For English journalist, television chef and cookbook author Nigella Lawson, comfort food doesn't mean bland, nostalgic food.
For me the comfort of food and the comfort of cooking is actually quite uplifting," she told North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay.
"It's not about stultifying or making you feel like slowed down and less awake to the world, it's not an escape for me, it's a way of intensifying being alive."
In fact, one of the chapters in her new cookbook Simply Nigella is called Bowl Food, because, as she told MacKay, "I very much enjoy the rather inelegant shovelling of food into my mouth from a bowl."
Nigella Lawson and Sheryl MacKay at Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks in Vancouver. (Sheila Peacock/CBC)
Lawson shared one of her comforting recipes with North by Northwest:
Sweet potato and chickpea dip
I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner last year, which felt both significant and pleasurable, and this was
the dish I presented with drinks before the great feast. I adore its harvest-festival colors and sweet
earthiness and, bejeweled with pomegranate seeds at the end, it is simple but resplendent. The making
of it also happens to rely on two of my favorite cooking tricks, the pre-roasting of whole sweet potatoes
and garlic. Baking a batch of sweet potatoes for plundering later will make your cooking life much easier,
and never is this more useful than on big occasions. But I should add that, just because this made its first
public appearance at Thanksgiving, it certainly doesn't need to be limited to that. It inspires immense
gratitude in me throughout the year, and isn't the attitude of gratitude meant to be one of the great
MAKES ENOUGH FOR 10–12 PEOPLE, TO DIP INTO OVER DRINKS
- 1¾ pounds sweet potatoes
- 1 head of garlic, whole and unpeeled
- 2 limes, preferably unwaxed
- 2 teaspoons smoked sea salt flakes (though regular sea salt flakes or kosher salt will do), or to taste
- ½ teaspoon pimentón dulce or paprika
- 1¼ cups chickpeas, home-cooked or drained from a can or jar
- 1½-inch piece (2½ teaspoons) fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
Method: Preheat the oven to 425ºF, and prick the sweet potatoes before placing them on a baking sheet and cooking them whole for about 1 hour, depending on their size. You want the flesh inside to be very soft, and no doubt the skin will be burnt in parts by the hot-roast syrup that can dribble out as they cook. This is good.
The minute the sweet potatoes are in the oven, cut the stalk end off the garlic, leaving the tips of the cloves exposed, and then wrap loosely in aluminum foil, sealing the ends tightly to form a baggy parcel, and roast with the sweet potatoes. This should probably be ready in 45 minutes, but I leave it for the hour with the sweet potatoes.
Let the soft and tender sweet potato and garlic cool; you can do this ahead of time (see Make Ahead Note, below). When you are ready to prepare the dip, peel the skin gently away from the sweet potatoes and scoop out the orange pulpy flesh, leaving behind any of the scorched bits. Tip it all into a bowl and then squeeze in the soft, caramelized garlic purée from the exposed cloves.
Add the finely grated zest from both limes, and the juice from one, the smoked salt, pimentón dulce (or paprika), chickpeas, and finely grated ginger, and then blitz with a stick blender (or use a food processor) to make your dip.
Check the seasoning as well as acidity – you may want more lime juice – and serve, for beauty's sake, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. I couldn't resist the autumnally hued vegetable chips alongside, but I actually serve golden corn chips and crudités, as these last two are, indeed, rather more robust as a dipping vehicle.
MAKE AHEAD NOTE: The sweet potato and garlic can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept, wrapped in aluminum foil or in a covered container, in refrigerator.
STORE NOTE: Leftover dip can be stored, in a covered container, in refrigerator for up to 2 days from making
To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: U.K. celebrity chef Nigella Lawson talks about what comfort food means to her, and what inspires her in the kitchen