Naqiyah Mayat has spiced up the narrative of modern Indian cooking with the release of her debut cookbook The Beginning: Indian Recipes From My Home. What started as a passion for sharing her home-cooked meals and fierce fashion on Instagram evolved into so much more with the multi-hyphenate mother-of-four welcoming us into her home for a taste of her unique take on the celebrated cuisine with the publication of her first book.
Who is your food icon and why? Most definitely Nigella Lawson. Anyone who’s grown up watching BBC Food will be familiar with her sensuous, hidden innuendos, along with her love for good food. I’m drawn to how she makes her way around a kitchen and her passion for beautiful home cooking.
When lockdown is over, what restaurant will you be making a reservation at? I’ve enjoyed spending time in my own kitchen during the lockdown and the idea of actually leaving my home feels almost unheard of. It’s not about where I’ll be eating, but how dressed up I’ll be for it! I also feel like it might be an entire day of eating out — starting with a Citrus Sunrise for breakfast at Tashas, sushi and edamame at Big Mouth and a prawn pasta at Saint.
Name your kitchen essential? A non-stick pan, especially for essentials like roti and crepes.
Favourite cookbook besides your own? Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi. When I began writing my book, I began purchasing other cookbooks that I aspired towards, including Simple.
Who are your dream dinner-party guests? My guestlist would have my family and my closest friends. The world seems hopelessly overrun by the virus and with the world in lockdown, my imaginary dinner party would ultimately have those who are closest to me. People with ostentatious displays of wealth don’t interest me. Neither do qualifications or superficial talk. I love the unnecessary banter between friends, people with beautiful souls. A conversation that is rich and throbbing with passion and a dynamic energy. And in true Naqiyah style, there’s always one seat for an unexpected guest.
What are your grocery-cart essentials? Butter, cottage cheese, cucumber, dates, and olive-oil ciabatta.
Favourite recipe from your cookbook? A favourite chapter as a whole has to be the one on making dough, ensuring the perfect puff. The book, and this chapter specifically, is a dedication to my mother, who has given me the privilege to understand that food doesn’t only fill tummies, but complements life with community and sharing. Colloquially, roti has been given a bad rep for being the measure of a good wife in an Indian home.
This chapter not only shares our love of doughs but it also goes deeper than that. It addresses the perception that a woman has to justify her lack of skill or interest in making roti. Society holds and perpetuates ingrained ideas around a woman’s place in the kitchen. The woman as a homemaker has a strong presence in our lives —however, let this not define her.
While I encourage you to try your hand at making roti at least once, don’t despair if they are slightly irregular (there’s a tip for the perfect round roti after the recipe) or if each one doesn’t puff up perfectly. You don’t have to make everything from scratch; there’s always an entrepreneur willing to sell you a ready-made pack for use!
Has this lockdown experience inspired your cooking, and how? It’s all very much about simple comforts. I do believe the need for comfort food is greater now. People want to feel settled, even though social distancing is unsettling. During these times, it’s comforting to have something familiar to eat. I have started crafting online experiences around my culture. The images that I share on my Instagram feed celebrate who we are as a family. I don’t encourage my readers to embark on complicated recipes requiring hours to prepare.
What is your guilty pleasure? Food doesn’t need to be a guilty pleasure. It’s simply a pleasure. I like to see my food, and my pleasures, as being down to earth. Butter on freshly baked bread with a light sprinkle of Maldon sea salt dipped into really good quality olive oil.
What’s the biggest mistake people make in the kitchen? Not planning adequately and ensuring that the correct ingredients are in supply. You could have a fridge full of glorious fresh produce but without a suitable meal planner a lot of that can ultimately land up as waste.
What have you found most challenging about lockdown cooking? Being able to access a plethora of supplies. In a way, it’s forced me to elevate the ordinary and innovate within the means that I have.
Quickfire questions …
Tea or coffee? Tea.
Sweet or savoury? Savoury.
Favourite chocolate? Läderach.
Favourite cuisine? Indian.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Depends on which is more profitable.