Nadiya Hussain is a total rule-breaker these days. “I’m a part of two very different worlds – I’m British and I’m Bangladeshi,” the 33-year-old explains, “and because I’m part of these two amazing worlds, I have no rules and no restrictions.”
Hence why, three years on from winning Great British Bake Off, the Luton-born home cook is back with a new cookbook and accompanying BBC series, Nadiya’s Family Favourites, in which she comprehensively “demolishes” the pork pie.
In fact, she’s entirely reimagined the classic picnic snack, and gone and stuffed a hot water crust pastry case with a samosa filling. “I’ve taken the pork out and put the samosa in,” she says, giddy on her own culinary power. “I have no rules, and because I have no respect whatsoever for tradition, I can do whatever I want, and that’s why I feel so lucky.”
This recipe collection also sees her flip a baked cheesecake upside down, make a single éclair into a colossal cakey-roll, invent a fish finger lasagne (really!), swap the prawn in prawn toast for chicken, and ‘spike’ a dish of macaroni cheese with piccalilli – the woman’s a maverick.
However, her approach to clashing and mixing flavours and food-based institutions has triggered some tutting and huffing. Notably, she attracted criticism from the “Cornish pasty police” after she made some packed with lamb, apple and peas. “I got a massive telling off,” she says, with an equally massive grin. “What’s wrong with changing things around and making them taste different? There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not saying it’s the original, I’m just saying it’s a different version of it, and I think people are just scared that it might be better than the original.”
Food, Hussain says, is meant to be fun and experimented with. “It’s an expression of love. Why not mess about with it? It’s fun and it’s exciting; food is meant to bring joy and happiness – and bring families together.”
She might be all about breaking rules in the kitchen, but she does have rules when it comes to sitting down to dinner. “There’s one rule in our house and it is: ‘This is not a restaurant, you will eat what you’re given’. That’s it, so if you don’t eat what you’re given, then you go to bed hungry, it’s as simple as that.”
It’s tough love, but Hussain doesn’t feel guilty if her trio of kids – Musa, Dawud and Maryan – refuse to eat what’s available. “I feel a bit bad that they didn’t eat, but they’ve learnt through time that she is not messing around. [They know] ‘If I don’t eat this dinner now, she is not going to feel guilty and come and feed me in the middle of the night’.”
Luckily, she and husband Abdal have managed to produce children that aren’t fussy-eaters, so much so that the week before we chat, she had all three begging her to dole out fragrant bowlfuls of fish head curry. “They were all over it like, ‘Mummy! Please can we have that right now?’ I was like, ‘No, that’s tomorrow’s dinner, I’ve just cooked it early, you’ve got to have this instead’, and they’re like, ‘No, no, no, please, please, please can we have it?’ They just love fish head curry – and tripe!”
Tripe is not fashionable. Tripe is white, blubbery, cow stomach. Tripe cannot compete with the likes of fish fingers and pizza when it comes to child-friendly food – right?
“They love tripe!” Hussain promises. “Cook it down slowly for six hours, get it really soft – I cook it with a bit of vanilla just to get rid of some of the smells, some vegetables, then I take it out, pat it dry, cover it in flour and egg, then I crisp it up and slice it.” She serves it in a curry sauce with rice, and convincingly makes tripe sound delicious. Plus, it’s “cheap as chips” and when it comes to costs, as well as health, Hussain is ever aware.
“Everything in moderation… I can cook all the food that I cook, but we have balance and that’s really important,” she says. “I shouldn’t feel guilty for cooking the things that I love, or that my family love. We eat, we enjoy it, we have balance – why not?”
Nadiya’s Family Favourites by Nadiya Hussain, photography by Chris Terry, is published by Michael Joseph, priced £20. Available now.