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Nik Sharma Visits Market Hall

 

Come meet Nik Sharma, San Francisco Chronicle food columnist and author of the blog A Brown Table, at Market Hall on February 2. You can get a signed copy of his first book, Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food, and have a chance to taste some of the book’s recipes like Curry Leaf Popcorn Chicken; Deviled Eggs with Creamy Tahini and Zaatar; Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Poppy Seeds, Black Mustard, and Coconut Oil; and Eggplant Pilaf. These dishes will also be available prepared for purchase, as will Sharma’s Elderflower and Ghee Cake. No charge except for purchases. Info: 510.250.6001 or rockridgemarkethall.com
 
Saturday February 2, 1–3pm
Book Event with Nik Sharma
Market Hall Foods Rockridge
5655 College Ave, Oakland

 

Kristina’s Bookshelf

 

Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food
Written and photographed by Nik Sharma
(Chronicle Books, 2018)

Oakland resident Nik Sharma is a man of many talents. In his new cookbook, with its 100 wonderful recipes, you learn the fascinating story of his life, which begins in India. On coming to the United States, he studied molecular genetics in the Midwest, held research positions on the East Coast, spent time in the Deep South, and finally came out West. Throughout this peripatetic life, his love of food has remained a constant.

Sharma started his award-winning blog, A Brown Table, as a creative outlet to share and explore his interest in flavorful food. His cookbook tells a very personal story of his journey as a gay immigrant and the creative, innovative ways he’s combined foods and flavors of his two worlds, India and America. With beautiful photographs throughout, the book is special for the way Sharma reinvents familiar dishes. He spices up meat loaf with ginger, garam masala, and other spices, adding ground dried unripe mango and jaggery for sweetness. Chicken noodle soup he flavors with dried lime. A ginger-lentil-millet bowl appears as a quick, easy vegetarian supper. And there’s a delicious masala chai apple cake. You’ll want to read this cookbook front to back, and then go back and prepare every recipe.

Edible East Bay’s book editor Kristina Sepetys is eager to share her ideas and book recommendations with our readers. 
 
Curry Leaf Popcorn Chicken
Recipe and photos reprinted from Season by Nik Sharma with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018
 
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
 
Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
12 black peppercorns
2 cups buttermilk
2 to 3 serrano chilies, seeded, if desired
6 scallions (white and green parts)
30 curry leaves, preferably fresh
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 cups neutral-tasting oil
4 green Thai chilies, seeded, if desired
Spiced Maple-Vinegar Syrup or Hot Green Chutney (from the book), or your favorite hot sauce for serving
 
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 chilies, scallions, 15 of the curry leaves, the garlic, 1 teaspoon of the cayenne, the ginger, lime juice, and 1 tablespoon 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-inch 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 teaspoon cayenne, and remaining 1 teaspoon 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°. 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 chilies in half lengthwise. In the hot oil left in the pot, deep-fry the chilies 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 chilies and fried curry leaves, and serve hot with the maple-vinegar sauce or hot sauce.
 
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 chili 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.
 
Elderflower and Ghee Cake
Recipe and photo reprinted from Season by Nik Sharma with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018
 
In India, especially in the north, ghee is used to cook almost everything—including desserts. We even like to fry nuts and raisins in ghee to garnish kheer (a rice pudding). Elderflower cordial adds a floral note to this highly aromatic cake. Serve with a dollop of sweetened crème fraîche and fresh berries.
 
Makes 8 to 9 servings (one 9-inch cake)
 
1 cup ghee (recipe follows), melted, plus more to grease the pan
3 tablespoons jaggery or muscovado sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup 2 percent milk, at room temperature
½ cup elderflower cordial
 
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with a little melted ghee and line with parchment paper. Brush the parchment paper with a little more ghee. Sprinkle the jaggery on the bottom and sides of the pan, rotating the pan to coat evenly.
 
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the 1 cup ghee and sugar until you get a smooth slurry. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Add half the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Whisk in all of the milk, and then the remaining dry ingredients, whisking until the batter is smooth and there are no visible streaks of flour. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and level the surface with a small offset spatula.
 
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.
 
Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the inside of the pan to release the sides of the cake. Invert the cake onto a serving plate, gently tapping the pan to release the bottom. Let the cake cool for another 5 minutes, and then carefully peel off the parchment paper. Cool to room temperature. Brush the cake generously with the elderflower cordial and let sit for another 10 minutes to absorb the liquid before serving. Store leftover cake, wrapped in parchment paper and aluminum foil, for up to 4 days at room temperature.
 
The Approach
Ghee is prepared by boiling off the water in butter and caramelizing the milk solids. The fat and the jaggery flavor the cake as it bakes. If you want to make the cake a little boozy, you can replace the cordial with an elderflower liqueur, such as St-Germain. Alternatively, add ½ teaspoon ground cardamom to the batter.
 
Ghee
Ghee is one of the most popular fats used in Indian cooking. It is a form of clarified butter, from which the milk solids and water are removed. Because the milk solids and sugars are caramelized in the fat before their removal, they give the ghee a nutty fragrance. Ghee can last for months if stored correctly, because the water, sugar, and proteins are all removed.
 
Makes approximately 1¼ cups
 
1 pound unsalted butter, cubed
 
Line a strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and place over a clean, dry 1-pint jar with a tight-fitting lid to hold the finished ghee. Set aside.
 
In a heavy, medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter, stirring occasionally with a large metal spoon. As the butter starts to melt, skim off and discard any foam that rises to the surface. Cook until all the water in the butter boils off and the fat stops sizzling and turns a deep golden yellow. The milk solids at the bottom of the saucepan will be reddish brown. The entire process should take 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and carefully pour the liquid through the cheesecloth-lined strainer into the jar. Seal the jar and store the ghee in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months, or indefinitely in the refrigerator.

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