Pop Culture

College Nigella Used to Make Dinner for Less than a Dollar

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Nigella Lawson is one of my favorite food people to listen to, and not just because of the plummy accent. She was a writer before she was a cooking personality, and she has a very thoughtful, insightful approach to food. You can tell she thinks a lot about how people cook, eat, and relate to food.

This week Nigella went on Eater Upsell, Eater's fantastic podcast that you should definitely listen and subscribe to if you like podcasts and are interested in food at all. On the podcast, Nigella talked about her career and how she went from being a journalist to a cookbook writer and TV personality.

Nigella said she enjoyed cooking for all her friends when she was in college, especially when she was supposed to be doing other work and was cooking instead. And because she was a student, she cooked on a budget with inexpensive things like breast of lamb, which she said at the time she could get for 50 cents, and huge bags of onions.

"I was the queen of onion soup," she laughed.

And she says that learning to cook that way made her a better cook in the long run, because making good food with inexpensive ingredients often requires a lot more time, effort, and attention than cooking with very expensive ingredients. A great steak might sear in a pan for just a few minutes, but when you're cooking with huge bags of onions and tougher, less expensive cuts of meat, you'll generally spend a lot of time chopping, stirring, tasting, and waiting.

(Psst: Here's how to make a great onion soup.)

"Why that's good is that I think that actually you have to cook a lot more with inexpensive ingredients. Being on a budget can teach you to be a better cook," she said. "I always say to people when I talk to them, 'Look, there are two basic ingredients in cooking: time and money.' If you have not much money, you've got to spend a lot of time, and if you've got very expensive ingredients, then you don't spend much time."

Nigella said that worked out well for her, because when she was a student she didn't have a lot of money, but she had time to spend three or four hours chopping and stirring and making a stew all day.

Nigella is fascinating and the whole interview is worth listening to for her thoughts about restaurant criticism, chefs and home cooks, and cookbooks that make you buy a fancy ingredient for one dish that you'll never use for anything else. You can listen to the whole thing here.