At the time of writing this review, I am currently the third person to review this book. Unlike the other reviewers I did not get this book for free (I wish!) I paid full price for it and although I often purchase my books when they have been out for a while and the price...
At the time of writing this review, I am currently the third person to review this book. Unlike the other reviewers I did not get this book for free (I wish!) I paid full price for it and although I often purchase my books when they have been out for a while and the price has dropped, and sometimes I buy them from Amazon second hand, upon perusing this book I am VERY glad I did not wait!
Unlike the reviewers that did get a pre-release copy of the book, I have only just received it and have not yet had a chance to cook from it. However, I have pored over it and am extremely excited to get my teeth into it, so to speak!
I will update this review as I cook from it. But until then, the following review may help you decide if this book is for you or not. I will discuss at length the ingredients explored in this book. Which could be either very exciting or could be somewhat off-putting to you (although I don’t think it should be, at all) depending on your personal kitchen philosophy....
I have a very well stocked pantry, in part because I too, like Nik, am an immigrant to the US. In fact, I have been an immigrant twice over now and lived long term in three different countries. Perhaps because of that sense of belonging to no one place in particular, I cook across many different food cultures. I have a seriously embarrassing array of spices, so this book was a no-brainer for me the second I spotted it, as it gives some wonderful and original ways to use up some of my lesser known spices.
If this puts you off, wait…please don’t bail …
Many of these recipes can be cooked without an embarrassment of pantry riches. You could certainly buy this book only for the unique and delicious sounding recipes that contain only those ingredients that you could easily find in your local supermarket…
Take for example the Sweet Potato Fries with Basil Yoghurt sauce. No unusual spices here, just fresh basil and a Thai chile (another chile could certainly be substituted) all other ingredients are common pantry and refrigerator ingredients.
So too, the Toasted Cumin and Lime Cucumber Salad. This requires some cumin seeds and a thai chile (again another green chile could certainly be substituted) and some fresh mint.
As well, the Cocoa Spiced Bean and Lentil Soup. This just calls for ground coriander, Kashmiri chile powder (another chile powder could be used, but Kashmiri has a lovely intense red color and could always be purchased from Amazon), ground coriander, ground mace (from experience you can substitute an equal amount of nutmeg for the mace) and fresh mint.
I went through the book page by page, omitting any recipes that included ANY ingredients that a US based cook might have to hunt for in order to list them here for those that are unsure of the value of a recipe book that contains some harder to find ingredients.
In addition to the three recipes I outlined above, the following are all of the other recipes in this book that only contain easily accessible local supermarket fare:
Broiled Herbed Oysters,
Spiced Beef Kababs,
Roasted Cauliflower Paneer (my Safeway and Sprouts and Whole Foods has Paneer, but the book also has a quick recipe for making it)
Bone and Lentil Broth,
Granola Two Ways,
FIngerlngs with Crispy Sage,
Ginger Garlic Stir Fried Crab,
Tumeric and Chile Roasted Red Snapper with Melon Salsa,
Baked Eggs with Artichoke Hearts (I confess you will need fenugreek for this, which most supermarkets don’t carry, but all other ingredients are basic)
Egg Salad with Toasted Coriander,
Crème Fraiche Chicken Salad,
Turkey with Cherry Fennel BBQ Sauce,
Turkey Mushroom Hand Pies,
Steak with Orange Peel and Coriander,
Lamb Chops with Red Lentils,
Spiced Maple-Broiled Peaches,
Spicy Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies,
Sweet Potato Bebinca (an egg and coconut pudding)
Upsidedown Orange and Fennel Cornmeal Cake,
Rum Soaked Raisin Caramel Cake.
I have not listed the drink recipes although there are many terrific sounding ones (Pineapple Serrano Gin, Spiced Mango Milkshake etc), nor the recipes in the Staples chapter which includes recipes for roasted garlic, paneer, recipes for various spice blends (many of which you could purchase pre-mixed like Za’atar, Garam Masala etc if you didn’t want to make them)
To nit pick, or Nik pick (hehehe, sorry, couldn’t help myself) it may have been helpful to include substitutions for the ingredients which can be quite easily switched out – in particular a recommendation for chile substitutions and quantity to be used to match the recommended heat level, for those who can’t find Thai red and green fresh chiles. Or my above mentioned substitution for mace for example or jaggery - which can simply be switched out for brown sugar and molasses (1 cup of jaggery = 1 cup brown sugar and 2 tsp molasses)
But that tiny (and my only) gripe aside, personally I am absolutely thrilled with the recipes that include some of the lesser known spices and herbs and other ingredients.
If you do happen to have an exceedingly extensive collection of herbs and spices already or are excited by the thought of purchasing and trying some of the less common ones, this book will give you some unexpected and extremely interesting ways to use them once you do track them down.
This aspect of the book is like catnip to me!
The less common spices used in this book are Carom Seeds, Nigella Seeds, Amchur Powder (dried green mango), Anardana (dried Pomegranate Seeds) Asafetida, Curry leaf, Omani Lime, Sumac, Urfa Bibar Chile, Guajillo Chile, Aleppo Pepper, Black Sesame Seeds, Star Anise, and Kala Nemak.
Pantry items that many people might not have, Coconut Vinegar, Elderflower blossoms (I have syrup but not blossoms, so even I am going to have to purchase these – how exciting!), Orange Blossom Water, Grape Leaves, Rose Water and Green Shiso leaf (another one that I will purchase from Amazon)
Some of the recipes that I have flagged to make which include the harder to find (depending on your locations) ingredients are Sumac Seared Scallops with Mostarda, Tumeric and Lime Mussel Broth (with Makrut Lime) Grilled Grape Leaf Wrapped Shrimp with lemongrass, Hot Green Chutney Roasted Chicken, Jaggery Ice Cream with Green Cardamom and Saffron, Raspberry -Shiso Sorbet… and so much more! Actually there honestly isn’t a recipe in this book I don’t want to cook!
One of the other reviewers commented on the photos being too dark to see the food properly. I did not find that at all!
I have posted some of the photos from the book so you can judge for yourself. Keep in mind that my quick snaps with my iphone (taken outside so there is also glare on the pages, as they have a satin sheen) are by no means a fair reproduction of Niks gorgeous “food as art” photos but it gives you an idea. In my opinion, in real life, the photographs are beautiful, the background to each photo is black, but the food itself is so dramatically lit, the black background does not obscure but provides a backdrop for each luscious looking dish.
A reviewer also commented on the life history and personal commentary in the book as perhaps being too much, and made the comment that perhaps (only) the younger among us are find this type of personal information appealing. Well, I couldn’t disagree more (and I am by no means a young ''un) At the start of this book there is a five page intro into the influences behind the recipes which in my opinion is 100% necessary as the book is decidedly NOT simply just another Indian/American cook book!
Given that the influences are Indian (the author) the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia (the authors husband) and the West Coast of the US, this very unique food heritage certainly does benefit from some explanation.
Additionally, each recipe comes with a sentence or two on the influences and/or the flavor profile of the recipe. I always read and enjoy a bit of a description before I embark upon cooking a new dish so for me the couple of sentences or short paragraph above each recipe adds much to the experience.
However, the last word on the background given in the introduction, should really come from the author himself:
“Mine is the story of a gay immigrant, told through food. It has been a journey of self-discovery I embarked on more than a decade ago, one that taught me to recognize the inherent tension between originality and tradition and to opt for the former without rejecting the latter…… Seasoning is more than just a way to achieve flavor in the food we eat. It represents our desire to connect with our past, present, and future, it tells our story”
Nik has told the story of his life with this book.
Although his story may not be your story, food is certainly one of, if not THE most wonderful and all-inclusive ways for us to celebrate diversity.
Without the stories behind the recipes, the food may taste just as delicious. But as with fine art – sure, you can appreciate a work of art for the purely visual aspect (maybe because the painting matches your sofa) but if you are provided with the means to learn more about the rationale and personal history behind the artwork, the cultural influences, the statement of intent and perhaps also the studio methods of the artist employed – that information will unquestionably provide a much richer and more wholistic experience, as you can then also view the art work through the eyes (and heart) of the artist.
So too with Nick Sharma''s work.
Bravo Nik Sharma, Bravo! Your story and your recipes have fascinated this reader and home cook, and I cannot wait to dive into it!
I will update this review as I cook from the book over the next few weeks.
Tried the Apple Masala Chai Cake. See pic. Tested it a couple of times for done-ness and took it out as soon as it was. But it was actually a bit dry. Tonight I will make a runny vanilla custard to serve over it, warm. That should do the trick. But the recipe as written needs updating. Not sure why it was dry with 4 eggs and 3/4 cup of butter. Perhaps the batter would benefit from a tablespoon or so of yoghurt or sour cream?