GOD­DESS OF #FOODPORN

WHY NIGELLA LAW­SON WANTS TO VISIT IN­DIA AND COOK FOR YOU

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - NEWS - By Lubna Salim

AN HTBRUNCH EX­CLU­SIVE!

“AS A COOK, IT RE­ALLY HELPS IF YOU ARE FOL­LOW­ING A RECIPE WRIT­TEN BY SOME­ONE WHO UN­DER­STANDS THE GE­OG­RA­PHY YOU ARE IN. THE PRO­DUCE WE GET IN THE UK CAN­NOT BE THE SAME AS YOU’D GET IN IN­DIA”

N igella Law­son is so quintessen­tially Bri­tish that it is hard to imag­ine her in an Indian kitchen. The Queen of Food Porn (as she has been dubbed by the in­ter­na­tional me­dia) has al­most al­ways been seen in her own beau­ti­fully re­sourced kitchen on her tele­vi­sion shows, flirt­ing with in­gre­di­ents, and us­ing tonguein-cheek eu­phemisms to make reg­u­lar, ev­ery­day food so sexy that it would make any cen­sor board deeply un­com­fort­able (not to men­tion rav­en­ous).

Yet, fab­u­lously fit after los­ing a cou­ple of ki­los (and un­for­tu­nately a few of her curves), Nigella, the 57-year-old cook­ery show pre­sen­ter and au­thor, says that her kitchen would not be her kitchen if she did not have cumin ( jeera) and lime pickle on her shelves.

She is clearly also fa­mil­iar with many more Indian in­gre­di­ents, point­ing out with a grin that her name is the English trans­la­tion of the Indian spice kalonji (nigella seed), and that as a cit­i­zen of a coun­try where Indian food is the most pop­u­lar takeaway, it’s hard not to know what it is – and what it can be. That ex­plains why there are so many In­dia-themed recipes in her books, in­clud­ing her lat­est, At My

Ta­ble, which cel­e­brates the magic of home cook­ing. FOOD AND GE­OG­RA­PHY To know what Indian food can be, how­ever, Nigella knows she must visit In­dia. She has no im­me­di­ate plans to visit the coun­try, how­ever, she’s a huge fan of the UK-born cook­book au­thor Meera Sodha. Her other favourite recipe books are by food and travel writer Mad­hur Jaf­frey – in fact, Mad­hur’s recipes were the ones Nigella cooked her first Indian meals from.

“As a cook, it re­ally helps if you are fol­low­ing a recipe writ­ten by some­one who un­der­stands the ge­o­graph­i­cal and other con­straints in which you are cook­ing,” says Nigella. Hav­ing eaten Indian food at restau­rants in the UK, and in the homes of friends of Indian ori­gin, she knows that any cui­sine taken out of its home coun­try will be dif­fer­ent from the orig­i­nal. “The pro­duce in the UK can­not be the same as you’d get in In­dia, for ex­am­ple, but I’m keen to learn what I can,” she says.

If she were to visit In­dia, then, Nigella would do her best to be in­vited to homes. “I al­ways seek home cook­ing,” she says. “I know that cer­tain ar­eas in In­dia have cer­tain culi­nary spe­cial­i­ties, and I re­ally want to be able to travel and taste the food of each re­gion – and I very much hope to be able to sam­ple proper fam­ily food, too and, I hope, come back hav­ing learnt to cook some of it!”

In par­tic­u­lar, she wants to learn “how to make all those won­der­ful breads.” While she did once learn to make cha­p­atis, she didn’t prac­tice enough to be pro­fi­cient at it. Which means on this yet-un- planned In­dia trip, Nigella will have to limit the num­ber of Indian breads she wants to make so that she’ll have the time to prop­erly learn the tech­niques, “and en­sure I have time to prac­tise un­til my hands know how to make them by them­selves!”

For now though, Nigella is grate­ful when her Indian friends share their fam­ily recipes with her, be­cause aside from the fact that such recipes are truly orig­i­nal, they also in­sti­gate other recipes. “I’m of­ten in­spired by Indian cook­ing even when the recipe it­self isn’t in it­self Indian,” says Nigella. “I’ve got a very sim­ple dal in At My Ta­ble, which is very much an in­ter­pre­ta­tion and not an au­then­tic Indian dal, and I’ve got an Indian-Spiced Chicken Tray­bake, which is not re­motely Indian, but I wanted to use and cel­e­brate those won­der­ful flavours.”

So a sim­ple

tray of cubed pota­toes and chicken thighs is gor­geously en­hanced by the ad­di­tion of cumin seeds, fen­nel seeds, mus­tard seeds, nigella seeds, turmeric and gar­lic. And a fab­u­lous sand­wich can be made with any left­over chicken by mix­ing it with some may­on­naise, mango chut­ney and garam masala.

It is rarely just one spice work­ing alone, but the in­ter­play be­tween a few as they mix to­gether in the pot that makes cook­ing so mag­i­cal, says Nigella. “Still, hav­ing said that, I’d have to say pretty em­phat­i­cally that I would not want to have to cook with­out cumin in my kitchen,” she says. “I don’t think I’d ever let that hap­pen, though! Its rich, earthy, al­most-cit­rusy savouri­ness lends it­self to so many dishes from so many cul­tures.” She’s even used the hum­ble jeera in her bak­ing, as proved by the recipe of a plain, but aro­matic Cumin Seed Loaf Cake, and she’s ob­vi­ously fond of kalonji.

HOME CHEFF­ING

Cook­ing for Nigella is about con­fi­dence. Which is why so many of her TV shows and books tar­get the ner­vous-in-the-kitchen neo­phyte, as well as the argh-cook­ing-takes-too­long food-takeaway ad­dict.

So she spends a lot of time per­fect­ing her recipes to make them re­li­able and un­der­stand­able. “I have to have ab­so­lute faith in the recipes, and know that the reader can, too,” she says. “And be­cause I know that the recipes work, I feel con­fi­dent that some­one who doesn’t cook could fol­low the steps eas­ily.”

At My Ta­ble fea­tures sev­eral recipes for the cook­ery-chal­lenged. “For in­stance, I have a Chicken and Pea Tray­bake, which is ab­so­lutely ef­fort­less,” says Nigella. To make it you just open a big packet of frozen peas, slice some leeks and mix them on a bak­ing tray along with some sea­son­ing, gar­lic and oil, sit some chicken thighs on top and roast in an oven.

Her Emer­gency Brown­ies and Le­mon Ten­der­cake are sim­i­larly de­signed for cook­ing novices. All the in­gre­di­ents for the brown­ies are mixed and then poured into a foil tray and baked, and the egg­less Le­mon Ten­der­cake is fan­tas­ti­cally fuss-free too. Just stir the in­gre­di­ents to­gether, pour into a tin, shove in an oven, and then, once the slightly fluffy cake is baked and cooled, top it with co­conut milk yo­gurt and a blue­berry com­pote.

“But you have such fan­tas­tic fruit in In­dia, that you could top with that if you wanted,” says Nigella. “I haven’t tried it with mango, but I imag­ine it would be won­der­ful!”

At My Ta­ble is sim­i­lar to Nigella’s other cook­books in voice, her feel­ings about food and her palate. “But its struc­ture is dif­fer­ent,” she says. “I knew even be­fore I wrote the book that I didn’t want it to have chap­ters; I needed it to flow freely.”

So while there’s no over­ar­ch­ing nar­ra­tive or theme, the recipes tell the story. “I’ve al­ways be­lieved in the im­por­tance of home cook­ing. And by home cook­ing, I mean what it is to be a home cook,” she says.

Two of her favourite recipes from the book are the But­ter­nut and Sweet Potato Curry and Co­rian­der and Jalapeño Salsa. “The rea­son I’ve put them to­gether here is that while mak­ing the tele­vi­sion se­ries, and after the book was fin­ished, I hap­pened to be mak­ing the curry for sup­per, and had made the salsa to eat first, with some tor­tilla chips to dip into it. The next day, I heated up some curry for my­self, and topped it with a dol­lop of the salsa, and the two were just so fab­u­lous to­gether, I’ve served them like that ever since,” she ex­plains.

The curry is a happy mix of in­gre­di­ents from her kitchen and is very much part of her love af­fair with fresh turmeric!

Her favourite desserts in­clude Vanilla Layer Cake with Er­mine Icing, which is a fam­ily treat meant for cel­e­bra­tions first made for her daugh­ter’s birth­day two years ago, as well as the Rose and Pep­per Pavlova and the Sticky Tof­fee Pud­ding.

BET­TER THAN SEX

You can al­most imag­ine her paus­ing and think­ing for a few sec­onds, be­fore imp­ishly adding her NoChurn Salted Caramel Ice Cream, which is oh-so-fab­u­lous with the Sticky Tof­fee Pud­ding, and for a mo­ment, even though this in­ter­view is not con­ducted in per­son, you are drawn into her Queen of Food Porn per­sona, some­thing she says comes nat­u­rally to her.

“My shows are not scripted at all. That was some­thing I in­sisted on from the very be­gin­ning. And when I think back, I feel very grate­ful that I was al­lowed that free­dom, be­cause I re­ally don’t think I could work from a script,” says Nigella.

Of course, she thinks about what she’s go­ing to say be­fore­hand. “The direc­tor says ‘Ac­tion!’ and I start cook­ing, and I talk my way through it, ex­plain­ing what’s hap­pen­ing, say­ing what comes into my mind,” she says.

Be­cause of that, she’s some­times drawn into so­cial me­dia con­tro­versy, as she was this Septem­ber when she said, “In­sta­gram can make a cook de­spair.” “I love In­sta­gram,” Nigella de­fends her­self. “But what I was say­ing sim­ply was that there is a cer­tain kind of cook­ing, home cook­ing, which tastes won­der­ful but isn’t photogenic.”

She’s so right. What re­ally mat­ters about food is how it tastes.

“I LOVE IN­STA­GRAM. BUT THERE IS A CER­TAIN K IND OF COOK ING, HOME COOK ING, WHICH TASTES WON­DER­FUL, BUT ISN’T PHOTOGENIC”

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