North Yorkshire cook Sabrina Ghayour on how new book Flavour maximises ingredients and makes Middle Eastern cuisine affordable
“One of the most common pieces of feedback that I get is, ‘Thanks to you we eat everything now,’ and, ‘We cook Sabrina recipes every week’,” says the author, who has released her seventh recipe book, Flavour.
“It’s quite overwhelming because I’m like, god, I better keep this up, and, you know, I can’t let them down.”
Declaring herself to be “just some normal nerd,” the chef, who lives in North Yorkshire with husband Stephen and stepsons Connor, 14, and Olly, 11, is equally self-deprecating when trying to articulate why her brand of Middle Eastern-meets-Mediterranean cuisine is so popular.
“I think it’s because it’s simple… maybe that’s why people cook it all the time, not because it’s just so sensational,” she says with a wry smile.
Plus, she’s built up an exceptionally loyal fan base and is always on hand to help her 125k Instagram followers with cooking questions.
“My priority on social media – as tiring and painful as it is for my fingers – is to reply to people who have queries relating to my recipes,” says Ghayour, 47.
“It’s the only reason I’m on there. I’m not on there to make mates, I want to help you.”
The altruistic author recognises how lucky she is: “I’m sure there are chefs that are much bigger than me that don’t have that luxury with their readers, that level of trust. It’s something I will never take for granted.”
While Ghayour, who moved from Tehran to London during the Iranian Revolution in 1979, has always offered budget-friendly recipes, she appreciates that cost is more important than ever.
Changing circumstances during the coronavirus pandemic gave her a new appreciation for the value of good food.
“I bought a house in Yorkshire, so I had a mortgage to contend with and no income,” she recalls.
“I also became a stepmother and a wife in that time – that’s also added massive layers to what I cook, how I cook and how I consider costs.
“It makes you become a different person when you have responsibilities and big bills to pay… I raided the crap out of my cupboards, in a way that I’d never done.”
That’s partly what inspired her latest book Flavour, in which you won’t find lengthy, elaborate ingredients lists.
“I understand that not everybody comes from a walk of life where they can afford 50 ingredients,” says Ghayour.
“It’s good to not assume that everybody is a yummy mummy or an investment banker’s wife who has dinner parties.
“Most people in the country don’t have dinner parties – most people are feeding their families or just preparing something on the fly.”
Admitting she used to be “a bit of an ingredient snob,” now Ghayour shops strategically to feed the family of four: “We shop in about three supermarkets to pull off what we need do. It’s Aldi for some things, Tesco for other things.”
Home cooks who are new to Middle Eastern cuisine might need to grab a couple of essential ingredients (“Maybe harissa and pomegranate molasses, which are now everywhere,” says Ghayour) to make minced lamb and Cheddar tortillas, roasted aubergine with spicy peanut sauce or sweet potato and chickpea balls.
There are plenty of kid-friendly dishes too, a necessity for this chef-turned-stepmum: “It doesn’t have to be chili, it doesn’t have to be too much garlic, and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming spice.”
Having helped her stepsons become more adventurous eaters, the author wants to encourage everyone to try her tasty, but “always simple, always easy”, approach.
“It’s about maximising flavour, whether that’s Cheddar or spices or whatever, just adding a little layer of flavour to things that are so incredibly simple in themselves,” Ghayour says.
“It doesn’t have to be expensive to be delicious, is my point.”
Flavour by Sabrina Ghayour is published by Aster, priced £26. Photography by Kris Kirkham. Available now.