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You know how you can get in a rut in the kitchen, making the same things over and over out of ease and lack of inspiration? We’ve been there too, but then along comes a cookbook that completely has us rethinking the routine. Season ($35), the first cookbook from Nik Sharma (the blogger behind A Brown Table), offers a cross-cultural approach to cooking that will spice up your meals in more ways than one.

Season Cookbook Review

Already a #1 new release for “Herbs, Spices & Condiments” on Amazon, this book chronicles Sharma’s journey from India to California by way of the American South. While it’s difficult to categorize his style of cooking, think California Indian with influences from other cuisines like Middle Eastern and Italian.

As the cookbook’s subtitle of “Big Flavors, Beautiful Food” implies, it’s all about weaving Indian spices and ingredients, like anardana (sun-dried pomegranate), jaggery (unrefined cane sugar), and curry leaf, into recognizable Western dishes like Margherita flatbread pizza and deviled eggs. The “beautiful food” is captured through dramatic photographs. Out of the darkness emerges a bright plate of food, illuminated fingers sprinkling a final touch on top.

We bring it up, because his hands caused a sensation back when he originally established this photo aesthetic in July 2011 for his blog. As a person of color, he intentionally wanted other people with brown skin to feel represented. “I began photographing myself as I cooked, so my readers could imagine themselves in my shoes… 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,” he explains in the introduction of the book.

There’s no way you can get stuck in a rut when you’re cooking through Season. Take this recipe for Ginger-Lentil Millet Bowls, for example. Most, if not all, of the ingredients are recognizable, yet he combines them in a fresh way. With minimal prep involved, these plant-based bowls may easily find their way into your weekly cooking rotation.

Nik Sharma's Ginger Lentil Millet Bowls

Ginger-Lentil Millet Bowl

Millet is an ancient and highly nutritious grain that needs very little water to grow. It really should become a pantry staple; it’s easy to prepare and can be used in both savory and sweet preparations. In India, millet is used to make flatbreads and pilafs. This simple, one-pot meal features millet cooked with lentils and topped with strips of fried ginger and crunchy seared peanuts. I cook the lentils and millet together and season them minimally with salt so their nutty flavor and texture stand out. The topping of onions, ginger, peanuts, and a squirt of fresh lime juice provides a spicy and tangy counterpoint. Frying the ginger reduces its intensity and helps flavor the oil.

(Serves 2)
 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup pearl millet
  • 1/4 cup red lentils, picked over for stones
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons peanuts
  • 1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lime, halved
  • 6 fresh mint leaves

Directions:

1. Rinse the millet and lentils in a fine-mesh strainer under cold running water until the runoff is no longer cloudy.

2. Put them in a medium saucepan and add the 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and turn the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until both the millet and the lentils are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Most of the water should have evaporated.

3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes longer. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

3. In a small skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the peanuts and cook until seared, 4 to 5 minutes more. Add the ginger and pepper and cook for an additional minute, until the ginger is lightly browned. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.

3. Divide the cooked lentil and millet between two bowls. Top each one with half of the onion-ginger-peanut mixture. Squeeze a lime half over each bowl, garnish with the mint, and serve immediately.

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(Recipes and photos reprinted from Season by Nik Sharma with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018)