into four pieces
  • 3 Tbsp fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt

To make the dressing: Put the tamarind pulp in a heat-proof bowl and cover with the boiling water. Cover and let sit for at least 1 hour. Massage and squeeze the pulp or paste to soften. Press through a fine-mesh strainer suspended over a small bowl, discarding the solids left behind in the strainer. Put the strained tamarind in a blender and add the olive oil, lime juice, jaggery, coriander, salt, urfa biber, and black pepper. Pulse on high speed until well combined. Taste and adjust the sweetness and seasoning, if necessary.

To make the salad: Put the tomatoes in a large bowl and add the mozzarella, cilantro, olive oil, and salt. Add half the tamarind dressing and toss gently to coat evenly. Serve with the extra tamarind dressing on the side.

The approach

While the success of this salad is dependent on good-quality seasonal tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, the tamarind dressing makes the biggest impact on its flavor. Blending the tamarind and olive oil with whole spices releases an irresistible combination of sweet, sour, and earthy flavors into the dressing.

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Sweet Potato Fries with Basil Yogurt Sauce

I love sweet potato fries, so I usually make them in large batches. Often, I’ll sprinkle them with red chili flakes and a pinch of flaky sea salt for a more concentrated flavor in each bite. The creamy and fresh-tasting basil sauce makes a tasty counterpoint.

Makes 2 servings

Basil Yogurt Sauce

  • ¼ cup [60 g] plain full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup [12 g] fresh basil leaves
  • 1 bunch [85 g] scallions (white and green parts)
  • ½ ripe avocado
  • 1 Thai chile, seeded, if desired
  • 1½ Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 4 black peppercorns
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt
  • ½ cup [120 ml] chilled water, plus more as needed

Sweet Potatoes

  • 1 lb [455 g] sweet potatoes
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried red chili flakes
  • ½ tsp flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
  • ½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp thinly sliced scallions for garnish

To make the yogurt sauce:

Combine the yogurt, basil, scallions, avocado, chile, lime juice, peppercorns, salt, and water in a blender and pulse on high speed until smooth and uniform. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. You can add more water if you want the sauce a little thinner. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

To make the sweet potatoes:

Preheat the oven to 425°F [220°C]. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scrub the sweet potatoes under running water and pat dry. Peel and cut lengthwise into ¼ in [6 mm] thick sticks. Transfer to a medium bowl, and add the olive oil, chili flakes, salt, and pepper, and toss to coat evenly. Spread out the potatoes on the prepared baking sheet and bake until lightly browned outside and soft and tender inside, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a serving dish.

Serve the sweet potatoes hot, and pass the yogurt sauce on the side, garnished with the sliced scallions.

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Charred snap peas and fennel with bacon-guajillo salt

If there’s one thing I love about the farmers’ markets in California in spring, it’s the fresh snap peas. The crunchy shells hide sweet little soft peas, like pearls inside oyster shells. I like to char snap peas with fresh fennel and toss in a little bit of my Bacon-Guajillo Salt and some fresh mint leaves.

Makes 2 to 4 servings as a side

 Ingredients:

  • 1 medium fennel bulb (12 oz [340 g])
  • 1 cup [180 g] young snap peas
  • 4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1½ tsp Bacon-Guajillo Salt (page 267)
  • 8 to 12 fresh mint leaves

Method:

Brush the grill grate lightly with oil and preheat the grill to high. Alter­natively, if using a grill pan, brush the pan with a little oil and place over medium-high heat.

Trim the bottom and stems of the fennel bulb and cut lengthwise into ¼ in [6 mm] thick slices. Put them on a baking sheet, add the snap peas, and brush the vegetables with the olive oil. Put the vegetables on the grill or into the pan and cook until nicely charred on each side.

Transfer the vegetables to a serving tray, sprinkle with the flavored salt, and scatter the mint leaves over the vegetables. Serve immediately.

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The approach

This is one of those dishes that is good with plain old salt and pepper, but much better when you use Bacon-Guajillo Salt, which adds heat and umami. If you don’t eat bacon, try the Curry and Makrut Lime Leaf Salt (page 267) or the Nori and Yuzu Ponzu Salt (page 267). On occasion, I’ll also throw in a bit of creamy fresh feta.

 

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