Advice from an Expert: Nik Sharma on Combining Flavors

Seasoned: The Inspired Cooking Magazine for Adults is designed for our older readers who may have new cooking circumstances due to changing family structures—or who may need advice for downsizing meals or managing a more-restricted diet or food budget.

In the fall 2019 issue, we share a bit about Nik Sharma's culinary background, advice, and a couple of his flavorful recipes.



As a gay immigrant of color, Nik Sharma is in many ways the ultimate outsider. But with his infectious passion for food and his sheer inventiveness at the stove, he creates recipes that appeal to everyone. Growing up in Bombay, India, with a Hindu father and a Christian mother, Nik was introduced as a child to the blending of culinary traditions and flavors. When he later spent time cooking with his husband’s mother in the American South, he came to know yet another style of cooking. “I started to play with ingredients that were new to me,” he says, “and transformed them with the techniques I learned in India. My two distinct worlds were coming together through aroma and taste.”

All of this informs the lively, very delicious recipes he creates today. They feature simple combinations of flavors and textures that you may never have thought of but that seem absolutely right as soon as you taste them. Sharma’s recipes are a testament to the way in which new perspectives can bring excitement and fun to the food we cook every day.

Nik Sharma’s Sweet Potato Fries

Sprinkling these fries with crushed red pepper and a pinch of salt gives a more concentrated flavor in each bite. The creamy, fresh-tasting basil sauce makes a tasty counterpoint. (Adapted from Season by Nik Sharma, with permission by Chronicle Books.)

Hands-On Time: 20 MINUTES
Total Time: 50 MINUTES
Makes: 2 SERVINGS

Ingredients

2 large sweet potatoes (about 1 pound total), peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick sticks
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1/4-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, depending on how spicy you like it
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallion, for garnish (optional)
Basil-Yogurt Sauce, for serving (optional; recipe below)

Instructions

1. Turn the oven on and set the heat to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Put the sweet potatoes, oil, crushed red pepper, salt, and black pepper in a medium-sized bowl and toss to coat evenly.

3. Spread out the potatoes on the prepared baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake until lightly browned outside and soft and tender inside, 25 to 30 minutes.

4. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the sweet potatoes to a serving dish. Garnish with the sliced scallion (if using) and serve hot, passing the yogurt sauce alongside, if you like.


Basil-Yogurt Sauce

This fresh and flavorful sauce is great with the roasted sweet potatoes, but it’s also delicious with chicken, fish, or any grilled vegetable. Or try it on top of a Greek-Salad Turkey Burger (recipe found on page 9 of our fall 2019 issue of Seasoned). Note that it needs to sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours after you make it for the flavors to meld. (Adapted from Season by Nik Sharma, with permission by Chronicle Books.)

HANDS-ON TIME: 15 MINUTES 
TOTAL TIME: 15 MINUTES 
MAKES: 1 CUP

Ingredients

1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 bunch scallions, trimmed
1/2 ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
1 Thai chile or other small hot chile, seeded (optional)
1/2 cup cold water, plus more as needed
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions

1. Put all the ingredients in a blender and pulse on high speed until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. You can add more water if you prefer a thinner consistency.
2. Transfer to a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

Cooking Takeaways

Most of the heat in chile peppers is in the seeds and the membranes that hold the seeds. So if you want less heat, remove the seeds and membranes before using the chiles.

Vegetables that are naturally sweet, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, become sweeter when exposed to high heat. They also develop appealing bittersweet flavors as the sugars caramelize.

In addition to combining varying textures and flavors, try combining different temperatures in a single dish. If you serve the fries hot out of the oven and drizzle them with the cool basil-yogurt sauce, the interplay of temperatures is very appealing.


 

Nik Sharma is the writer, photographer, and recipe developer behind the award-winning blog A Brown Table. His weekly column, A Brown Kitchen, appears in the San Francisco Chronicle. His 2018 cookbook, Season: Beautiful Food, Big Flavors, was nominated for a James Beard Award and was on “10 Best” lists of the New York Times and 13 other publications.

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