GEHC | Vikas Sharma

Vikas Sharma: West Indian vs. East Indian

October 11, 2016

Meet my really cool friend Vikas Sharma, aka Vik, to his pals.

Vik is a really eclectic cool dude with a whole mess of passions. A normal working guy by day, he transforms into an incredible musician by night. Also, he has a small business called La Natura Fine Foods, which jars deliciousness such as: tapenades, salsas and more. Do have a peek.

Vik grew up in a fabulous household where Mom and Dad argued about true Indian foods. You see, Vik’s father is from India and his mother is from Trinidad. Both delicious Indian eats but also different. From age six on, Vik's father told his mother her food wasn't good, and he just didn't like the way she cooked. But after 25 years, Vik admits she has grown to become an amazing one. 

Lucky he wasn’t my kid. I had the best time listening to this running critique.  Grandma was around and Vik found with her a natural fit in the kitchen. and She put him to work at the young age of 8. Vik grew up in a mostly West Indian household as Dad’s family was, for the most part, in India. He did have a few cousins here, however. And when he was just 13, he wanted a part time job. Dad got him one working at his cousin's restaurant, called Samraat, in Toronto's Little India neighbourhood. The space is now occupied by The Famous Indian Cuisine. Vik made about a buck an hour and did everything form busing tables, to serving drinks.

Yes, you heard right - a 13-year-old serving liquor. I bet that wouldn’t happen today. Parts of what makes up people, especially diverse ones, are the interesting and mostly funny paths their lives have taken them on. One of Vik’s early jobs at 20 was working in an Italian restaurant with a bunch of Lebanese guys who tried to pass themselves off as Italian’s. One chef was just out of jail and the other was an over privileged import form Italy who came in screaming and yelling. Vik recalls that this man's beautiful wife was the peacekeeper. She would comfort Vik when the tirade was complete.

I loved walking into Vik’s place. It was warm and friendly with a long butcher block laden with the most stunning produce, spices, herbs and cheese. You see Vik has been a vegetarian for most of his life. I say he is an incredibly lucky vegetarian, as Indian flavours never leave you missing meat. Plus, he is an exceptional cook.

 

I settle myself down with pad and pen and he gets to work. The litany of dishes is insane and I am thinking to myself I may have to sleep over! He gets everything done in less than 3 hours and all the time we are chatting.

Get ready to make all of these dishes, as they are fast and easy and so very tasty.

West Indian Potato Curry like Grandma's
Serves 2

  • 100 g fingerling potatoes, washed, skin on
  • 1 clove chopped garlic
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 plum tomato, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil, or olive if you prefer
  • 2 teaspoon Madras curry powder, Vik swears that just buying a jar of powder works brilliantly
  • water
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a pot and add onions and garlic, cook until slightly brown and add curry powder to bloom or open up the flavours and cook out the raw taste. This is about a minute. Now add the tomatoes, potatoes and water just to cover. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a medium low heat. Keep an eye on the water because you do want the potatoes saucy so add water as necessary.

Paneer Tikka

When I arrived at Vik’s the Paneer was cut into triangles aprox ¼ inch think and had been marinating overnight in:

  • 1 package of paneer
  • 250 ml plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons of Tandoori Masala, Vik loves the one from the UK
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow pepper cut into equal sized pieces
  • 1 onion cut into equal sized pieces
  • sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 large pre soaked skewers

Vik had the grill on for this dish, but said a super hot oven to mimic an tandoor would also work so set your oven to 500 degrees F, and let it get good and hot or heat the grill the same way.

 

Skewer the vegetables and cheese and either place directly on the grill or a foil and parchment lined baking sheet. Cook until edges are brown and really crispy. At the very end just before serving give a good squeeze of lemon.

Here is a funny little antidote Vik shared with me about the history of Tikka Masala that I was truly surprised about. I always knew there was a lot of food history between England and India but never realized that Scotland played a major role. The story goes that there was a bar in Edinburgh serving Tandoori Chicken and the customers were demanding gravy. The owner went into the kitchen opened up a tin of tomato soup and dumped it in a pot with the tandoori chicken and the dish was born.

Now, back to recipes because you don’t want to miss even one.

Mom made a lot of spinach and always called it plain spinach, and when Vik asked his Mom how to make it, she just said add a few onions and garlic, then upon reflection she then said add cumin, tomatoes and on it went. This is the trouble and joy of great ethnic home cooks. You must observe very carefully what gets into the pot.

Spinach West Indian Style

  • 2 bunches of well washed but not dried spinach
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 thin slice of peeled ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 plum tomato, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Heat a wok until hot, add the olive oil, swirl, and add onions, garlic, ginger and cumin. Cook until soft and translucent. Add the garam masala, tomatoes and spinach, salt and pepper. Cover and steam over medium heat until well cooked.

This recipe works wonderfully with okra, swiss chard or zucchini. With the okra and zucchini you may need a bit of water, ¼ cup as there isn’t any in these veggies.

 

Last but certainly not least is:

Eggplant West Indian Style

This recipe has two parts, making it easier to work

Part 1

  • 1 eggplant (try and buy one that is not overly fat as these are the ones that can be bitter and full of seeds, washed but keep stem on)
  • 1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil

Keeping the eggplant whole, make a deep slice lengthwise into it and fill with sliced garlic and the olive oil. Place on a hot grill and turn every 5 minutes or so until softened. This same process can be done in a pre-heated 400f oven on a foil and parchment lined baking sheet. Set aside

 

Part 2

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 plum tomato, diced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 small thai chilis
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Peel and roughly chop the eggplant. In a wok or frying pan heat oil and add onion, garlic and cumin and let cook until a medium brown. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper and eggplant and cook for 10 minutes on medium until the mixture has come together. Vik serves this with a drizzle of yogurt.

 A diverse spread!

A diverse spread!

A small addendum: when Vik worked at an Italian cafe, he trained under a chef who did not add salt to his dishes thus allowing the true flavours to come through. I can promise you his Grandmother and Mother salted, and personally I, do as well. I will leave it up to you to do what you like best.

Vik also wanted me to mention three of his favourite go-to spots for ingredients.  These would be Toronto Cash and Carry for great Indian spices and hand-roasted nuts,  Fiesta Farms, and Lady York .

As I said in the beginning of this journey, do not miss trying La Natura Fine Foods' awesome jars. All natural, farm fresh and hand made with a ton of love. Enjoy cooking these recipes, as I know I will!

Eat well,

Joanna