In her new cookbook, the star chef injects delicious life into a pandemic staple gone stale
In her gorgeous new book, Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes, and Stories (Ecco; $32), Nigella Lawson makes a compelling case for bringing back the cult of banana bread.
Lawson’s tome is well suited to pandemic times, even though it was a pre-Covid project. “The title ‘Cook, Eat, Repeat’ very much sounds like a description of the year we’ve just lived,” Lawson says in an email. “I found myself reflecting on cooking and eating under lockdown, and that did influence the book.”
She disposed of the chapter “How to Invite Your Friends for Dinner, Without Hating Them or Yourself”, which she called “dizzyingly out of step with how we were living and thinking”, and added more dishes for one. Most important, she went deeper on cooking. “I think it really just intensified my thoughts about food, its potential to improve the emotional tenor of the day and bring pleasure and structure, when both were so sorely needed.”
The book is good fun to read, with chapters that hopscotch from “What Is a Recipe?” to “A Loving Defence of Brown Food” and “Pleasures”, the section in which Lawson’s Chocolate Tahini Banana Bread finds itself. Recipes and anecdotal headnotes run for pages for dishes such as Chicken in a Pot With Orzo and Lemon, so you get to feel as if Lawson, a great conversationalist, is chatting while you stir.
Although the London-based Lawson says she didn’t make a lot of banana bread during the pandemic, she did spend the time creating an additional genius hack of her recipe. She gives the option of turning the loaf into a molten cake by adding Greek yogurt, tweaking a few other ingredient amounts and then baking it in a round dish.
“I got to try out a twist, which is to turn it into a warm, squidgy-textured and molten-centred dessert. It was actually perfect for someone living and eating alone in lockdown, as I was, as it turned something familiar into a sumptuous treat.”
To see Lawson’s chocolate-cake adaptation, you’ll have to buy the book, but until then, the bread version is a hit. What makes it special is the addition of tahini, which provides a hit of nuttiness and an added softness. “I had in my mind that if chocolate and peanut butter worked so well together, then chocolate and sesame-seed butter — which is, more or less, what tahini is — could be wonderful,” she says. “And they really are.”
The tahini also acts as a ringleader, bringing together all the other ingredients. “Why I love this banana bread so particularly is that the rich bitterness of cocoa and the smokiness of tahini, offset by the sweetness of the banana, really give it a complex flavour and a sophisticated edge,” Lawson enthuses.
Another thing to remember about banana bread: It’s a classic no-waste recipe, highlighting an ingredient that might otherwise get tossed for being too brown or bruised. Cook, Eat, Repeat also offers a recipe for using banana peels in a cauliflower curry. The skins, soaked in hot water, “have a wonderfully velvety texture and soak up the spices”, she writes, adding that making a meal out of repurposed scraps delights her. “While I am often undoubtedly extravagant when it comes to food, I am never wasteful,” Lawson adds.
Chocolate Tahini Banana Bread
The following recipe is adapted from Cook, Eat, Repeat by Nigella Lawson. Testers’ note: If your bananas aren’t overripe, you can add an extra tablespoon of sugar to the batter. To make it vegan, Lawson suggests omitting the egg, upping the mashed bananas to a generous 1 cup and the tahini to 1/3 cup, and using dairy-free chocolate chips.
(serves 8 to 10)
2 medium-sized very ripe or overripe bananas (to yield ¾ cup mashed)
¼ cup olive or vegetable oil
¼ cup tahini, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
¼ cup superfine sugar
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ cup all-purpose flour or gluten-free all-purpose flour
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp fine sea salt
⅔ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1½ tsp sesame seeds
1. Heat the oven to 325°F (163°C). Lightly oil a 1-lb loaf pan, or line with parchment paper. Either by hand or with an electric hand mixer, mash the bananas, then beat in oil, followed by tahini.
2. Next, beat in the egg, then the sugars and vanilla.
3. With a whisk or fork, mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt, then slowly beat the dry ingredients into the batter. When you can no longer see any specks of white, fold in the chocolate chips with a bendy spatula, which you will need to scrape the runny batter into the loaf pan. Sprinkle the top with sesame seeds.
4. Bake for 45–50 minutes until risen and firm to the touch, or until a cake tester comes out almost clean; some chocolate chips will make it a little sticky in parts. Don’t worry about the cracks on the top; that is part of its deal.
5. Let cool completely in its pan on a wire rack. If you can bear to wait, slip it out of the pan and wrap it in parchment paper, then foil, and leave it for a day before slicing and eating. I understand if this is too much to ask.