Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food, home cook and blogger Nik Sharma’s first cookbook, is indeed beautiful. Most of the 270 photographs showcase its delights in a style reminiscent of 17th-century still lifes; the main subject, the food, is illuminated against a black background.
The book cover and each of the nine recipe chapters capture Sharma’s brown hands in action. “I began photographing myself as I cooked,” Sharma writes in his introduction, “so my readers could imagine themselves in my shoes, bustling around in the kitchen. I had an ulterior motive as well: I wanted them to see that people who looked like me cooked and baked in kitchens all over the world.”
The intentional intimacy of those photographs continues into the text of the book: “Mine is the story of a gay immigrant, told through food,” Sharma writes. “Seasoning,” he continues, “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.”
Sharma’s story begins in Bombay (he prefers the old name to the new, Mumbai) and wanders through Cincinnati, Washington, D.C. (where he began his popular blog A Brown Table as a creative antidote to his work as a medical researcher), and San Francisco, where he now writes “A Brown Kitchen,” a weekly column for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Sharma’s unique combination of seasonings brings his two worlds — India and America — together. Some of the 100 recipes are simple adaptations of American classics: adding toasted coriander, roasted garlic, and Thai chili to egg salad “bumps up the flavor profile,” for example. Meatloaf is made more aromatic with the addition of ginger, garam masala, apples, and mint to the customary parsley, Worcestershire, and bread crumbs. Other recipes, like Deviled Eggs with Creamy Tahini and Za’atar, and Chouriço Potato Salad, play with staples of Southern cooking picked up in the Appalachian kitchen of his husband’s mother.
Once upon a time, only people living in large multicultural cities would have had access to the exotic spices, herbs, oils, salts, sauces, seeds, resins, roots, and condiments necessary to reproduce Sharma’s imaginative recipes. But with all the required ingredients easily available via the internet, adventurous cooks can explore the many ways Season can bring a world of flavor to their home kitchens.
Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food, recipes and photographs by Nik Sharma, is published by Chronicle Books.