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What My Mother Taught Me: Nadia Sawalha’s Childhood

by Julia Pal

published on 18 March 2014

In Stuffed Vine Leaves Saved My Life, TV personality and Celebrity MasterChef winner Nadia Sawalha offers an authentic insight into life at the heart of a vibrant, food-loving Middle Eastern family. The family’s mantra – good food, cooked with love, feeds the soul as well as the body – is fundamental to Nadia’s approach to food. Central to her childhood foodie education was her mother, Roberta. In this delightful extract from her cookbook, Nadia evokes her mother’s passion for cooking and describes the important role she played in inspiring a love of food in her children.

Slow-cooked spicy lamb

Nadia’s mother’s Slow-Cooked Spicy Lamb recipe – a firm family favourite.

“Whenever I look back on my childhood, it’s never long before my mind settles on culinary matters – hardly surprising, given that my mother, with her French ancestry, has always adored all things food related. Like a flashback in a movie, when I think back to Mum’s kitchen, her vast collection of cookery books immediately floats past the end of my nose, flicking and flapping their pages, teasing me with their tasty promises.

Mum was always ‘on the go’ around food, always busy, always mobile. Whether she was jumping on the bus to go to the markets of Croydon to source the freshest British fruit and veg, or heading off on her weekly sojourn to France to purchase slightly more exotic cheeses, meats and pastries, Mum wasn’t your average mumsy cook. There was nothing ‘ordinary’ or ‘mundane’ about her food. With my father’s Arabic foodie heritage always at the fore, Mum became an experimenter in the kitchen. We never had the same meal twice in a six-month period. When we arrived home from school there was no guessing what she would have magicked up for our beady eyes and growling tummies.

If mum wasn’t cooking, she was talking about cooking. If she wasn’t reading a novel, she had her nose buried in her Elizabeth David. And if she wasn’t working away in her kitchen, she was invariably out and about with her best friend Julie, trying out new restaurants and bistros, at a time when the whole notion of eating out was a truly exciting prospect.”

Get your own copy of Stuffed Vine Leaves Saved My Life here.

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