The Scotsman

‘The whole crux of my din­ners is not so­cial dis­tanc­ing, it’s in­ti­macy’

Bri­tish-ira­nian cook Sab­rina Ghay­our talks to Katie Wright about bak­ing dis­as­ters and her new book, Sim­ply

- Food · Cookbooks · Cakes · Recipes · Cooking · Baking · Instagram · Mexico · Peru · Myanmar · Thailand

De­scrib­ing the pan­demic as “one hell of a hur­dle”, Sab­rina Ghay­our says this year has been a real chal­lenge – but the only time she’s come close to tears in lock­down? That would be when she suf­fered a three­tiered bak­ing mishap.

The Bri­tish-ira­nian cook and au­thor of best­selling Per­siana had whipped up a trio of gooey choco­late sponges, lay­ered and iced the cakes and popped them in the fridge to chill.

“Fif­teen min­utes later, mum comes home and I went, ‘Oh my god, you’ve got to see this cake, it’s amaz­ing’,” re­calls Ghay­our. “I opened the door, and I was just like” – she gasps at the mem­ory of the col­lapsed cre­ation, half of which had fallen into the fridge door. “I just was speech­less, which doesn’t hap­pen very of­ten.”

Rather than ditch the choco­latey mess – which was meant to be a birth­day sur­prise for Ghay­our’s part­ner, Stephen – she sal­vaged what she could, crafted a smaller cake, and promptly shared the hi­lar­i­ous in­ci­dent with her nearly 80,000 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers.

That cake-tas­tro­phe aside, the 44-year-old says she’s been try­ing to stay pos­i­tive dur­ing lock­down, which she’s spent at her home in York­shire with her mother – though there have been times of stress.

“Any­one that says: ‘Covid was fan­tas­tic for me, I’m ab­so­lutely thriv­ing’, is ly­ing through their teeth. I got a mas­sive chunk of anx­i­ety,” she says, when she was forced to can­cel all of her sched­uled sup­per clubs and cook­ing classes.

“The whole crux of my din­ners is not so­cial dis­tanc­ing, it’s in­ti­macy. I’m not a restau­rant chef; with sup­per clubs the whole point of them is gath­er­ing to­gether and get­ting to know peo­ple.

“But I re­ally tried not to fo­cus on that which I couldn’t con­trol, and I just thought, you know, ev­ery time I’ve been thrown a curve­ball in life, I’ve al­ways bounced back.”

Ini­tially, ex­cited about the

prospect of lux­u­ri­ous lieins, Ghay­our was in­dulging in a few gin and ton­ics of an evening, but after re­al­is­ing she was start­ing to feel gloomy the next day she says she quit drink­ing for a while.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is re­ally mess­ing with me, it’s bum­ming me out’, so I thought I might nip this in the bud, and it was very ef­fec­tive.”

Home-cook­ing has been keep­ing her oc­cu­pied too. “I’ve cooked ev­ery meal since the end of Fe­bru­ary – with the ex­cep­tion of a few sneaky vis­its to Mcdon­ald’s and now a lo­cal pub,” she states.

“I have cooked food from ev­ery sin­gle corner of the world, from Africa to Mex­ico to Peru to Burma, Thai­land, you name it.

“It keeps me busy, men­tally stim­u­lated, it keeps me go­ing in the ab­sence of be­ing busy else­where… And thank­fully I’ve got a book com­ing out, so that will dis­tract me.”

Called Sim­ply: Easy Ev­ery­day Dishes, the book is Ghay­our’s fifth, promis­ing recipes that are “big on flavour, low on labour” and packed with the Ira­nian-born cook’s trade­mark Per­sian flavours.

“The point about Sim­ply is not that it’s like my ‘easy’ book – my recipes have al­ways been easy,” she says. “I’m known for cook­ing Mid­dle East­ern food, but if you ask Mid­dle East­ern peo­ple, ‘Is she mak­ing Mid­dle East­ern food?’, they’ll prob­a­bly go, ‘No, she isn’t’. I don’t know if it’s East, I don’t

know if it’s West, it’s sim­ply Sab­rina.”

That means lots of mar­i­nated meats and hearty stews along­side slow­cooked veg­gies, crunchy sal­ads, fra­grant soups and Per­sian clas­sics like tahchin crispy rice cake and tahdig e maka­roni, a bor­rowed-fromthe-ital­ians baked spaghetti cake.

Re­cently, Ghay­our has been en­joy­ing the sim­plic­ity of 10-minute tan­doori salmon and tepsi tray ke­babs (“When you’re too lazy to shape ke­babs and fry them you just mix, mix, mix, smoosh it in a pan, shove it in the oven, cut a slice of it, done”), and be­lieves that when it comes to recipes, you’ve got to put the reader first.

“I’ve re­alised if you’re not cook­ing it at home, don’t ex­pect the other peo­ple to cook it. Trust is a big thing for me, I want to al­ways have the trust of peo­ple who buy my books, and their con­fi­dence.

“It’s a very priv­i­leged po­si­tion to be, that peo­ple think, ‘Oh Sab­rina that sounds ab­so­lutely dis­gust­ing, but be­cause it’s you I’ll give it a go’,” she says, cit­ing ba­con and salad cream as a weird but won­der­ful com­bi­na­tion she loves.

“Then they come back and say, ‘Oh my god, you were right’.”

● Sim­ply: Easy Ev­ery­day Dishes by Sab­rina Ghay­our, pho­tog­ra­phy by

Kris Kirkham, is pub­lished by Mitchell Bea­z­ley, priced

£26 (oc­to­pus­books.co.uk)

 ??  ?? 0 Sab­rina Ghay­our: ‘my recipes are big on flavour, low on labour’
0 Sab­rina Ghay­our: ‘my recipes are big on flavour, low on labour’

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