Maha’s Pantry

Maha is a translator by day, but her true passion lies in cooking and recipe development. She is a Palestinian-American expat currently living in London, UK, her fifth country! Moving around is heavily reflected in her food, as she carries a little bit of everywhere with her, and is not afraid to merge the flavours of these various cuisines to come up with something new and different! Nothing makes her happier than stuffing people’s faces with her food! You can follow her on Instagram @adashnadrizzle and keep up with her recipe development at Middle East Monitor. Be sure to check out all her recipes linked below!

Are there any herbs you can’t live without? What is your
favorite way to use them?

Fresh Za’atar – I love making pastries with cheese and fresh
za’atar leaves (oregano, basil, thyme).

Sage – I love using it in savoury dishes, like roast chicken
or turkey, or sweet dishes, like my sage tea cakes.

Parsley – It is so versatile and adds freshness and a pop of
colour to any dish! It’s a staple in my ojji fritters.

What about your staple spices?

Middle Eastern 7 Spice – I use this in most of my Middle Eastern
dishes. It is a wonderful mix of all the basics: cumin, coriander,
cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, all spice, and cloves.

Smoked Paprika – I love the smoky flavour paprika gives to any
dish; it adds such a depth of flavour.

Sumac – It works on so many things and elevates them, giving
them a tangy tart flavour that is so versatile. Musakhan is a good example of this. The word “musakhan” means “heated up” in Arabic, which refers to the fact that the dish’s components are made separately and then heated up together, resulting in the final product.

Do you have any pantry staples you’re committed to? What do you cook most frequently with them?

Freekeh – This ancient grain is not only delicious, it is good for
you and can be used in so many ways, like soups, salads, and
a great rice alternative. My freekeh salad is a good place to start!

Maftool – This giant cous cous is the main ingredient for one of
my favourite dishes, maftool, cooked with a lot of onions and a
rich chicken broth.

Passata – It is great to always have this in my pantry and
depending on which spices and herbs I add, I can make it into
a quick pizza or pasta sauce, or even the base for the many
tomato-based Middle Eastern stews! Like bamiyeh – and okra and meat based stew.

Vanilla bean paste – As a baker, I always love to have vanilla
bean paste on hand. It adds such a wonderful taste to things
as simple as heavy cream, and there is something about the
little brown flecks that make me happy.

Orange blossom/Rose water – These two waters are staples in
Middle Eastern desserts, giving them a lovely floral taste. I also
like to add them to my lemonade to give it a nice little twist!

“Even when we aren’t together, we still make these dishes and it keeps us connected, even when we are far away.”

Who or what is influencing you in the kitchen these days?  Cooking and baking are very therapeutic for me, and whenever I am having a hard day, I seek comfort in the kitchen. More than the act of cooking, I love feeding people and seeing the smiles on their faces as they enjoy a bite of something I’ve made! Also, my creative outlet is definitely the kitchen and I am always excited to come up with new recipes and dishes inspired by my travels and background. Most of all, I am inspired and influenced by my husband and kids, who I feed on a daily basis and who I am trying to always keep happy and full!

What is one of your most profound food memories? It is hard to pinpoint one specific one, but any time I got to cook with my grandmothers was so special to me. I remember trying to soak in as much information as possible and savour every moment with them.

Do you, your friends, or family have any food traditions? We have so many I can’t even count them all! One of my favourites is our annual family Eid lunch of stuffed chicken, lemony potato stew, moloukhiya with rice, and roasted lamb on top of a mountain of freekeh! There is something so comforting about it and we all look forward to it. Even when we aren’t together, we still make these dishes and it keeps us connected, even when we are far away. Another tradition is having brunch with my friends every Easter weekend, and since we were all on lockdown this year, we kept the tradition and had a Zoom brunch.

Any tips for having people over? I love hosting and usually host large crowds. I also have three toddlers, so it is really important for me to have at least two dishes I can make ahead of time or at least prepare the components for and put all together on the day. That way I am not flustered and I can actually spend time with my guests.  Another thing I try to do is have a dish or two I can make in the oven, and some on the stove top, so that I have a balance and don’t have to crowd a million pots on the stove top or cram a bunch of trays in the oven and have to cook in batches. 

Do you like to listen to any specific music when you cook? I love listening to music when I am in the kitchen. The music I listen to really depends on the time of day and what I am cooking. For example, if I were making manaeesh in the morning, it has to be Fairuz, if I were cooking in the middle of the day, I would choose something more upbeat and catchy. There is nothing like having a mini-dance party with the kids to make being in the kitchen even more fun! My midnight baking definitely calls for something slower and calmer, like Adele.

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