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Nik Sharma - a new Ottolenghi?

"The goal with recipe writing – and I think this rings true for anyone who works in the food world – is to drive people to try new ingredients and try new things." Nik Sharma

Obviously not Ottolenghi. His cultural background is quite different, but an Ottolenghi in his willingness to experiment with the dishes of his home as well as recreating those actual dishes for a new audience.

So first a few brief words about the man himself, and then a little bit of explanation of why I'm talking about him at all.

He grew up in India with a Goan Catholic mother and a Hindu father from Uttar Pradesh. He is gay - like Ottolenghi, but in India this is illegal and can land you in prison for life. And so he left for America, where he graduated and followed a career in molecular biology. But something was missing. Cooking.

"He found himself reading cooking blogs during breaks at work and and cooking as soon as he walked through the door at night. It became clear that what was missing was his love of food and cooking." The Independent

So he took the blogging path with a blog called The Brown Table, which now seems to be called Nik Sharma Cooks, taught himself photography and started developing recipes and writing cookbooks. He has now written three cookbooks and there is always that touch of science in them, particular the middle one The Flavour Equation. The first Season was a finalist for the James Beard Award and the most recent Veg-Table has won the Golden Poppy award - whatever that is. They are quite expensive here in Australia, but you can try Amazon. I have my eye on that for Veg-Table, as they seem to have a much reduced offer at the moment. The photographs by the way are wonderful and also include photographs of the process as well as the final product.

I first came across him in The Guardian for which he occasionally contributes, but, of course being American he is mostly contributing to sites like Serious Eats. To end his life story - for now - he now lives in California with his husband who grew up in America's deep south - which apparently is the inspiration for this recipe for Curry leaf popcorn chicken. An Ottolenghi style blend of a traditional recipe from one culture mixed with elements from another.

Simple, mostly too, because his philosophy - or part of it anyway is:

“I don’t think people need to start out big. It’s a waste of your money and you might not like what you make so get comfortable with one ingredient, really explore that ingredient in 100 different ways and then add layers and play around. That’s the best way to learn how to cook.” Nik Sharma

Perhaps not necessarily quick though, because he also says:

"Everyone should learn how to make a cake. Just a simple sponge cake. The reason for that is that it teaches you patience and, I know this sounds cliché, but patience is a virtue. As a society, we're always looking for quick meals all of the time but I think building patience is integral."

Which is where I often fail I confess. I'm really not that patient. However, I am here to tell you that I have now possibly found the perfect recipe for Chicken butter cream, which was both quick and easy and which he calls Butter chicken/Murgh Makhani - to give it it's proper name. The recipe includes a video. Excluding the time for marinading your chicken - be it pieces with the bone in, or, like me, cubed pieces of chicken breast - it took me half an hour to bring it all together without a lot of expertise. If you had used larger, bone-in pieces it would have taken longer I guess.

"The two tricks to developing the smoky flavor are using Kashmiri chilli powder and roasting the chicken well (I ensure the chicken gets a few charred bits" Nik Sharma

And I will concur that the kashmiri chilli gives it a special smoky flavour - which you can replicate with smoky paprika mixed with cayenne - if your particular Coles supermarket doesn't stock the Kashmiri chilli - it depends on the demographics' Photos below - no prizes for guessing which is his and which is mine. My photos are pretty awful anyway, and besides I always forget to take them until I am about to take the first bite, when it no longer looks quite as impressive. I'm greedy you see and want to get stuck in.

Because I was so impressed with this particular recipe, I remembered that I had seen a few of his recipes in The Guardian which is how I came to investigate him, ending up with this kind of A Word From ... piece. One particular article by Jimi Famurewa included all of the dishes pictured below - virtually all of which are enticing - and different, as you can see from the photos: Roast chicken thighs and vegetables; Couscous with sesame-roasted carrots and feta; Fried eggs with masala hash browns and seared tomato green peppercorn chutney; Masala cheddar cornbread; Grilled hearts of romaine with chilli pumpkin seeds; Roasted fruit with coffee miso tahini

Very Ottolenghi don't you think, in an indefinable kind of way? Here the influences are indeed mostly Indian and American but - particularly with that last one - we also have the Middle-East. Different.


Yesterday's Easter egg hunt had a surprise visit from The Easter Bunny's nephew Alfred - assisted by my older son. It was such a wonderful boost to the proceedings on a damp day, that I couldn't resist posting these two photos. So I burnt the lamb in the Weber, but it still tasted good, roast Greek potatoes are always a treat, and Ottolenghi's pumpkin, leek and za'atar pie was the star of the show. My fellow grandparents contributed two lovely fruity pies for dessert and some gorgeous white wine, but I do want to show my cake - the one for the lumberjacks. It was squidgy and rich and delicious. A bit like sticky date pudding.

And how those children have grown. As my fellow grandmother said "how come they are so tall?"

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