WRITING this column I feared that I might be entering a territory I know both little about, and placing myself in the firing line for criticism. So I will begin with a disclaimer – I do not entirely appreciate the deep-rooted cultural connotations of this classic comfort food in Britain, and today, I merely write about its journey into my life, as an immigrant who has embraced its nurturing presence. Yes, I am talking about quintessential, omnipresent baked beans.

In the late 1970s, after many years of living on board a ship with my master mariner father, my mother and I were taken on yet another adventure. My father's yearning to become a lawyer (the very profession I left to follow my passion for food writing) took him to Southampton University to study for his masters degree. For me, this meant a transition from a solitary childhood, to one of school routine and real friends my age, in a small village nearby. It was a far cry from the familiarity of engine oil-laced sea air and endless decks to run about on. But as a child of eight, I quickly found excitement in school dinners of fish and chips followed by lukewarm rice pudding with stewed fruit; it wasn't so much the flavour that I loved, as the novelty of this kind of food.

Meanwhile, I finally found little people I could befriend, through cycling on the village streets and rolling down country hills on sunny days. Most importantly, I quickly embraced the culture of after-school play dates and early dinners. But school meals were very different from from my mother’s home-cooked lasagne or chicken pulao or raita. As a child used to freshly cooked food, beans on toast looked like something out of a horror movie. Knobby orange slop, on a square piece of bread? After hours of activity, however, my hunger did not allow me to question further. And as I gingerly cut into its plastic-like texture, I tried to embrace beans on toast.

Loading article content

Today, I still have not really decided as to whether I actually like baked beans or not (on toast or otherwise), but what I do accept is that, many find comfort in its nostalgia. Whether it's a memory of tea at Gran’s or an after-school quick fix before football – there is something about its processed, sweet, shiny components that make it one of the ultimate comfort foods in Britain. And while I personally, do not see any fascination in beans that are actually stewed rather than "baked", I know that to many people they are a childhood, comfort blanket.

So when, many decades later, I once again moved back to the UK, I thought that, in the spirit of integration, I would give these another go. And once again, even under the posh light of the shiny dining rooms at my old law firm, they just did not appeal to me. I so wished I could embrace this British staple, but alas, my home-cooked, unprocessed childhood would not release its clutches. So, in order to find peace with my nonchalant attitude to beans, I came up with a recipe for a variation on this classic dish that allowed me to play with flavours – some international ones discovered during my travels and others remembered from my mum’s spice cupboard. Here is a dish that really feels like comfort food to me, since it comes from my pot onto a plate rather from a tin into a pot.

And for anyone who is shaking their head in disapproval, I ask: just give them a chance. I promise you that in breaking one tradition, you will create another.

Sumayya’s spiced baked beans

1 tbsp sunflower oil

1 brown onion, chopped finely

1 clove garlic, pureed

1 tsp smoked hot paprika

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground coriander

½ tsp red chilli flakes

2 tbsp dark brown sugar

1 tbsp cider vinegar

350 g passata

400g can haricot beans

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp tomato ketchup

Heat oil in a saucepan, add chopped onion and garlic, soften. Add all the spices, cook for a few minutes until fragrant, add the sugar, vinegar and passata, stir. Add the passata and beans with the Worcestershire sauce. Cook covered, on a low heat, for about 15-20 minutes at a simmer. Add the tomato ketchup and mix. Cook for a further five minutes lightly covered. Turn off heat, allow to rest, lift lid and stir. You should have a thick glistening sauce and soft beans.