Nigella Softens Her Bite

Domestic Goddess Nigella Lawson's Simply Nigella is a paean to the pleasures of good eating, Paleo style.

Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food

Publisher: Flatiron
Author: Nigella Lawson
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2015-11

After a nasty public divorce and endless scrutiny of her weight, Nigella Lawson returns to the spotlight on her terms with Simply Nigella. Long an outspoken opponent of the "Clean-Eating Brigade" Lawson begins her 10th cookbook by reiterating this stance, warning no diet can confer immortality, prevent loss, or allay suffering. But, she amends, what we cook and eat can offer "mastery over ourselves".

While Simply Nigella exhorts the pleasures of cooking and eating, Lawson borrows heavily from the Paleo playbook. With its abhorrence of carbohydrates, sugars, legumes, potatoes, alcohol, and dairy, the Paleo diet is one of the more restrictive diets available, running counter to gastronomic pleasure.

This leads to a curious disconnect, wherein readers have the woman known as The Domestic Goddess offering recipes for chocolate cakes baked with coconut oil and Roasted Radishes on the one hand, only to suggest Pasta With Snail Butter and Chicken Crackling on the other. Neither are necessarily bad food. But raging against the diet police even as one lifts their recipes is, kindly, curious at best. When said recipes are mixed with the verboten -- recipes for starches and carbs, sugars and booze -- what are readers to think?

To be clear, I’ve nothing but compassion for genuine Celiac sufferers. It’s the non-Celiacs I take issue with; those individuals ascribing their every difficulty in life to gluten. As Lawson has always been a voice of reason regarding balanced eating and weight, why the unexplained glut of Paleo recipes in Simply Nigella? How did the author of How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking come to possess a "carb cupboard"?

Apparently Lawson, or her American publishers, are trying to maximize American sales. Ergo, Simply Nigella, a cookbook with plenty of white space, minimalist photography (by the talented Keiko Oikawa), and an emphasis on the latest inane dietary obsession. Lawson reports her latest culinary passions are the sweet potato, the avocado, and the coconut, appearing here as oil, water, and butter. Chia seed, matcha, and buckwheat also make appearances in breakfast and dessert. Evidently, we are to believe the woman who gave us Date Steaks alongside Baked Potatoes and Sour Cream and the Gooey Chocolate Stack is now "blown down" by a breakfast of chia seed pudding.

Gone is the Lawson who kicked her Crock-Pot into Nigella Kitchen’s hilariously self-deprecating Kitchen-Gadget Hall of Shame; said gadget inexplicably reappears in Simply Nigella, with a cast-iron insert, no less. Never mind Lawson gave away most of her cast iron cookware three books ago, citing its weight. Now Lawson finds cast iron’s "steady heft" "reassuring". Yes, everyone is entitled to change their thinking. Is an explanation out of order here?

Look, I adore Lawson. When she appeared at San Francisco’s Omnivore Books last November, I schlepped out to see her in the midst of painfully severe tendonitis. Lawson, warmly friendly and, yes, drop-dead beautiful, did not disappoint. So understand that I write from dismayed disbelief, not a desire to inflict hurt.

Paleo aside, many recipes in Simply Nigella are easily found elsewhere. Like Yotam Ottolenghi and Diana Henry, Lawson turns to Southeast Asia’s lime, ginger, soy, and garlic to replace Western animal and dairy fats. Hence recipes like Mackerel With Ginger, Soy, and Lime and Steamed Branzino With Ginger and Soy. See also Miso Salmon, Sushi Ginger, Simple Salsa and Fish Tacos -- all recipes commonly found elsewhere.

Despite my griping, there is much good to be found in Simply Nigella. Unlike 2012’s "Britalified" Nigellissima, Simply Nigella asks readers to actually cook. Carbohydrates are occasionally permitted to sneak into the proceedings, and when Lawson’s natural creativity shines through, the results are excellent.

Tamarind Marinated Flank Steak is a fine example of Lawson’s genius. Tamarind, the fruit pod of the same tree, is used in Southeast Asian cuisine to flavor chicken, fish, and vegetables. Never before had I seen it used with meat; yet its compelling sweet/sour flavor profile makes it the perfect foil for flank steak’s beefiness. Clever use of honey and soy sauce only points up these flavors, making the dish delectable.

Sake Sticky Drumsticks are, as warned, messy eating. They are also within reach of the most rudimentary cook, a matter of turning chicken in a few ingredients -- sake, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil -- before baking and eating. The resulting dish far exceeds the sum of its few parts.

Lamb Ribs With Nigella and Cumin Seeds hearkens back to the lavish Nigella of old; "a fatty cut", but -- that’s "a bonus, not a warning". Not into fatty food? "Don’t make these. Commiserations."

Your author, lacking the requisite packaged Massaman Beef Curry mix, made her own using an Internet recipe before moving to Lawson’s Massaman Beef Curry. The result was spicy enough to induce sweating, in the best way, even as coconut milk controlled the burn and added desirable richness. It's advisable to eat this with (verboten) rice.

Braised Peas With Mustard and Vermouth takes a Lawson pet ingredient, the frozen pea, and cooks it with meager amounts of mustard and Vermouth. My husband, no fan of frozen veggies, declared these wonderful. "They don’t taste tinny."

On the dessert front, who doesn’t love chocolate chip cookie dough? Yet who among us ever considered underbaking it? Meet Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Pots. Lawson suggests using ramekins; those without may use a pie pan, as I did. The results met with great happiness from our frozen pea convert, above.

Thirteen years and ten books later, Simply Nigella is a long way from her first book, How To Eat (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2002). That Lawson was erudite and opinionated, comparing the making of mayonnaise to reading Henry James: each a task complicated only by one’s perception. A ham recipe moved her to quote Paul Muldoon’s poem "Profumo", with Muldoon’s mother going "from ham to snobbish ham".

Doubtless there are readers who object to such comparisons, who have no idea who Profumo or Muldoon are, and could care less. They are too preoccupied with the ill effects of wheat on their bellies. Perhaps there are very few readers like me -- perhaps too few -- who wish for the Lawson of that first book, instead of this new-age Nigella-lite, a woman writing of "Bowlfood", of her "new life", post-divorce, freed, it seems, to become a consumer of short grain brown rice and kimchi tacos.

The question is, given the choice, what would Lawson prefer to write about?


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.