One year ago banana bread was the most Googled recipe in America. But by the end of the year, it barely cracked the top 10 searches. And in 2021, as people leave their home kitchen, it barely comes up in conversation.
Not so fast.
In her gorgeous new book, Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes, and Stories (Ecco; $32), out on April 20, Nigella Lawson makes a compelling case for bringing back the cult of banana bread.
Lawson’s tome is well suited to pandemic times, even though it was a pre-Covid project. “The title Cook, Eat, Repeat very much sounds like a description of the year we’ve just lived,” Lawson said in an email message. “I found myself reflecting on cooking and eating under lockdown, and that did influence the book.”
She disposed of the chapter “How to Invite Your Friends for Dinner, Without Hating Them or Yourself,” which she called “dizzyingly out of step with how we were living and thinking,” and added more dishes for one. Most important, she went deeper on cooking. “I think it really just intensified my thoughts about food, its potential to improve the emotional tenor of the day and bring pleasure and structure, when both were so sorely needed.”
The book is good fun to read, with chapters that hopscotch from “What Is a Recipe?” to “A Loving Defense of Brown Food” and “Pleasures,” the section in which Lawson’s Chocolate Tahini Banana Bread finds itself. Recipes and anecdotal headnotes run for pages for dishes such as Chicken in a Pot With Orzo and Lemon, so you get to feel as if Lawson, a great conversationalist, is chatting while you stir.
Although the London-based Lawson says she didn’t make a lot of banana bread during the pandemic, she did spend the time creating an additional genius hack of her recipe. She gives the option of turning the loaf into a molten cake by adding Greek yogurt, tweaking a few other ingredient amounts and then baking it in a round dish.
“I got to try out a twist, which is to turn it into a warm, squidgy-textured and molten-centered dessert. It was actually perfect for someone living and eating alone in lockdown, as I was, as it turned something familiar into a sumptuous treat.”
To see Lawson’s chocolate-cake adaptation, you’ll have to buy the book, but until then, the bread version is a hit. What makes it special is the addition of tahini, which provides a hit of nuttiness and an added softness. “I had in my mind that if chocolate and peanut butter worked so well together, then chocolate and sesame-seed butter—which is, more or less, what tahini is—could be wonderful,” she says. “And they really are.”
The tahini also acts as a ringleader, bringing together all the other ingredients. “Why I love this banana bread so particularly is that the rich bitterness of cocoa and the smokiness of tahini, offset by the sweetness of the banana, really give it a complex flavor and a sophisticated edge,” Lawson says better than I ever could.
Another thing to remember about banana bread in advance of Earth Day on April 22: It’s the OG of no-waste recipes, highlighting an ingredient that might otherwise get tossed for being too brown or bruised. Cook, Eat, Repeat also offers a recipe for using banana peels in a cauliflower curry. The skins, soaked in hot water, “have a wonderfully velvety texture and soak up the spices,” she writes, adding that making a meal out of repurposed scraps delights her. “While I am often undoubtedly extravagant when it comes to food, I am never wasteful,” Lawson says.
The following recipe is adapted from Cook, Eat, Repeat by Nigella Lawson. Testers note: If your bananas aren’t overripe, you can add an extra tablespoon of sugar to the batter. To make it vegan, Lawson suggests omitting the egg, upping the mashed bananas to a generous 1 cup and the tahini to ⅓ cup and using dairy-free chocolate chips.
Chocolate Tahini Banana Bread
2 medium-size very ripe or overripe bananas (to yield three-fourth cup mashed)
One-fourth cup olive or vegetable oil
One-fourth cup tahini, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
One-fourth cup superfine sugar
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Half cup all-purpose flour or gluten-free all-purpose flour
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
Half tsp baking soda
One-fourth tsp fine sea salt
Two-third cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 and half tsp sesame seeds
Heat the oven to 325F. Lightly oil a 1-lb loaf pan, or line with parchment paper. Either by hand or with an electric hand mixer, mash the bananas, then beat in the oil, followed by the tahini. Next, beat in the egg, then the sugars and vanilla.With a whisk or fork, mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt, then slowly beat the dry ingredients into the batter. When you can no longer see any specks of white, fold in the chocolate chips with a bendy spatula, which you will need to scrape the runny batter into the loaf pan. Sprinkle the top with sesame seeds.
Bake for 45-50 minutes until risen and firm to the touch, or until a cake tester comes out almost clean; some chocolate chips will make it a little sticky in parts. Don’t worry about the cracks on the top; that is part of its deal.
Let cool completely in its pan on a wire rack. If you can bear to wait, slip it out of the pan and wrap it in parchment paper, then foil, and leave it for a day before slicing and eating. I understand if this is too much to ask.