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Cooking with Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food by Nik Sharma

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This month, I've been cooking from Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food by Nik Sharma and decided to start this thread to share and hopefully hear from others using the book.   Sharma is the author of the blog A Brown Table (link to recipe index here) and a recipe column, A Brown Kitchen, in the SF Chronicle, whose paywall thwarts my attempts to link to a listing of his recipes on their site.   The book features the specific, moody style of photographs that Nik uses on his blog.  His photography for the book earned him a James Beard  nomination, though he did not win the award.

The blog recipes are representative of the style of recipes in the book - most are recipes for dishes that are familiar to North American cooks but with seasonings or ingredients more frequently used in cuisines from other parts of the world, most often reflecting Sharma's years growing up in Bombay with a Hindu father from Utter Pradesh in the north and a Catholic mother from Goa in the south.  Some of the book recipes are similar to recipes on the blog but there are few, if any, exact duplicates.  For example, the recipe for Apple Masala Chai Cake in the book has been significantly streamlined from the one that appeared on the blog several years ago.  The Chronicle column has a recipe for Spiced Kefir Fried Chicken that shares similarities with, but is also different from, the Curry Leaf Popcorn Chicken in the book. 

Cooking from the book has the advantage of utilizing items from the "Staples" chapter:  condiments, sauces, pickles, spice blends, etc. that can be made once and used in multiple recipes.  The blog is very heavy on dessert recipes while the book is more balanced across the various recipe types.

 

I've cooked a number recipes and will will offer my bottom line here: I had concerns that the use of unusual ingredients was a conceit to make dishes seem different or novel but cooking through a number of recipes has given me an appreciation for Nik's style.  With almost every recipe, after making and tasting the dishes per the recipes in the book I've come away with ideas to play around with the ingredients or recipe in different ways.  With some books, reading the recipes alone provides that sort of inspiration.  With this book, it took some actual cooking to get there but doing so has earned Season a place on my shelf. 

 

I'll start off with such an example with the Apple Masala Chai Cake p 207 that I mentioned above.   It uses the Chai Masala spice blend p 264 that's also used to make the book's version of Masala Chai p 264.  Once the spice mix is prepared, it's quick and easy to add the masala component   to the cake recipe and the chai component comes from black tea leaves ground and mixed with the flour.   The blog version incorporates the flavors in a more convoluted way by making a tea concentrate but then needing to squeeze the moisture from the grated apples to compensate.  The recipe makes a 9" round cake.  I made a half-recipe in a 6-inch springform pan and use a mix of apple and pear.

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It's a quick, easy cake.  Moist, but not heavy, with interesting flavors.  

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Excellent with a mug of the masala chai from the book, which I've been drinking daily. 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

The other recipe from Season that I mentioned in my first post is the Curry Leaf Popcorn Chicken p 48 (recipe available online here in Bon Appetit)which is served with a Spiced Maple-Vinegar Syrup p 200 or Hot Green Chutney p 277.  I recommend both, but then I always want both the sweet/tart tamarind chutney and the fresh/spicy mint chutney with my samosas!   I had some little bay scallops from Trader Joe's in my freezer and thought it would be fun to use them here.  I made the marinade with kefir instead of buttermilk because it's what I had on hand and "marinade" is rather a stretch because I only let them sit in there for about half an hour or so while I set up everything else. I don't think scallops were going to absorb a ton of flavor but the mixture does become part of the coating so I didn't want to skip it entirely as it's an opportunity to add ginger, garlic, lime juice, etc. that aren't part of the dredging mixture which includes cardamom, cumin, coriander, black pepper, cayenne, salt and a little baking powder and soda. 

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These little scallops didn't really need all these seasonings to be delicious but it was still fun.  I'd like to try this with chicken livers next.

The Hot Green Chutney is made with arugula and kale, red onion, lime juice, garlic, serene chiles, caraway, coriander and cumin.  The syrup is a quick mixture of maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, black, white and pink peppercorns, fennel and coriander.  It comes from a recipe for broiled peaches that I'm looking forward to trying. 


Edited by blue_dolphin to add link (log)
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Yesterday, I made the Spiced Meatloaf p 167 which is very moist from plenty of onion, garlic, fresh ginger, grated apples and lots of mint and parsley.  It's seasoned with garam masala, coriander, cayenne, black pepper and Worcestershire sauce and bound with egg and breadcrumbs.  It gets a ketchup:pomegranate molasses glaze that includes amchur for tartness and cayenne for a little heat.   The apples and the glaze combine to nudge the flavor profile to the sweet side, though there is a decent savory balance, too.  

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I made a small 1/2 lb meatloaf (1/4 of the given 2 lb recipe) and just realized in typing this that I used half quantities of most ingredients.  Oooops!  It's no wonder mine was so moist 🙃

My real reason for making the meatloaf was to have leftovers and here's what I had in mind:

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Toasted slices of whole wheat baguette with a healthy smear of Hot Green Chutney, warmed slices of the meatloaf, topped with the pickled Red Onions with Coriander p 274.  That last item is a nice quick pickle with both coriander leaves and seeds in apple cider vinegar.  

 


Edited by blue_dolphin (log)
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Crème Fraîche Chicken Salad from Season p 148.
This recipe uses a kefir "crème fraîche" p 260 that's made using kefir where I would use buttermilk to inoculate the cream and needs to be prepped ahead. The book says the result has a silkier texture and higher flavor.  I didn't do a side-by-side comparison but I'm not sure I could tell the difference.   I substituted celery leaves for the celeriac leaves and cooked the chicken breast sous vide instead of in a skillet. 

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Overall, I liked this variation on a chicken salad. The crème fraîche and yogurt dressing is a nice change from mayo, the dried blueberries (I added more of these) and cashews are fun add-ins. The amount of dressing (over 2 cups per 12 oz of chicken breast) was excessive for my taste. I reserved about 1/3 of it and still needed to add a bunch of chopped celery so it wasn't too saucy. Perhaps if the chicken were very dry it would soak up some of it but I'd recommend adjusting the volume of dressing to your taste.

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Charred Snap Peas & Fennel with Bacon-Guajillo Salt from Season p 106.  

The Bacon-Guajillo Salt p 267 is from the "Staples" chapter in the back of the book and is just what it sounds like: crispy bacon, ground guajillo chile and flaky salt.  This mixture is absolutely made for eggs, as you will see below.

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Sliced fennel and sugar snap peas are tossed with olive oil and grilled.  I used a grill pan on the stove. It might have been helpful if the recipe had mentioned that the fennel takes much longer to cook than the snap peas but most people should be able to figure that out. Then they get sprinkled with the bacon-guajillo salt and fresh mint leaves.   The bacon salt made me think of eggs, so I turned this side into a main dish salad by putting an egg on top:

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I wouldn't have thought to combine fennel and snap peas, but this works very well. 

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A few egg dishes from Season.  Edited to add that aside from basic boiled and fried egg recipes in the back of the book this is, in fact, ALL of the egg recipes in Season 🙃

Deviled Eggs with Creamy Tahini and Za'tar p 144.

These eggs are made with Greek yogurt, walnut oil, tahini and lemon juice instead of the customary mayo and seasoned with za'atar. The texture of the yolks is light and creamy. I like the use of tahini and will try that again and maybe add to egg salad.  Not sure the walnut oil added much.

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For my taste buds, without mustard or horseradish, these lack the bite they need to be truly devilish 😈, maybe the baby mustard green garnish that I omitted would have helped but the baby greens I've found are pretty mild. That said, I liked trying a different variation. 

 

Egg Salad with Toasted Coriander  p 143. 
The egg salad sandwiches of my childhood did not contain the toasted coriander, roasted garlic, Thai chile, chives or hot sauce called for here so this doesn't scratch the comfort food itch that usually prompts me to make egg salad for lunch but the flavors are interesting.  The amount of mayo - 1/4 cup for 6 eggs makes the mixture a bit on the dry side, especially after mixing a full 1T of toasted and ground coriander seeds. 

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Served crostini-style on toasted slices from a whole grain baguette.  Makes for a good appetizer and is nice as a spread on crackers. 

 

I made a mini, 3-egg version of the Bombay Frittata from Season p 137. 
It's a flavorful variation with red onion, scallions, garlic, cilantro, garam masala, turmeric, red chile and paneer.  I was going to make the paneer but when I realized that I'd only need 7.5 g for this little pan, I went with the alternate of feta.

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I served it with an arugula salad dressed with Shaya's preserved lemon vinaigrette and a few of the Red Onions with Coriander p 274, mentioned in a post above.

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Not pictured, but an essential egg condiment for me was a healthy dollop of Suvir Saran's tomato chutney which has been a staple in my kitchen for many years.

 

Baked Eggs with Artichoke Hearts p 140.
This was a win in flavor and a fail in execution.  Seasonings are black pepper, cloves, fenugreek seeds, nutmeg, garlic, shallot, lemon juice, chives and serrano chile and are mixed with cubed sourdough, mozzarella and artichoke hearts. I made a half recipe and baked it in a standard loaf pan. Perhaps because of that change or my oven's variations, the eggs were cooked to my liking at ~ 12 minutes. There was no browning of the bread at that point and they were pretty much hard cooked by the time the bread had browned which took a bit longer than the predicted 16-18 minutes.

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It was still absolutely delicious, though I wish I'd had a nice runny yolk to contrast with the crispy, flavorful bread cubes!
Next time, I'll just bake the mixture alone and put a fried or poached egg on top.


Edited by blue_dolphin (log)
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A few drinks from the "Sips" chapter of Season.

Pomegranate Moscow Mule p 244.
No vodka in the house, but Audrey Saunder's Gin-Gin Mule is a favorite of mine so I made this with gin and I recommend trying it if you happen to be a gin lover (or out of vodka 🙃)
I also don't have proper copper Moscow mule mugs so I parked some thick bottomed glasses in the freezer to make them nice and frosty. The recipe would nicely fill 2 - 3 of these generously-sized double old fashioned cocktail glasses.

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It's garnished with lime peel and ground anardana (dried pomegranate seeds)


Cardamom Iced Coffee with Coconut Milk p 239
I used to grind cardamom along with my coffee beans all the time so I figured I would like this iced coffee. I might have added a splash of coconut rum 🙃

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The intensity of cardamom flavor was OK in the drink but not super strong.  Since I wanted to try this combination as a popsicle,  I made a cardamom-infused jaggery syrup to sweeten them also enjoyed it in a cardamom Old Fashioned.  

 

Ginger & Tamarind Refresher p 228
I prepped my tamarind (which was rock hard and almost black in color) per the instructions on p 252 and found it quite a lot of work to push through the sieve. It's mildly annoying to me that the book includes that staple tamarind recipe but none of the recipes that call for tamarind paste actually refer back to it and tell you how much of that prep to use but instead have instructions within the recipe to prep just the needed quantity.  

Anyway, after that labor plus making the ginger syrup (I used jaggery again), I was certainly in the mood for refreshment so the Ginger & Tamarind Refresher was perfect.

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This would be easy to adjust the intensity of this by adding more or less club soda.
I know tamarind paletas with chili are popular so I liked the idea of using ginger for the "bite" and used some leftover ginger beer instead of club soda to translate this into popsicles. That made me think that adding some dark rum for a tamarind dark & stormy might not be a bad idea!

 

Edited to add that the popsicles I based on the last 2 recipes can be seen over here in the Popsicle thread.


Edited by blue_dolphin (log)
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You have been busy.

Thank you for the excellent commentary to the recipes.

I think I will do some recipes from the blog for now and follow along as you bang out some recipes.

 

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Last week, I made the Homemade Goan-Style Chouriço from Season p 191.  It's seasoned with black pepper, cumin, cloves, garlic, fresh ginger, oregano, Kashmiri chili, cayenne, cinnamon and a bit of jaggery.  The ingredient that was unusual to me is coconut vinegar (1/4 cup per 1 lb ground pork) which the header notes say takes the place of a local, fermented liquor, feni.  Once the sausage is thoroughly mixed, it's supposed to sit overnight and indeed, the flavors were much better after a day or so compared with the small piece I cooked to test the salt and spice levels after just an hour.   I found it to be pleasantly spicy but not overwhelming and plan to make it again.  

 

I used the sausage in the Chouriço Potato Salad p 69 where it supplies almost all the seasoning.  The potatoes are pan-sautéed, initially on their own with some chipotle & paprika, and then along with the sausage so they pick up flavor from the fat as it renders from the sausage.   Pumpkin seeds, shives, crumbled paneer (I used feta), fresh cilantro and lime juice are mixed into the warm potatoes.  

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I added a boiled egg, as I do 🙃, which made this an excellent breakfast.

 

I also used a patty of the sausage for a breakfast sandwich on a toasted, crusty roll:

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Loved the spicy sausage here as a change from the usual breakfast types.

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@blue_dolphin

 

Wow

 

you are so On Top of your Game !

 

very nice !

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3 minutes ago, rotuts said:

@blue_dolphin

 

Wow

 

you are so On Top of your Game !

 

very nice !

 

Thanks, @rotuts - I've been having fun with this book!

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@blue_dolphin

 

looks like Im going have to get it out of the library !

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3 minutes ago, rotuts said:

@blue_dolphin

 

looks like Im going have to get it out of the library !

 

The photography is quite nice so I think you will enjoy looking through the book, even if it's not something you want to cook from.

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Ground Lamb and Potato "Chops" with Sambal Oelek from Season p 175.   Not sure why they are called "chops" but the header notes say they are a Goan speciality.  Ground lamb is cooked with onion, garlic, ginger, apple cider vinegar, Sambal Oelek and cilantro,  then stuffed into patties made of mashed potato.  The patties get brushed with egg, dipped in breadcrumbs and shallow fried.   

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I did a quick comparison of baking (on the left) and pan frying per the recipe (on the right). Baking worked fine and I like the overall browning vs the pale sides that result from frying. I spritzed with olive oil and baked at 425 with convection for 10 minutes, then increased to 450 for a couple minutes to enhance the browning. Not sure that was necessary, but I was curious. Tasty, either way with that Hot Green Chutney p 277. 

 

Recipe available online here


Edited by blue_dolphin To add link to recipe (log)
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Those look good enough for me to want the book.  

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, SLB said:

Those look good enough for me to want the book.  

 

I found that recipe online here

The seasoning on the meat is delicious!


Edited by blue_dolphin (log)
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Thank you!  

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The Spiced Maple-Broiled Peaches are from Season p 200, the French toast was just my excuse to serve dessert for breakfast 🙃

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Early peaches are in at our farmers markets and after sampling, I was delighted to pick some up the other day from Murray Family Farms. I was less delighted when I remembered that the early varieties are cling peaches and not ideal for this sort of recipe 😢 so I shifted gears and put most of them to another use. I managed to get a few intact halves (had to use a melon baller to get the pits out) and decided to make them the centerpiece of this breakfast. The Vanilla Bean Crème Fraîche (made with the Kefir Crème Fraîche p 260) is luxurious and the Spiced Maple-Vinegar Syrup adds a bit of spice and tartness that lets you know this isn't Aunt Jemima on your plate! 
I'm looking forward to trying this again when the freestone peaches are in.

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Spicy Chocolate Chip-Hazelnut Cookies from Season p 201.  Edited to add that the recipe is available online at this link. These are a gluten-free cookie, made with hazelnut meal or flour.  The "spice" in their name comes from black pepper and chopped, crystalized ginger.  They also include chopped, bittersweet chocolate. The recipe warns that the cookies spread and my photo evidence - the cookie in the center is before baking, surrounded by 4 baked cookies. They get really big!

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I don't love big cookies so I tested a few at 1/2 and 1/4 the recipe size and they came out fine. 

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In my hands & oven, the recipe cookies weighed ~ 50g before baking and were done @ 16 min, baked direct from the freezer. The smaller cookies were ~ 25g & 12g and took 12 and 10 minutes. The smaller cookies corresponded approximately to my small and medium cookie scoops so I'll use them in the future.  
And the smallest ones are my favorite - I can eat more of them 🙃!


Edited by blue_dolphin to add link (log)
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Dinner from Season with some modifications.
Pulled Pork (not) Tacos with Apple & Serrano Slaw p 186. A version of the recipe is available online at this link.
Red Onions with Coriander p 274. Recipe is included with another dish at this link
Cocoa-Spiced Bean & Lentil (not) Soup p 71. A version of the recipe is available online at this link.
Shaved (not)Brussels Sprouts with Poppy Seeds, Black Mustard and Coconut Oil p 105. A version of the recipe is available online at this link.

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Clearly, that's not a tortilla so these are not tacos. I tucked the pulled pork, slaw & pickled onions into a whole wheat pita from the recipe in Shaya. Excellent, all the way around. No boneless pork butt to be found so I used package of country-style pork ribs, since they're pretty close on the pig. The pork is cooked in white wine, jaggery, apple cider vinegar and seasoned with amchur, Kashmiri chile, black pepper, cloves, bay leaves, green cardamom, star anise and a healthy amount of fresh ginger. After 3 hrs, the meat was still almost submerged in the sauce so on day 2, after skimming the fat, I simmered them uncovered for a while to reduce the sauce. I also thought it needed some salt so I added ~ 1t. I highly recommend the overnight wait for this as I thought the flavors were much improved.  
The Apple Serrano Slaw is fresh and delicious. I cut julienned the apples on the mandolin instead of grating as I think they look prettier and retain a bit more crispness. The recipe is simple:  apples, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, cilantro, mint, serrano chile, white pepper. 
The pickled red onions are good on everything. 
I think pulled pork & slaw goes really well with baked beans on the side so for a Season version, I made a variation of the Cocoa-Spiced Bean & Lentil Soup with black beans & black lentils and used ~ 2 cups of water instead of 4 cups so it's thick and not a soup. Perfect side for this. 
I'd like to try the Brussels Sprouts per the book but needed to use up some black kale so I sliced it up into ribbons and used it in place of the sprouts. The black seeds on black kale lack visual impact but I like the flavors.


Edited by blue_dolphin to add recipe info (log)
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