Anyone who’s watched TV show host Nigella Lawson at work would know that she has a sense of humour. But the 51-year-old food critic didn’t take kindly to being given the tag ‘queen of food porn’, following her reported ‘flirtatious’ manner of cooking and presentation. “I’m shocked that people think I’m flirting on camera. I have an intimate manner of talking to people. These reports really put me off reading. So I don’t pay attention to good or bad reviews now because they’re corrupting,” says Lawson, who returns to the tube with her new show Nigella Kitchen on TLC next month.
The author, who is known to encourage speedy ‘fun’ cooking, concerns herself only with her audience. “My relationship is with my viewers. If you believe everything good about yourself, you become a monster, and if you believe everything bad, you become a wriggling wreck. So on the whole, it’s better not to go either way.”
Lawson’s new show will see her bring together the old and the new when it comes to recipes. “It’s just a way of continuing the conversation I have with my viewers about food. I want people to catch that enthusiasm and realise how simple cooking really is.”
What can we expect from your new show?
Most people who’ve seen my other shows will know what to expect. I’m still the same. But the difference in this show is that I’m bringing it all together. I’ve tried to showcase the food I cook at home for my own family, in the sense of how we mix all those different sorts of cooking in our normal lives.
So Nigella Kitchen is very much a mixture of the old and the new, but it has a common link. It’s a way continuing that conversation I have about the food I love. I just want to make people slightly catch that enthusiasm and realise how simple cooking is. Friends tease me when they see me cooking because I do run a commentary on the side, even when I don’t have the camera on (laughs). You cook effortlessly.
How’d you develop that presentation style?
When I began doing TV, I started off thinking that I wanted to give home cooking a platform because everyone thought cooking was about the professional chef. And although I started 10 years ago, people still think it’s still about professionals. I suppose I’m here to represent the passion of the amateur.
Is that why you wrap the message in an entertaining setting?
I don’t feel like I’m being entertaining. What I want to convey is my enthusiasm for food. I need to show people how simple it is. Sometimes I think there’s an awful lot of mythologising about cooking. Yes, of course it could be complicated, but it doesn’t need to be. I want to give people confidence when they feel intimidated. That’s my aim — to make people want to jump up and do that!
Have you had a chance to taste Indian cuisine?
I’ve tasted Indian food, but not in India. London has a very rich Indian food culture. But I have my versions of Indian food. When we cook, we bring our own heritage and cooking practices to bear on it, that’s why it’ll always be my own version of an Indian recipe. A lot of Indian food is quite laborious and takes some time, and is certainly the sort of food I’d like to cook on the weekend, but you can’t carry it off midweek.
I do have a huge number of Indian cookery books, but I would be very grateful to receive any recipe an Indian reader wants to give me. Because if you get fantastic recipes from books, but if you’re not conversant in that particular way of cooking, you wouldn’t know how people cook at home. I would certainly love to be given tips by people who cook at home and what they do do when they’re short of time or what they cook when they have more. I’d also love to come to India, but I’m very ill-travelled, I’m afraid. When you have children and work, there really is not much time left to travel. But I could bring them with me now, I guess (smiles).
Nigella’s recipe for peanut butter hummus
2 x 400g cans chickpeas
1 garlic clove, peeled
3–5 x 15ml tablespoons regular olive oil
6 x 15ml tablespoons (90g) smooth peanut butter
3 x 15ml tablespoons lemon juice, or more as needed
2 teaspoons sea salt flakes or 1 teaspoon pouring salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons ground cumin n 4–6 x 15ml tablespoons Greek yogurt
2 x 15ml tablespoons peanuts, finely chopped, to serve (optional)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika, to serve (optional)
bread sticks, mini pitas, crackers, tortilla chips, to serve (optional)
Rinse chickpeas. Put garlic cloves, chickpeas, 3 tablespoons oil, peanut butter, lemon juice, salt and cumin into a food processor and blitz to a knobbly purée. n Add 4 tablespoons of the Greek yogurt and process again; if the hummus is still very thick, add another 1–2 tablespoons yogurt and the same of oil. (This will often depend on the chickpeas). n Taste for seasoning, adding more lemon juice and salt if you feel it needs it. n On serving, mix the chopped peanuts with the paprika and sprinkle on top if you wish, and put an array of bits and pieces to eat with or dip in, as you see fit.