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Nik Sharma

Once a molecular biologist, Nik Sharma left science behind to work as a pastry cook. He found his calling when he started to write about food and photograph it; his passion is the pursuit of flavor and sharing his journey with other cooks. Nik is the food columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and lives in Oakland, California. His first book, Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food, was nominated for a James Beard Award and the IACP Julia Child First Book Award.
Sweet Potato Honey Beer Pie
Rating: Unrated
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Sweet potatoes are on a monthly rotation in my household; even my dog, Snoopy, loved them. The different components of the pie can be prepared on different days. Here’s a suggested order of steps you might find useful, especially if you make this for Thanksgiving. Day 1: Roast sweet potatoes, reduce the beer, and prepare the pie crust, but don’t blind bake (partially bake). Day 2: Blind bake the pie crust, prepare the sweet potato custard, and bake the pie. Of course, you can also do this all in one day.
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There’s something extremely delightful in peeling an orange to reveal the sweet and sour flesh hidden inside the fruit. It begins with the intensely aromatic essential oils that form a little cloud of scent around you. Then there’s the tingling sensation that erupts on your lips when you taste your first slice of fruit. This sensation is called chemesthesis; it plays a big part in the flavor experience of eating.We deal with the phenomenon of chemesthesis daily: in how we encounter the heat hidden inside a green or red chile, the warmth of a stick of cinnamon, the cooling sensation evoked by mint and green cardamom. When the nerve endings lining the surface of your mouth and lips come into contact with certain chemicals present inside these ingredients, they get irritated and send signals to the brain, which then tells you what’s happening and how to respond, all in a fraction of a second. Over time our brains evolved to interpret this irritation as a pleasurable experience, compelling us to cook with spices, herbs, and ingredients such as oranges and lemons.My Carrot-and-Orange Cake with Sour Cream Glaze celebrates the way oranges trigger our senses. Pay attention and notice your own responses as you scrape the zest from the orange. Rub a piece of zest across your lips and feel your nerves dance in response. The feast for the senses doesn’t end there, of course: the bright sweetness of the juicy oranges marries with the rich orange pigment carotene in the sweet spring carrots. Chopped pieces of dried apricots and candied orange peels give each slice of cake of spot of unexpected fruit sweetness, while the pistachios add texture to the soft cake. Serve it with a cup of warm tea or coffee to complete the experience.
The first time I hosted Thanksgiving was during college. My roommate and I were both from different countries—me from India and him from Italy. We had a vague idea of what a Thanksgiving meal might entail. (Basically, turkey and pies.) Nevertheless, animated by an intense desire to impress my guests, we decided to rely on our dorm’s oven to cook a whole turkey.Our youthful inexperience and the oven’s capricious behavior resulted in a bird that was dry and slightly charred in some spots. It wasn’t perfect, but at least it was edible. With that task finished, I had just enough time to whip up a butternut squash side dish. I melted coconut oil and cooked the squash in a pan over a hot stove, seasoning it at various stages with a mixture of spices and herbs. In contrast to the turkey, it was quick, simple, and nearly effortless.Our guests arrived and I uncomfortably placed the turkey on the table with the hope that people would ignore it. But of course, they walked right up and served themselves while I nervously apologized. From the turkey they made their way to the sides, and eventually sat down to eat. Like a hawk, I watched their reactions to every bite. Everybody doused the turkey with a lot of gravy to make up for its dryness, but it was the squash that piqued their curiosity. The unexpected tropical notes of coconut from the oil and the aromatic curry leaves filled the room. My turkey might have been a disaster, but this simple squash side dish helped save the day.I’ve moved on from that turkey, but the squash continues to be one of my favorite autumn sides, with its wonderful aromas and strong punch of flavor. A sprinkling of marash chile flakes and curry leaves with coconut oil add a bit of heat and an intoxicating fragrance, while the black mustard seeds add a hint of nuttiness.
When I moved to California, one of the first things I did was to run out and buy my very first citrus tree—a little dwarf lemon tree—which I promptly popped into a pot on my patio. A few years later, we moved to a house with a backyard, and I decided to grow as many edible plants as possible to provide fruit, vegetables, and herbs to liven up my cooking projects. Things I couldn’t imagine growing were now possible, from passion fruit to pomegranates. But first and foremost on my garden agenda was more citrus, especially limes, which I cook with quite frequently.I have a special fondness for limes; their intense aroma is incredibly energizing. Trapped beneath thin green skin, their sour juice brightens the flavor of any dish. In India where I grew up, limes are a popular source of acidity in cooking; they’re also often cut and pickled in oil and spices and left out in the sun to mature. If not exactly a flavor match, those sun-cured limes remind me of the preserved lemons that are so central to Moroccan cuisine. I’d already tried preserving lemons, leaning on Claudia Roden’s technique in her cookbook Arabesque, and was delighted with the floral and pungent results. But I wanted to speed up the weeks-long process, so I turned to my favorite citrus—thin-skinned limes—for inspiration.Typically when citrus is preserved, the fruit is cut and rubbed with salt before sitting for several weeks to mature. I reduced the long wait by taking advantage of heat to hasten the softening of the skin; I also pre-soaked the fruit with a bit of salt to remove the bitterness. Once the limes are ready—overnight instead of weeks later—all you have to do is rinse them well to remove the excess salt. Then they are ready to be chopped and folded into salad dressings, pureed and blended into mayonnaise, or used to spice up a roasted vegetable side dish, like this beet salad. I stir bits of the salty, tart lime peels into Greek yogurt that will serve as a bed for the juicy roasted beets, then I double down on the lime flavor by sprinkling a little extra over the top. The bright, bold flavor of the preserved limes is the perfect foil for lifting up the earthy flavor of beets. You probably don’t have your own lime tree outside your back door, but don’t let that stop you from experiencing this flavor phenomenon. These briny bites of sunshine are the perfect way to perk up your plate, no matter where you are.  
Trout Rechad
Rating: Unrated
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When you grow up close to the water, be it by an ocean, lake, or river, you develop a natural affinity for fish. You start to appreciate the subtle differences in flavor and texture between various types of fish and learn to cook and eat them in a thousand different ways.In India, where I grew up, fish was steamed, fried, or cooked in curries and served over beds of warm scented rice or bread—and it was always on the menu for weekends. These days, although I live on the other side of the world, seafood is still a mainstay in my Bay Area kitchen, and pan-seared and fried fish are popular options at my home when guests visit. What I like about serving dishes like this Rechad with Trout is the convenience it offers; the spice blend can be made ahead of time, and fish cooks rather quickly, so I'm not trapped at the stove when I want to be spending time with my guests.I lean on rechad masala quite often; it's a bright red paste that's prepared by grinding down Kashmiri chiles with vinegar and a few spices. It's a staple in many kitchens in Goa, a region located on the west coast of India. Goan cuisine is renowned for its use of chiles, but that wasn't always the case. When the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century, they introduced chiles from South America, which quickly became an integral part of the local cuisine. In Portuguese the word "recheado" means stuffed and in Goa, you'll see it spelled as either "recheado" or "rechad" on restaurant menus.In this recipe, I lean on Kashmiri chiles for their bright red lycopenic color. These chiles are mild in their heat level and are only sold dry. They're readily available at Indian grocery stores and spice markets; if you can't find them, use any dried red chile that you like.The classic choices of fish for this recipe are usually pomfret or mackerel, but I've found trout to work exceptionally well. Once it's fried, serve this fish with warm rice and a light salad and a few wedges of fresh lime or lemon to squeeze over the top.
At the deep end of my pantry sits a large glass jar filled with basmati rice—with exquisitely long grains accompanied by an equally splendid aroma. In most Indian homes, basmati rice is a staple used to make everything from the most basic, simple pot of everyday rice to the glorious pulaos, or pilafs, and biryanis that are served at celebrations. Basmati is also used to make desserts like kheer, a sweetened rice pudding made with milk and mildly infused with spices.Basmati rice is sold in a variety of forms, from brown (which still contains the nutritious germ and bran) to white (which has been polished to a more purely starchy form). There’s aged basmati rice, where the grain is left to sit for months, or even years, which helps intensify its flavor and aroma (the bags are usually marked with a date). You might even notice a basmati rice labeled “broken basmati,” which is usually slightly cheaper because (as the name suggests) it contains a higher proportion of rice grains that are broken. This “broken” variety should be used when you don’t care about the texture of the rice, for example, when you’re going to grind the rice to make rice flour for making fermented rice batters, such as for dosas. When making a dish like this pilaf, long, unbroken grains are the ideal choice.There are a couple of different ways to prepare basmati rice. The first involves cooking the rice in an excess amount of boiling water followed by draining the water away from the cooked grains. The second method (and the method I find the best) is the absorption method. In this method, the rice is cooked with a definitive amount of water and cooked slowly until the water completely evaporates and you’re left with long, fluffy grains.I have a couple of pointers to keep in mind when cooking rice for a pilaf. First, I like to start with the most flavorful rice possible—so I use aged basmati rice for its stronger aroma. Next, I wash my rice. Washing the rice is an important step to prevent sticking of the grains; any loose starch present is washed away. Finally, when it comes time to cook the rice, I like to fry it in a bit of fat, such as ghee, to help coat the grains, which acts as a second level of insurance against sticking. I like to add whole aromatic spices to the ghee, which releases their oils and infuses the ghee and rice with their warm and intoxicating flavors.If you don’t have whole spices in your pantry, I encourage you to make a trip to your nearest Indian or Asian market and stock up. It’s cheaper to buy them in bulk, and the flavor is much more intense than most ground varieties you can find. Store them in sealed jars in the back of your pantry—they’ll keep your basmati rice company.
Step into any Indian restaurant and ask for a plate of samosas, and you'll often find them served with a small bowl of bright green chutney that leaves a fiery tingle on the tip of your tongue. The construction of this alarmingly vivid chutney is quite simple: Fresh herbs, fresh chiles, and a few spices are ground together with a bit of lime juice and water. It's much like a chimichurri, but with a more powerful punch. Green chutney is called that for a reason—it's vividly, almost alarmingly verdant in color—but frankly, I think the name does the chutney a disservice. It strips away the nuance and richness from this alluring condiment, which can be made in a thousand different ways. Some versions might contain coconut, while others star herbs like mint or employ unique combinations of spices to add flavor.Those samosa sidekicks aside, green chutney can be much more than a condiment on the edge of a plate. It is bursting with flavor and can take on many roles: toss roasted vegetables in it, or fold it into a bowl of chilled yogurt to make an herby raita. I like to stray even further away from its typical applications and use it to marinate chicken. Roast chicken, whole or separated into pieces, benefits brilliantly from chutney-based marinades. You make the chutney and reserve half as your dipping sauce, while the other half gets folded into creamy, tangy yogurt to make a flavorful marinade for the chicken. Use a serrano or a Thai chile when you want a good dose of heat in the chutney; a jalapeño will work to give you a milder burn. You can lower the spiciness further by stripping away the seeds and the rib at the center. (Or make it as hot as you like, and keep a stash of creamy yogurt on hand—a dollop or two will be just enough of a fire extinguisher for any guests who can't take the heat.)
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Cookbook author Nik Sharma’s book Season weaves inspiration from his upbringing in Bombay with stories and experience from his adult life in the U.S. The result is a culinary memoir filled with craveable recipes like this one. Sharma notes that any mix of nuts will work for this recipe—just be sure to let them cool completely before serving or storing to ensure a crisp, not sticky, texture.
Step into any Indian restaurant and ask for a plate of samosas, and you'll often find them served with a small bowl of bright green chutney that leaves a fiery tingle on the tip of your tongue. The construction of this alarmingly vivid chutney is quite simple: Fresh herbs, fresh chiles, and a few spices are ground together with a bit of lime juice and water. It's much like a chimichurri, but with a more powerful punch. Green chutney is called that for a reason—it's vividly, almost alarmingly verdant in color—but frankly, I think the name does the chutney a disservice. It strips away the nuance and richness from this alluring condiment, which can be made in a thousand different ways. Some versions might contain coconut, while others star herbs like mint or employ unique combinations of spices to add flavor.Those samosa sidekicks aside, green chutney can be much more than a condiment on the edge of a plate. It is bursting with flavor and can take on many roles: toss roasted vegetables in it, or fold it into a bowl of chilled yogurt to make an herby raita. I like to stray even further away from its typical applications and use it to marinate chicken. Roast chicken, whole or separated into pieces, benefits brilliantly from chutney-based marinades. You make the chutney and reserve half as your dipping sauce, while the other half gets folded into creamy, tangy yogurt to make a flavorful marinade for the chicken. Use a serrano or a Thai chile when you want a good dose of heat in the chutney; a jalapeño will work to give you a milder burn. You can lower the spiciness further by stripping away the seeds and the rib at the center. (Or make it as hot as you like, and keep a stash of creamy yogurt on hand—a dollop or two will be just enough of a fire extinguisher for any guests who can't take the heat.)
Cookbook author Nik Sharma’s book Season weaves inspiration from his upbringing in Bombay with stories and experience from his adult life in the U.S. The result is a culinary memoir filled with craveable recipes like this one. Sharma notes that any mix of nuts will work for this recipe—just be sure to let them cool completely before serving or storing to ensure a crisp, not sticky, texture.