Last Update 23:28
Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Egyptian chef Sara Abdel-Salam reflects on experiences, shares recipes for Ramadan

The culinary celebrity says cooking can be a joyful experience for new beginners in kitchen

Ghada Abdel-Kader , Friday 11 May 2018
Sara Abdel-Salam
chef Sara Abdel-Salam
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Views: 1619

The holy month of Ramadan is at hand, and it is time to start preparing for large Iftar and Suhoor parties.

Yet according to Egyptian celebrity TV chef Sara Abdel-Salam, cooking need not be difficult for beginners in the kitchen.

“It’s a matter of practice. I think cooking is a non-stop process of learning, diligence and dedication. The day I stop learning is the day I quit,” she said.

Even Abdel-Salam herself has not yet reached professional mastery in the culinary field, she says: "Until now, I'm still learning what's new in world of cooking. It is a sophisticated kind of science which developed rapidly.”

“I didn’t study cooking at all but I am a very good researcher of culinary arts. I relied on my own self-education and diligence,” Abdel-Salam said.

The multi-talented food stylist learned from such celebrity chefs as Osama El-Sayed, Houria Zanoun, Jimmy Oliver, Martha Stewart, Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay.

A graduate of the accounting department at Ain Shams University's Faculty of Commerce, Abdel-Salam then earned an MBA in international business before shifting to the field of communications, where she has worked for six years.

The beginning of her entry into media and culinary world goes back to the 2012, when the Tahrir channel TV presenter Hanan El-Bahi introduced her to the network's administration.

Her television debut came with a show called Fiha Haga Helwa (It Has Something Nice in It), which lasted for three years.

“It was delightful experience and has had a positive impact on me till now,” Abdel-Salam commented.

She then moved to presenting her own food show, Sana Oula Matabakh (First Year in Cooking), which is now in its third year. The show is a reflection of her own personal experience with cooking.

She smiled, saying, “My program is so close to my heart. I started [cooking] as a young child and I am so happy to see this growing day after day. I deal with all the details in a personal way. [Cooking] showed how much I love and connect to it.”

Every day, according to the chef, she tries to recreate her own cooking experiences and learning to make it easy for beginners to master the basics.

Abdel-Salam says she believes that good knowledge makes cooking more enjoyable, even on a small scale at home while cooking for the family. She added, “In my program, I always return back to the main and the origin recipes but I never neglect creativity, diversity and personal touch.”

Abdel-Salam’s early interest in the culinary field began in 2010 when she began posting her personal recipes to Facebook. “I started to notice the number of followers growing from 40,000 to 750, 000, which I didn’t expect at all,” she said.

The popularity encouraged her to create her own page and share her own recipes on a daily basis. She attended to every detail, including preparations, ingredients, recipe accuracy, cooking process, tasting, serving and even shooting photographs of the food.

Abdel-Salam began studying food styling, presentation and everything related to it.

During her cooking journey, she met with United Arab of Emirates celebrity chef and food stylist Assia Othman.

Together they established their first monthly online culinary magazine called Beram and Tajine. The publication stopped after a year, unfortunately, as both could not find the time to dedicate to it.

“I was so proud of this partnership. It was a crucial stage in my life,” Abdel-Salam said.

Abdel-Salam's Tips for Ramadan Cooking

Abdel-Salam has some key tips on how to get ready for the holy month, especially for beginners, and shed light on how to avoid some common mistakes.

Firstly, it's not necessary to spend much money on food for Ramadan, says Abdel-Salam. She advises everybody to adhere to simplicity in serving Iftar on the dining table.

Secondly, she says mixing cuisines in one meal is should be avoided. "Choose all your menu items from one kind of cuisine, whether Egyptian, Syrian or from the Gulf region, etc.," she said.

"Third, avoid repetition of meat dishes. The menu has to be a full course meal including one main course dish, one side dish, appetizer, one type of salad and soup. This division makes your dining table looks perfect and organized," she adds.

Abdel-Salam highly recommends good organization. "Advance planning for every meal is the best solution, especially for the working woman."

"Make sure to prepare some food that can be frozen. Frozen food can be real savior," she said, adding that “the dishes have to be clean and suitable for the food's portion, type and shape."

“Also, it has to be matching with its color. Food distribution on the dining table has to be very practical in order to ease the serving process.”

Chef Abdel-Salam shared some of her delicious Iftar recipes for our readers:

Chicken Sharkaseya Recipe (Circassian Chicken)

Chicken Sharkaseya recipe
Chicken Sharkaseya recipe ( all photos by Sara Abdel- salam)

Ingredients:

For the rice:

4 cups Egyptian rice

3 bay leaves

Masticha (Mastic resin) Mastic crystal plant resin

Salt

Ghee

For the chicken:

Chicken breasts

Pinch of nutmeg

Salt and black pepper

Ghee

For the sauce:

5 slices of white toast crusts removed

5 minced of fresh garlic cloves

1 cup chopped walnuts kernels

½ cup whole walnuts kernel

Chicken broth

2 tsp. dried coriander

½ tsp. cardamom powder

Salt and black pepper

Ghee

Method:

Place a pot on stovetop. Add ghee, bay leaf, and mastic. Melt mastic and heat the ghee. Then, add the rice to sauté and then the salt. Pour in the boiling water and stir. Cover the pot and reduce the heat until the rice has absorbed all the water. Leave it to continue cooking.

For the chicken:

Heat the ghee in a skillet and put in the chicken breast seasoning with salt and pepper and pinch of nutmeg. Sauté from both sides, adding a little boiling water and leaving it to absorb. Then, start cutting the breasts into slices.

For the sauce:

In a food processor, put coriander, garlic, pinch of nutmeg, salt and black pepper, cardamom, walnut and white toast blend all until it becomes a fine texture. In a skillet, add all the mixture with some ghee until it turns to nice golden color. Then, add hot broth and leave it to boil on low heat for few minutes until the sauce is thick. The thickness of your sauce varies according to your own taste. To serve the dish, spread some rice on the serving plate and drizzle some sauce over it. Arrange the breast slices and ladle some sauce over the slices. Sprinkle with walnuts on the top. Pour remaining sauce into dip bowl besides serving plate.

Kishk Soup

Kishk Soup
Kishk Soup

Ingredients:

½ cup rice flour

1 cup yogurt

2 cup milk

1L chicken broth

2 chooped onions

3 minced fresh garlic cloves

Pinch of nutmeg

Salt and black pepper

Ghee

Method: Sauté an onion with the ghee until it turns golden. Mix very cold yogurt with milk, rice flour and stir well. Then, add the chicken broth and whisk it well. Pour the mixture over the onions and season with spices. Stir it constantly until the mixture reaches the boiling point and thickens. Serve hot with toasted bread.

Mahallabiya with Arab Spices

Mahallabiya with Arabic spices
Mahallabiya with Arabic spices

Ingredients:

1L milk

500ml whipping cream

1/4 cup sugar.

8 tbsp. corn flour (starch)

¼ tsp. ground mastic

5 cardamom seeds

5 cloves seeds

1 cinnamon stick

½ tsp. vanilla

Pistachios for presentation

Method:

Cold mix all the ingredients together and stir well to disolve the corn flour. Place on medium heat and keep stirring constantly until the mixture gets to the boiling point and thickens. Remove from heat and add vanilla and stir. Place mixture through a fine-mesh strainer to get rid of any spices. Then, pour in serving cups and leave it to cool down. Then, place in the refrigerator to cool and set. Garnish cups with pistachios before serving.

Chocolate Covered Dates with Almonds

Chocolate covered dates with Almonds
Chocolate covered dates with Almonds

Ingredients:

Dates

Raw chocolate

Vegetable oil

Whole almonds

Method:

Open the date and remove the pit. Then, stuff each date with an almond kernel. Melt raw chocolate with little bit of vegetable oil over hot water bath or microwave it. Dip each date into the melted chocolate and cover thoroughly. Then, place the dates in a tray covered with baking paper. Put it in the refrigerator until the chocolate hardens. 

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