In What Would Nigella Do we explore the basics of cooking and being comfortable in a kitchen. The title is a hat-tip to our favourite home cook who approaches cooking with resourcefulness, practicality, and most importantly, a sense of humour. Although this is a series that may appear to be directed at beginners alone, it is also for that cook who makes the perfect pavlova, but never seems to get that pot of rice right. In the time of MasterChef and molecular gastronomy, we are sometimes a little sheepish to ask the seemingly obvious questions. When faced with such a dilemma, we ask ourselves, What Would Nigella Do?
I was never one of those children who subsisted on weird diets like cheese and ketchup or ate only orange coloured foods till I was a teenager. I was an intrepid eater with a penchant for spicy foods. The Kerala red fish curry was my condiment of choice, dipping everything into it like I tend to dip most things into hot sauce these days.
There were a few favourites that had me excited about for hours before the meal, however. Spaghetti and meatballs, for one. I grew out of that phase, and can’t stand the sight of it now, for the most part. I also had a soft spot for ‘tandoori’ chicken, which was basically chicken marinated in Indian spices and grilled. Although my tastebuds are now not as excited by most of my childhood favourites, there are a few that still have me sighing with delight. I have, since, adapted these over the years, making them more ‘adult-friendly’ and interesting — both in flavour and texture.
Nissin’s chicken flavoured cup noodles were the poison of choice during holidays when my cousins would visit from out of town. The dehydrated pieces of chicken, the three dried peas, and a few sad slivers of carrot were thinly veiled attempts at making it a more nutritious dish, but it was the cup part that was genius. The internet is booming with bowl meals, driving home a point that any child who grew up in the 90s could have told you — everything, even terribly salty instant noodles, tastes better eaten from a bowl, or in this case, a cup. These days when I’m craving a noodle-fix, I try to go the homemade route, because it’s not just healthier, but it also tastes so much better. Having chicken, beef or vegetable stock on hand makes this process much easier — cook the noodles in stock, add protein in the form of already cooked chicken, or mushrooms, and greens like bak choy or baby spinach. If you have carrots, corn or beans, those could go in too. Flavouring the broth is important — I like white miso with a dash of soy sauce. If you’re feeling special, top with a soft boiled egg — oozy and gooey, it’s the perfect dish for when you need some TLC.
Mac and Cheese
Not quite a childhood favourite, I was introduced to the joys of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in college. I hated it the first time — how could anything be so disgustingly rich and completely uniformly textured, with each bite as predictable as the last? But of course, this is the very thing that makes it comfort food for some, and before long, I was hooked. The orange, slightly card-board-y version has its charm, but it’s possible to make a much nicer version in your kitchen with hardly any planning, which is the other great thing about mac and cheese, right? It’s emergency food. Boil pasta (bonus points if you have elbow macaroni on hand), set aside, make a béchamel sauce with butter, flour and milk, and stir in as much grated cheese as your conscience will allow. What cheeses should you use? Gouda, cheddar, Romano or Parmesan are all good options. But really, whatever you have in your fridge will work. Add cooked shrimp or chicken if you have some, empty into a baking tray, top with breadcrumbs and bake till golden.
I’ve never been excited about desserts, and one of the few sweet treats I enjoyed as a child was jello, or jelly as we would call it. Raspberry was my flavour of choice, and the deep, jewel-red was endlessly fascinating — even more so after watching that wobbling jello scene in Jurassic Park. One of the nice things about growing up is learning that there are more flavours in the world for jello than just raspberry, lemon and pineapple, and making jello at home couldn’t be simpler. All you need is a juice concentrate of your choice — try apple, guava, or pomegranate to get started, and some gelatin. Pour the juice into a saucepan, add the gelatin (1 tablespoon for 1 cup of juice) and stir until it dissolves. Bring to a boil and let it simmer for 10 minutes. If needed, add sugar or honey. Pour into a mould and refrigerate until set.
I was never a fan of that mandatory glass of milk every morning, but some Milo powder stirred in made it a lot more appealing. A few years into adulthood, I rediscovered Milo in Singapore, which is something of an obsession in that country. Milo dinosaur, I was delighted to discover, is iced milo topped with a heaping of the malty, chocolatey Milo powder. Today, a tablespoon or two of Milo vastly improves an otherwise boring breakfast smoothie. If you’re feeling indulgent, vanilla ice cream and milo make for a perfect summer’s day treat.
With a few trial and errors, it is entirely possible to come up with a dish that makes both your adult self as well as your 10-year-old self perfectly happy. Happy experimenting!
Aysha Tanya is the co-founder of Goya Media. When not working at Goya, she enjoys reading and marvelling at the wide range of mustard types available in the supermarket.
Illustration by Yasra Khoker of Doodlenomics.
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