Arab Today, arab today when suzanne cooks
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Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

When Suzanne Cooks

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today When Suzanne Cooks

Sharjah - Arabstoday

A guilt-free existence. Is that possible? Apparently, yes, according to Suzanne Hussaini. And the interesting bit is that she loves to cook and has authored a book on her kitchen secrets.I know, the sceptic within is amused. But then she explains a bit more. "Food is a blessing, guilt cannot be part of that vocabulary. The problem is when you eat too much and don't exercise — food is not the problem."That is true, I think, while munching my way through date-filled pastries with casing that looks like flour filigree. I was at Hussaini's home in Jumeirah for a conversation about her participation as a successful cookbook author at the recent Sharjah International Book Fair (she is also a television presenter based in Dubai and had her own show on Fatafeat television for a year). But dressed in leopard print and coffee leather, she seems a far cry from a person who spends hours stoking kitchen fires.Her book, Modern Flavours of Arabia: When Suzanne Cooks, is a revelation. It demystifies Middle Eastern cuisine, especially as she is one of the few Arab cookbook authors to have made an effort to connect places across borders. The recipes are simple, easy to follow and accompanied by luscious photographs.However, I was a bit intimidated by the quantities of ingredients — six cups of flour for flatbreads! She grinned and said: "We cook for large families. You would never make six kibbeh ... at least 50, and then freeze the rest." An efficient cooking system when you manage big families.A Canadian of Palestinian origin, for Hussaini food has always played a big role in life. It is her connect with her mother and heritage. "My mother would always make Arabian meals. At that point in Canada [several decades ago], you couldn't get Lebanese bread easily, so my mother used to make it at home. I knew that when I got home from school there would be a warm meal waiting. We would also eat together. It was a way of connecting with our food, our culture. All this instilled a love of food in me.""Everything is connected to my mother," she continued. "When I was young and if it was raining, my mother would make lentil soup — it was ‘Adas Day'. So when I grew up and looked out of the window and saw rain, I instinctively reached out for the jar of lentils. Your mother is the voice in your heart, your mother is connected to all things good."In her book, Hussaini, herself a mother of three, talks about how watching her mum make all the traditional Arabian dishes taught her that the kitchen is the heart of the home. She has taken her mother's classical recipes and given them a "makeover". She has not changed the tastes — because a classic is a classic — but has worked on how to layer and work the flavours differently.For example, the Moussaq'aa version in the book has individual baked slices of aubergine wrapped around chickpeas cooked in a sauce of pomegranate syrup, tomatoes, allspice and cinnamon, with tossed pine nuts. I assure you, it is quite a yummy glamouring-up of a rather heavy casserole. I love makeovers of this kind. That was another intriguing bit of information gleaned from Hussaini — not everything in Arabian cuisine centres on meat. There are many vegetarian recipes as well, which are included in her book. "Arabian food is good food — it comprises herbs, vegetables, legumes, beans, grains and meats, but not in large quantities. Like any Mediterranean diet, it is balanced, the kind of food people should eat," she said.Speaking of diet, she is extremely vocal about bad eating habits and processed foods. Appalled by the increasing number of diabetic and obese children, especially in the UAE, Hussaini makes it a point to talk about eating right at every opportunity, be it a cooking demonstration or any other public event."We are in a state of crisis. There are children as young as 10 with Type 2 diabetes. My attempt is to get people to change their attitude towards food. Everybody can cook. Young people no longer eat real food. It is cheap and convenient to eat junk food. But you don't know what damage these foods are causing, especially the genetically modified foods," she said."Good food is love. What people are doing nowadays is sad — they are not listening to their mothers. There is a simple philosophy — if the food on your plate is food your mother or grandmother cannot recognise, it cannot be good for you."Hussaini feels that there are many young Arab women out there who are not in touch with their food heritage and cannot cook, or are even interested in cooking."Once you start eating junk, it is like following a path of no return," she said.She is also dead against celebrity fads that eliminate whole food groups, such as carbohydrates or fats, from a meal. "If that part is taken away, it means that space is being filled by something else unnatural, such as artificial sweeteners or some other additive. Why tamper with nature? Why play around with perfection?"Hussaini believes the answer is to eat well but in moderation, and exercise. And that is her guilt-free recipe to life.

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