Nadiya’s personality shines through her latest cookbook, Nadiya’s British Food Adventure: you can’t help but love her. I saw her interviewed by Barney Desmazery in Oxford a couple of weeks ago, and ‘charming’ doesn’t cover it. Nadiya is warm, candid, bright, and very funny in person – expressive and quick-witted, with a natural comic’s timing.
It’s unsurprising that Nadiya’s been back on our television screens once again for Nadiya’s British Food Adventure. This follows last year’s The Chronicles of Nadiya and, of course, her Bake Off win. She’s a natural food presenter, friendly and casual, seemingly at ease and knowledgeable without being condescending. Having interviewed her last year, I always feel particular interest whenever she pops up in the public eye. Even though she has no chance of remembering the five minutes we spent chatting, I like to think that somehow our brief meeting made us best mates. Hey, it could happen.
Her latest book is accessible and welcoming, packed with little stories and anecdotes about her family and friends. There are also over 120 new recipes. The general idea is that the recipes are Nadiya’s takes on British classics, or new ways with traditional British ingredients. The book shows us a culinary landscape where tradition is turned on its head. Eggy bread is updated with masala. A classic steak and kidney pie marries with the North African spice mix, ras el hanout. A rice pudding meets caradamom, mango, coconut, and lime.
On an initial flick-through of the book, I could see lots of recipes that I was keen to try out – always a good sign. The photography is pretty clean and modern, and the dishes pictured look enticing. Though Nadiya is probably still best known for winning Bake Off, the book is packed with mostly savoury recipes. Never fear though – there’s a sweet section at the end! It’s organised roughly into meal times and occasions – breakfast, lunch, dinner, parties and so on – and is easy to navigate.
The first recipe I tried was the Crab Cakes with Lemon Mayo, a recipe for pretty classic crab cakes spiced up with coriander, chilli, and ginger. I love crab, hence my eagerness to try this, although I did baulk slightly at the amount called for because 850g crabmeat is expensive. In fairness, the recipe does specify that either tinned or fresh crab can be used. However, although I tried three supermarkets, I couldn’t find any tinned crab, so I had to go with fresh in the end.
The recipe was easy to follow. I particularly appreciated the tip for making mashed potato. Nadiya suggests you simply microwave a large potato for 15 minutes. This saved me from automatically going down my normal, and far more time consuming, mashed potato making route. I did find the crab cakes spectacularly hard to fry, as they kept falling apart in the pan. I suspect my mixture was somehow too wet, although I followed the ingredients and method to the letter for the sake of testing. The finished result was undeniably delicious. Even though the recipe made 24 little cakes, they didn’t last for very long at all in our two person household.
Next up was the Lamb Bhuna with Garlic Naan. I am by no means a curry expert, but the recipe was generally simple to follow and didn’t include any hard-to-find ingredients. The finished curry was delicious, with a gorgeous warm and complex spiced flavour. However, mine had a lot more sauce than the fairly dry curry shown in the book’s picture. When making it again, I will cook it for at least half an hour more than suggested in the recipe, and add less liquid.
There was what I’d consider to be a pretty serious flaw in the recipe, though, and that was in the method for the naan. The recipe instructs you to add water to the dough without telling you how much to add, or even how soft a dough you are aiming for. There’s no water listed in the ingredients for the bread, and there are no instructions to measure any for the naan at another point in the recipe. I make bread a lot, so I made an educated guess, and the naan turned out fine. For someone less familiar with the process, though, I think it would be a bit of an issue.
The Caramelised Onion Soup with Cayenne Croutons was a simple twist on a classic recipe. The flavours of cayenne and thyme enhance the old favourite. It’s the sort of recipe which takes a bit of time, but it’s mostly passive time – waiting for the onions to brown and then simmer and so on. It’s well worth the wait for the end result. I made it looking for a simple lunch option, and wasn’t disappointed.
The last recipe I tested was the Apple, Fig, Brie, & Honey Strudel. It’s from the ‘Pudding’ section of the book, but it’s actually an interesting hybrid, because it’s not massively sweet. I went for it because it seemed unusual, and it definitely was. I really loved the combinations of flavours. I’d be tempted to serve it with ice cream or something else to up the sweetness if I was doing it for a proper dessert, but actually, if you leave off the icing sugar it’s almost savoury enough to pass for lunch.
My strudel was not nearly as pretty as the one pictured in the book: I’d personally recommend popping the puff pastry in the fridge for at least half an hour (rather than the fifteen minutes specified) before plaiting. I also found the brie leaked out of the strudel fairly drastically in the oven, probably due to my poor plaiting leaving gaps from which it could escape. Nonetheless, I’d recommend freezing the brie for ten or fifteen minutes after slicing and before putting in the strudel, so that it’s cooked but not melted in a puddle by the time the strudel is done.
There’s a lot to like about this book. Nadiya’s writing is clear, warm, and very readable: the book has character. It’s full of tempting recipes, and there are plenty more I’d like to cook. I’m particularly pleased to see offal popping up a couple of times, and there’s a chicken liver salad I am very keen to try. There’s a good balance struck between adventurous and accessible dishes. Really, the book has something for everyone, regardless of preferences or skill level.
Having worked my way though a couple of the recipes, I do feel like there are a couple of adjustments that could be made. For the sake of testing, I followed the recipes, but had I been cooking casually I would have instinctively made some changes going along. I think some of the recipes I tried would benefit from minor changes that illustrate the end goals. For example, ‘leave the bhuna to simmer gently for 30 minutes with the lid on’ could be ‘simmer the bhuna for around 30 minutes, or until the majority of the liquid has evaporated and you’re left with a thick, clinging sauce’, or an instruction to chill pastry for 15 minutes could specify instead that you should chill the pastry until firm and easy to work with. This is basically just me being picky, though.
The main thing to note is that James and I really enjoyed all the food I have cooked using recipes from Nadiya’s British Food Adventure this week. The ultimate compliment is that there haven’t been any leftovers. I’m really quite sad that there is no more strudel.