Meet Nadia Sawalha

The actress and cook talks about feeling just as at ease on screen as she does in the kitchen, where flavours from her childhood define the food on her family table

Your father was born in Jordan. Have the meals you ate as a child influenced your appreciation of food?

I grew up in an Anglo-Arab home where food was the centre of our lives. My mum is a true Francophile and marvellous cook – snails in garlic butter was my first favourite dish. The Middle Eastern food I ate as a child still conjures up happy memories and now that I have my own family, I love adding those influences to my dishes.

You presented Junior MasterChef a few years ago. How important is it to encourage children to get into the kitchen?

When I was young I was taught to cook by my mum and aunties, which I think is the best way to learn. My advice is to start them young, offer lots of praise and let them make as much mess as they want. Try to move beyond baking cakes and show them the magic of different recipes from an early age.

Do you have a guilty food pleasure?

Yes. I love bread. Give me every kind imaginable – one of the fabulous Middle Eastern flatbreads I had when I was young, a cheap, plasticky, white loaf or a wonderful, artisan handmade roll.

What do you enjoy eating or cooking at Easter?

Every year we have mezze, cooked with love: hummus, barbecued meats, sfeeha (meat pies), spinach pastries, salads, spiced yogurts and homemade flatbreads, all rounded off by sweet, rose-scented baklava.

Where was your most memorable meal?

In the middle of the Moroccan desert in an open-air restaurant set up by the crew of a movie I was working on. We were a group made up of Brits, Arabs, Italians and Greeks and everyone brought a national dish. We ate, sang and danced into the early hours under glittering stars and a crescent moon.

Which ingredients are currently in your kitchen?

I always have an array of spices – these days I try to cook with less fat, and when you take that flavour out, spices are a brilliant way to put it back in. I also have brown basmati rice, chick peas, tahini and tins of tuna and tomatoes, while my fridge is stocked with lean meats, eggs, fresh herbs and yogurt.

What are your plans for 2016?

To finish my third Greedy Girl’s Diet book – I can hear my publisher screaming for it now. I’ll also continue to work on Loose Women in the UK and spend plenty of family time with my beautiful husband and children.

Nadia will be at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature this month. To learn more visit