Nadiya Hussain on juggling homeschooling and family meals while celebrating Ramadan amid a pandemic
Plus, scroll down for three easy and delicious recipes from the 'Bake Off' star that are perfect for iftar ...
Five years have passed since Nadiya Hussain, 35, stole the hearts of a nation when she served up that special blend of culinary prowess and engaging personality on The Great British Bake Off.
More than 15 million viewers tuned in to watch the final as Hussain was catapulted from being a stay-at-home mother of three to previously unimagined heights of almost overnight fame.
She has been awarded an MBE and even baked the cake for Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday in 2016. And now she has gone global on Netflix.
Ramadan is such an important time and this year it is hard not being able to share our food together
As her series Nadiya’s Time to Eat is beamed to millions of homes worldwide, a whole new audience is meeting the mild-mannered, first-generation British-Bangladeshi born and raised in Bedfordshire.
The show, with its emphasis on time-saving meals and using ingredients commonly stocked in kitchen cupboards, has become a timely saviour for many amid the Covid-19 crisis.
For those observing Ramadan in lockdown, many of whom admit to “binge watching” the episodes back-to-back, it seems the delicacies Hussain cooks on the programme have been a mixed blessing. Fans have affectionately commented on social media that the recipes are making them salivate while fasting during the day, but are ultimately a source of delicious inspiration for Iftar.
Hussain is acutely aware of the importance to families of breaking the fast in the evenings and the challenges posed by the 2020 lockdown.
“Ramadan is such an important time and this year it is hard not being able to share our food together,” she says.
“When the fasting has passed, I know what it’s like to anticipate that meal and knowing it is made with love."
So what is her go-to dish for iftar that can be made in advance? "I would always say make something sweet, like an easy chocolate mousse that can be made with chocolate spread and cream and left in the fridge.
“It is a mad rush just before the Iftar. It’s insane. Everyone is running around, so an easy chocolate mousse can be made earlier, so it is ready for you to eat. Egg rolls are my children’s favourite. They are also really easy and you only need a couple of ingredients.”
Mental health struggles during lockdown
The journey to becoming a multimedia star has not been plain sailing for Hussain. Her struggles with anxiety over the years mean that she knows better than most the impact that the coronavirus lockdown is having on mental health, especially for parents juggling homeschooling with work in isolation.
I feel slightly useless so I share my baking with the local hospital and the fire service and the people who have been forgotten
“It is really easy to feel useless in lockdown,” she says. “All the women in my life are key workers: my sisters work in a school, pharmacy and doctor’s surgery, and my mum works in a hospital.
“Lockdown is really hard with the impact on mental health. Because I am at home, I feel slightly useless, so I share my baking with the local hospital and the fire service and the people who have been forgotten.
“I make them meals. It’s not about saying ‘look what I am doing’. This year, we cannot share our food together at iftars, but we can share with people who do need it ... the response has been lovely.”
Hussain says that her children, aged 9, 12 and 13, have been diligent with their schooling during lockdown, but not so much with their helping in the kitchen now that the whole family is at home full time. They are, she says with a laugh, less interested in the cooking itself than in the end result.
“Normally, I put post-it notes out for them on what to make for dinner, but now, because I’m at home, there is no room for them to jump in,” Hussain explains. “But they have been amazing – the children are being tremendous in dealing with such an unusual situation and are so resilient.”
Her own childhood was spent in Luton, near London, but Hussain's father would regularly take her and her five siblings back to his family’s small village in Bangladesh, where her grandfather was a rice farmer.
The experiences, coming face-to-face with extreme poverty compared with her English upbringing, made her recognise the importance of not wasting food, as well as not allowing opportunities to pass by.
'Use your freezer more'
These early travels have inspired many of the recipes in Time to Eat, and now, more than ever, Hussain’s many fans – some of whom call themselves “Nadiyators” – are relying on her money-saving tips as they shop for essentials in such challenging times.
“I’m really excited about the show,” she says. “For me, it was all about the way I cook and the way I live. It is about saving time and planning on how to use the freezer more and storing, which is really convenient right now, and using the equipment you have at home.”
The feedback, as it were, from the Netflix programme, has been incredible, Hussain says, seeming genuinely stunned to think that people are watching around the world.
She explains that a career in cooking was not something she planned. She never even thought to apply to appear as a contestant on The Great British Bake Off – her husband sent in the application on her behalf.
'I do not take for granted what has happened'
Since winning the final back in 2015, life has been a whirlwind of activity in which she has made all manner of television and radio programmes, and written several books for adults and children.
“When I went on the show, I did not anticipate what would happen afterwards,” Hussain says.
“I didn’t go out for a career. Cooking is something I love to do; it doesn’t feel like a job. I still find it bizarre people recognise me and that globally people know who I am.
“I’ve recently been to Louisiana and Canada. I didn’t expect anyone to know who I am, but people recognised me and it just froze my mind.”
Reflecting on the past few years, she says that her many successes have emphasised the importance of making the most of every moment. Sometimes, she says, she has to pinch herself to make sure it had all actually come to pass, especially the MBE, which she describes as “a big deal”.
“I do not take for granted what has happened,” she says. “My family and I are open about death and mortality, and you have to make sure you take every opportunity that comes. No one could have guessed that 2020 would be in lockdown – it just shows you need to take the chances in life when they come.”
Three recipes from Nadiya
All recipes are from Time to Eat by Nadiya Hussain (Michael Joseph, £20).
Recipe: Harissa Bean Pizza
This is one for when you are unprepared and there’s not much in the freezer or fridge – easy, delicious and pretty quick. It’s a really good way of jazzing up the humble baked bean. I’m using naan as my base, but you can use what you like, or simply whatever you have at home.
2 large naan breads (or pittas, or leftover bread)
2 x 400g tins of baked beans
4 teaspoons rose harissa
a handful of baby spinach/ 2 cubes frozen spinach
4 spring onions
Preheat the grill to medium high and have a baking tray at the ready. Place the naan breads on the tray. Open the tins of beans and get rid of any excess sauce off the top, then pour into a saucepan with the harissa and baby spinach, mix through and heat gently over a medium heat.
Spoon the beans over the surface of each naan, and use the back of your spoon to create 2 little dips for the eggs in each one. Don’t be tempted to add too many beans. If you have any left over, just decant them into a Tupperware container and leave them in the fridge, ready to microwave for another meal.
Crack 2 eggs into each naan, then chop the spring onions and sprinkle all over the beans and eggs. Don’t worry if the egg runs a little.
Put under the grill for 5 minutes – this will just set the whites and leave the yolk runny, which is the way I like it. My husband cannot bear to eat runny eggs, so I would grill his for a further 3 minutes or at least until the yolk is no longer runny.
Serve and devour straight away
Recipe: Chorizo fish stew with garlic bread
I was raised on fish curry, so brothy, flavourful fish is right up my alley. This is warm and delicious and perfect to dippy-dip with home-made garlic bread. You can double batch the stew, if you like, so you have one in the freezer for another time. Simply double the stew ingredients.
ACTIVE TIME: 1 HOUR
TOTAL TIME: 2 HOURS 30 MINUTES
For the garlic bread
450g plain flour
7g fast-action yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
300ml warm water
2 tbsps coarse semolina
75g butter, melted
5 cloves of garlic, grated
a small handful of fresh parsley, chopped
a good pinch of rock salt
For the stew
5 tbsps vegetable oil
230g chorizo, chopped into chunks (halal chorizo is now available from many supermarkets and online suppliers)
2 tbsps crushed mustard seeds
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
6 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp tomato puree
1 tsp chilli powder
5 tbsps malt vinegar
540g white fish chunks (I like to use pollock or basa)
120g smoked salmon trimmings
a large handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Start by making the garlic bread. Put the flour, yeast, sugar and salt into a bowl. Add the butter and rub it in. Make a well in the centre and add the water, then bring the dough together and knead for 10 minutes, until it is smooth and stretchy. Put it back into the bowl, cover and leave to prove for 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
Have ready a roasting tray, lightly greased and with semolina sprinkled over the base. Knock the dough back in the bowl, then tip out on to a floured surface. Divide it into golfball-size pieces and put them on the tray, leaving small gaps in between to give the dough room to grow.
Cover and leave to prove until doubled in size.
Now on to the stew. Put the oil into a pan over a medium heat, and when it’s hot, add the chorizo and cook until some of the spices have been released. Add the mustard seeds and allow them to sizzle. Then add the garlic and cook until golden. Mix in the chopped tomatoes, salt, tomato puree, chilli powder and vinegar, and cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 160°C / fan 140°C and bake the garlic bread for 30 to 35 minutes.
Now add your white fish to the stew and cook for a few minutes with the lid on. Then take off the lid, add the water and leave to simmer on the lowest heat.
Take the stew off the heat and mix in the salmon and parsley. Put the lid on the pan to keep it hot.
Meanwhile, melt the butter and add the garlic, parsley and rock salt.
As soon the rolls come out of the oven, brush all the butter on top of the hot rolls.
Serve the stew with the hot garlicky bread
Recipe: Ras Malai Cake
Ras malai is Bengali for "juice creams". They are these little bits of cake that bob around in gently spiced milk, like a floating cheesecake thing. This is my version without the floating. Same delicious flavours – rich, creamy and lightly spiced and fragrant.
For the cake
10 strands of saffron, dropped into 4 tablespoons of warm milk
250g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
5 medium eggs, beaten
250g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
For the milk drizzle
100g milk powder
150ml boiling water
cardamom seeds, removed from the pods and ground
For the buttercream
2 cardamom pods, crushed
3 tablespoons whole milk
300g unsalted butter, softened
600g icing sugar, sifted
edible rose petals, mixed with 100g roughly chopped pistachios
Preheat the oven to 170°C / fan 150°C. Grease and line two 20-centimetre sandwich tins.
Make the saffron milk. Place the butter and sugar in a bowl and whisk until light and fluffy and almost white. Add the eggs a little at a time, making sure to keep whisking. Then add the flour, baking powder and saffron milk, and fold the mixture until you have a smooth, shiny batter.
Divide the mixture between the two tins and level the tops. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the milk drizzle by mixing the milk powder with the boiling water in a bowl. Add the ground cardamom seeds and mix. As soon as the cakes are out of the oven, drizzle some of the milk all over the top of both cakes and leave in the tin for at least 10 minutes before turning them out and removing them to cool on a rack.
To make the buttercream, put the crushed cardamom pods in a small bowl of the milk and leave to infuse.
Meanwhile, put the butter into a mixing bowl and whisk until very soft and light in colour. Add the icing sugar a little at a time, whisking after each addition, until all combined. Then pour the cardamom milk through a sieve into the buttercream and whisk until really light and fluffy.
Once the cakes are totally cool, place one cake on your serving dish and spread an even layer of buttercream over it. Put the other cake on top. Flip the cake over so the milk drizzle top becomes the bottom and sandwiches the buttercream. Spread some buttercream evenly across the top and the sides and use a ruler to level off the edges.
If you have any cream left over, you can pipe little kisses on top. Then gently take the rose petals and pistachios and press them into the bottom edge of the cake.
Updated: May 25, 2020 12:37 PM