‘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
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