What are Nadiya’s 5 secrets of Bangladeshi cooking?

Cooking in Bangladesh

I cook Bangladeshi and British food – although I appreciate both cuisines, I like to keep them separate. I was born in England, but as kids we spent every summer in rural Bangladesh, living together with the wider family in one house, or under one ‘rice’ as we called it.

Most days we would have rice with seven or eight dishes, usually fish or vegetarian, and we’d eat a little bit of everything. We only ate meat if it was a special occasion. Bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, turmeric, chilli and cardamom were used a lot, but Bangladeshi cooking involves many spices and we had to be creative because we wasted nothing.

The secret of delicious rice

My parents and I were raised on rice. My grandad was a rice farmer and grew many types. It’s one of the first things I learned to cook and I quickly realised that if you want to do it well it helps to know a bit about starch.

Cooking biryani and pulao

For a biryani or pulao you want very dry, separate, fluffy rice grains, so you need to minimise the starch. To do this, soak the rice for a minimum of two hours and then rinse it well before cooking. This also reduces the cooking time; the water soaks into the rice so you need to get less into it from the cooking.

Cooking sticky rice

Sticky rice is glutinous and contains a lot of starch, which you don’t want to lose in cooking. Wash the rice quickly, boil it and then let it cook in its starchy water for about 10 minutes over a low heat. We often eat it with spicy fried fish. My sisters and I also make pudding out of it by cooking it, then leaving it to dry and harden – my grandma used to give us slices of this dipped in sugar.

Frying can make an inexpensive treat

Many vegetables grow in Bangladesh, and street food vendors make something special by turning them into fritters or pakoras, including onion bhajis. My family didn’t cook pakoras at home – they didn’t want to waste oil by deep frying – so my grandad would go to a bazaar and come back with them wrapped in newspaper. It could be as simple as potato cooked in spices.

The golden rule is that the oil must be hot enough to make the pakoras crisp and light, but cool enough to cook them right through to the middle without burning the outside. Finely chop or thinly slice the vegetables and then lightly salt them to dry them out. For the batter, it’s best to use chickpea flour, although you could use up to a third rice flour to increase the crispness. Mix the flour with spices such as ground ginger, finely chopped green chillies and ground turmeric, and enough water to make a batter just thick enough to coat the veg (you want more vegetable than batter). You can make a pastry dough for samosas in a similar way, as shown in the next step.

You can even make your own easy version of parathas by rolling out puff pastry and cutting out circles, then placing them in the freezer for 15 minutes before frying them in butter or oil in a chapatti or frying pan.

Don’t be afraid of heat

The first rule of cooking over a high heat is you must prepare all the ingredients ahead because you have to fry or grill quickly. My grandma cooked on dried wood – it’s a fierce heat and she controlled it by simply pulling out sticks.

Don’t be afraid of lightly charred flavours. I think they go really well with sour foods. Try squeezing lemon or orange juice on food as it cooks on the barbecue, or serve it with sour pickles.

If we wanted to protect food from the heat of the barbecue we’d wrap it in banana leaves, as in my whole fish in banana leaf recipe (see step eight).

Serve pickles and preserves

My parents taught me that if it can be eaten, why throw it away? They are very mindful of waste and never throw away leftovers. Fifteen years ago not everyone in Bangladesh had a fridge, especially in rural areas. My family had no way of preserving food, so it had to be dried or cooked and eaten.

In Bangladesh they have the joy of 37 or 38C heat (they think 30C in winter is cold), so everything gets dried, even fish and lentils. My family would dry it on the roof all day, then store it. Even in England, my mum tries to dry things by laying them on a mat and then putting them on the shed roof!

Pickling is a traditional way of preserving. In Bangladesh if there was a storm and inch-wide mangoes fell from the trees, my grandma would collect them in buckets and give a handful to everyone in the village. They’d pickle them – it’s a ‘waste-not want-not’ culture. We might make a fruit pickle by mashing up a garlic and oil paste, sometimes adding onion and ginger, then cooking it with chopped fruit and a mixture of spices over a low heat for 15 minutes. For a fresher chutney, you can grill the garlic for 10 minutes or until charred, then peel and mix it with thinly sliced red onion and fruit, lemon juice, a little oil and fresh coriander.

Have lots of ways to cook fish

Fish is our staple, our star. We mostly eat freshwater fish – everyone used to have a fishery in their village. The big fish are a treat, but people also cook the little ones. My mum cooked fish in 100 ways to make sure we had variety in our diet, and we’d eat fermented fish and dried fish. I’m anglicised and make fish cakes, which she thinks are a step too far from Bangladeshi food. Here are three of my favourite treatments for it.


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Live: John Kerry demands Syria aircraft grounded as UN debates ceasefire


US Secretary of State John Kerry has called for aircraft to be grounded in parts of Syria so a ceasefire deal can be extended.

Mr Kerry said he believed there was a way forward “out of the carnage”, but that the future of the country was “hanging by a thread”.

He added that international diplomats were proving “woefully inadequate” in getting Syrian parties to negotiate.

His impassioned speech at the United Nations followed an attack on an aid convoy on Monday and came as fighting broke out on numerous fronts in the war-torn country.

The airstrike, which killed some 20 aid workers delivering humanitarian supplies to civilians, “raises profound doubt” as to whether Russia and the Syrian government will live up to a ceasefire deal, Mr Kerry said.

:: Syria’s conflict only contains versions of the truth

Syrian government forces should be banned from flying over areas controlled by the opposition in an effort to help bring the escalating situation under control, he added, before urging countries to cease support to any parties attempting to sabotage a truce.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had previously told UN Security Council the world was facing a “make or break moment” in Syria, as there were multiple reports of fighting between Syrian rebels and pro-government forces:

::  Nine rebels and four medical staff were reportedly killed by an airstrike in the insurgent-held town of Khan Touman south of Aleppo.

:: Syrian state media said the army had recaptured a fertiliser factory in the Ramousah area to the southwest of the city.

:: A rebel fighter in the Aleppo area and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Right told Reuters fighter jets had been bombing in several locations.

:: The observatory also said a Syrian jet crashed near Damascus. Islamic State said it had been shot down but the regime has not yet commented.

:: And a Syrian government source said insurgent groups were preparing to launch attacks to the south and west of Aleppo and north of Hama.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said he wanted to see a thorough and impartial investigation into the attack on the aid convoy, after the Moscow released footage it said showed a pickup truck carrying a mortar travelling with the trucks.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the airstrike on the aid convoy. The US believes two Russian Su-24 jets carried out the attack, based on location and timing.

But Moscow has denied all involvement, instead suggesting a fire broke out destroying the vehicles among other theories.

On Wednesday, a Russian military spokesman said a Predator drone from the US-led coalition had entered the area where the attack had taken place “several minutes before it burst into flames”.

Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the ministry, said allegations that Moscow was responsible were an attempt to distract attention from the US-led coalition’s bombing of Syrian soldiers near Deir al-Zor airport on Saturday.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also spoke at the meeting, saying there could be no political process unless there was a genuine ceasefire.

The truce came into effect on 12 September in order to create a safe corridor for aid into war-torn Aleppo, where many of the inhabitants are said to be in dire need.

All aid convoys in Syria are currently suspended.