Sunday, April 10, 2016

Never pick up hitchhikers

Clearly, I am a fan.
All I want to cook right now are quick, easy dinners that everyone will like and eat and not complain about. I currently have no desire to bone chickens, stuff dumplings, master cassoulet or even fry doughnuts. What is happening to me?! Have I become normal? I keep wanting to say, “I’m so lazy,” but falling back on “lazy” is what’s lazy. Lazy would be actually wanting to cook an elaborate dinner and then slumping on the sofa to watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre instead. I don’t want to cook an elaborate dinner, I choose to slump on the sofa watching classic horror movies. 

And for this state of mind, Nigella is really just perfect.

Someone in the comments asked me to pick the best Nigella Lawson book and the short answer is, I can’t. Her voice and style are so distinctive and consistent that it’s hard for me to remember which book a recipe comes from. For instance, the two fantastic dishes I made this week -- Korean kheema and crustless pizza -- came from Nigella Kitchen, but they were so quick and easy I thought they’d come from Nigella Express. I flipped through Nigella Express looking for them so I could describe them to you and soon realized it was the wrong book. Maybe as I cook steadily from Nigella’s oeuvre I’ll get a better handle on the identities of the different books, but for now, I’ll just say I like them all.

So, here are the two recipes I loved this week:

-Korean kheema. The name could use some work. Kheema is an Indian ground lamb dish and this is a ground turkey dish with Korean flavors. It’s powerfully spicy, so if fire isn't your thing, skip this altogether. The original recipe includes peas, which I replaced with big handfuls of baby spinach. Pre-washed from the bag, naturally -- not lazy, a choice, and a good one, albeit a bit expensive. I almost substituted ground beef because I don’t like ground turkey, but trusted Nigella and was rewarded. There’s so much flavor (and so much sugar!) in the sauce that you won’t be able to tell what protein you’re eating. Also, I have wondered whether Nigella meant to call for rice wine vinegar, which is tart, rather than rice wine/mirin, which is sweet.  Or maybe she intended to call for a non-sweet type of rice wine? I used mirin, but it would be interesting to see if rice wine vinegar added another dimension. Maybe next time I’ll try it. Finally, you will need gochujang, available in Asian markets. If you want another use for it, have a bunch of friends over and make bo ssam.

I doubled the recipe and this is reflected in my adaptation:

Whisk together 1/4 cup gochujang, 2 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons rice wine (mirin), 1/4 cup soy sauce. Stir in 1 pound ground turkey and let marinate as you get everything else ready. Chop a bunch of scallions. Heat a tablespoon oil in a skillet. Add the scallions and a few big handfuls spinach. Cook for several minutes until the scallions are soft and the spinach has shrunk to almost nothing. Add the turkey and stir-fry 5 minutes or so until it’s cooked -- it’s hard to tell when it’s done because you can’t really see the color. Err on the side of caution and cook longer rather than shorter. Mix 1/4 cup rice wine with 1/2 cup water and use this to swill out the sauce residue in the turkey bowl. Add to the pan. Cook for a minute or so until everything is bubbling and very hot. Serve with rice -- you need a foil for all that flavor -- and top with chopped cilantro. Sometimes you can skip the garnish, but the cilantro really brightens this rich, spicy dish. Serves 4, or 3 with leftovers.

*Nigella’s crustless pizza is, in my opinion, dreamy. Sadly, not so good for you. Also, “crustless pizza” is a misnomer because the pizza actually makes its own crust. That’s the magic of it. You mix egg, flour, salt, and milk, and fold in some shredded sharp cheddar. (Nigella doesn't specify sharp cheddar, but I recommend it. Also, buy the pre-shredded if it’s cheaper, as it was at my supermarket.) You pour this batter into a buttered pie plate and bake. It will puff almost to the top of the pie plate, like a popover or Yorkshire pudding. Now top with more shredded cheddar and pepperoni and whatever else you want. I used some fresh mozzarella and I think the dish benefited from the extra cheese. Bake a few minutes more until everything is melted and hot. The crust is crunchy on the edges, slumped, cheesy, and tender in the middle. I doubled the recipe and made two pizzas.  Three of us ate one and a half. The recipe is here. I wanted to make a salad to go with it, but in the end, I could not be bothered. Yes, that was a choice, but it was a stupid one, and lazy. Serve this pizza with a salad.


  1. That pizza sounds disturbingly good. And I currently have all the ingredients, minus the meat.

    My mode lately has been: make elaborate dinner, then sit slumped on couch and eat it while watching The Good Wife.

  2. Thank you, I'm excited to add some Nigella to my growing collection.

  3. I have loved Nigella for years, and bought (and became addicted to!) gochujang at her suggestion. I make the keema often but haven't tried the crustless pizza yet. I love the pasta bake from Ferast (I think?) that's bechemel and Bolognese sauce swirled into a vat of pasta and then baked, and I highly, HIGHLY recommend the microwave chocolate sponge pudding in How To Eat, where you toss a lot of chocolate, butter, eggs and sugar in a food processor, scrape it into a bowl, and nuke. Dark intense, moist, steamed chocolate sponge. So good.

  4. It's so easy to underestimate Nigella because of the slovenly femme-fatale persona. But this, of course, is slightly tongue-in-cheek, and her recipes almost always work.

  5. I love Nigella too. I have found that if one of her recipes appeals to me, I am not disappointed in the execution. How to Eat is my favorite. The Guardian published an article in August of 2015, The Best Cookbooks of All Time, as Chosen by the Experts, and someone named Jack Monroe said "Nigella's Kitchen is the book that I value most. It is homely, comforting, soulful, irreverent. I absolutely love it." I want to make the Korean Kheema immediately, but I have to figure out how to get the gochujang now that I have moved from NYC to the country. But I'm on it. Thanks for the tips!

  6. The recipe for crustless pizza is also available on the back of the Bisquick box (or used to be).

  7. I too, have all the books. My copy of FEAST was even signed, although it was a disappointing experience because after having stood in line for hours, the woman in front of me was in hysterics upon meeting Nigella and I got only the most perfunctory signature.

    Anyways. I have found Nigellissima and Express to be my least favourites, with Feast and Kitchen and Bites my most regularly used. Christmas is all we use at the holidays. I have a deep love for How to Eat and How to be a Domestic Goddess, as they are actually books you can sit down and read. But because of their format (huge doorstop trade paperbacks), I use them less because they are awkward to cook from.

  8. I'm not loving Simply Nigella....she drank the Carbs Are Our Enemy Kool-Aid. Nigellissma is not a love, either. The rest of them are stained disasters from constant use. I hope she emerges from carbophobia.

  9. OK!

    I met Nigella at a book signing on dark rainy wintery Monday night in NJ a few years ago.

    All eight of us waited in a dim bookstore basement (for shame!) where they set up the event.

    Nigella arrived all in black, slightly weaving in dominatrix high suede boots.

    She was very nice, very pale, and bizarre looking because almost nobody you meet in real life is beautiful and she is beautiful so that was bizarre. Cheekbones.

    I was there with a gay friend who is a big fan and he was brave enuf to talk to her and get his book signed. NigE (that's what my friend and I call her) was very sweet to him.

    I still KICK myself for not being brave and telling her how much I ADORE the bacahlau story in one of her cookbooks (I can't remember which one either).

    The story goes that she had the notion to de-salt her bacahlau in the tank of her toilet. According to Nigella, the water in the tank is STRICTLY separate from the water that, well, you know. The twain shall never meet. Her idea was that every time somebody flushed, the old salty water would exit and new fresh water would enter, and the fish would be effortlessly desalinated by the family's natural calls-of-nature.

    Nigella's family, however, nixed the idea.

    I LOVE, first of all, the idea itself.

    I LOVE that Nigella was batty enuf to tell the world that she came up with this idea.

    I LOVE imagining how her family hooted and hollered when she floated (!) the idea.

    I missed my chance to tell her that of the many, many crazy things I've read in my life, her toilet bacalhua idea pretty much wins for inspired nuttiness.

    Does anybody remember this incident from one of her cookbooks???

    ps Charles Saatchi - A broch tsu dir!

    1. Thanks for sharing almost meeting NigE! She is one of the most beautiful and I appreciate her courage to share her ideas too!

    2. Thanks for sharing almost meeting NigE! She is one of the most beautiful and I appreciate her courage to share her ideas too!

  10. Found it. Salt Cod Fritters in her FOREVER SUMMER. The bacalhua incident. FYI.

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  12. I listened to Helen Simonson's new book, The Summer Before the War, and Googled to see if you have read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (because I thought if you did, and you liked it, I would recommend this new one). I came across your September 4, 2014, post about your grandmother.

    I love it.

    It simply stopped me in my tracks.

    1. Helen Simonson has a new book???!!!! Hurray! I adored Major Pettigrew!

      I would love to own How to Be a Domestic Goddess, but bad things would happen to my reputation as a food crank if I did.

    2. Nigella's pour-Coke-over-your-ham-&-bake-it trashy, but she's also a good writer.

      And some of her recipes are TERRIFIC.

      For years, I've been trying out various holiday creamy potato casseroles and I've finally settled on the BEST - Nigella's of course.

      This year, my college age niece even texted me for the recipe after Easter! I think she polished off 3 helpings.

      ps I use Yukon Golds, add a few sprigs of fresh thyme & a bay leaf to the simmer, and lightly dust the casserole w/paprika & parmesan before baking. Nothing special but SPECIAL.

  13. Hi. You may think this is a very strange request but here goes; I'm in San Francisco for a few days and since this is your town I was wondering if you have any recommendations for breakfast lunch and dinner? I'm staying near Fisherman's wharf but I have a bike and if I can I will cycle to somewhere. Also riding the bike trail over to Sausalito tomorrow. Any recommendations? Thanks! Joanna


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