Celebrating Homecooks – Sawsan, Chef in Disguise

Today, on the first post to Celebrate Homecooks, we have with us a woman with an angelic soul. I first met Sawsan on the sets of Philips 30DaysofHomemade and have been a fan of her work since. There is a spark, passion and intensity in every recipe she shares on Chef in Disguise and a story supporting the post. Dig up authentic Middle-Eastern recipes, alongwith a journey she’ll take you along to show what it really means for a woman to live in the Middle East with fascinating stories from her childhood. She explains on her blog that Middle Eastern cuisine is full of gastronomical treasures and dedicates major portion of her blog to a lost Palestinian heritage and dishes. Also find basic kitchen essentials like making cheese from the scratch, lunchbox ideas, delicious salads and baked goodies; with easy instructions for everyone to follow.

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Sit back and go through the post with your favorite brew, for I promise it is long but really interesting to meet a homecook as passionate as her! Meet Sawsan and celebrate the joys of home-cooks we are blessed with in every home –

Please tell us who you are and where do you come from?

Hi, my name is Sawsan. By day I am an orthodontist, by night I am a passionate food explorer

I am Palestinian, I was born in Jenin, but I was raised in Amman (Jordan). I lived, studied and worked in Amman up until June 2014 when my husband got a job offer in  Ras Al Khaima (United Arab Emirates).

We packed everything and decided to take on this new journey. A new chapter called our adventure in the United Arab Emirates.

How did you develop your interest in cooking?

Unlike many foodies out there who start their love relationship with cooking or baking early on, yours truly was a late bloomer. You see, studying dentistry leaves you little time for other activities. Despite the fact that my mum is a really talented cook and baker, I learnt next to nothing from her (something I came to deeply regret later).Part of it was the fact that I had little time to spare with all the studying I had to do and another part was the fact that my mum cooks (and bakes!) without measurements. She can double a recipe or half it and get it perfect almost every time without the help of measurements. Impressive? sure! Easy to learn from? No.

Sure I occasionally helped mum with a cake here or some cookies there but I never made anything alone from A to Z. As for cooking, I only helped with the prep work, things like chopping vegetables and stirring soup lol. You may not believe it but the first meal I cooked whole from scratch was the meal I prepared for my husband a couple of weeks after our wedding!

 It was a long process and it wasn’t easy. I can’t remember the number of times I tossed out dough that didn’t rise or cakes that rose only to fall again. Nor do I want to remember the number of disasters, burnt, under or over cooked meals I have made. But I am a strong believer in the saying: ”sometimes you win, sometimes you learn” and I have learned something new with every recipe and every mistake and now looking back, I am proud of the journey and how far I’ve come

Please tell us about your family background and culinary habits that has inspired your style of cooking.

I think what sets my family’s culinary habits (and the whole Levantine/ Middle eastern way of cooking for that matter) apart from any other cuisine is a simple trio :

A heavy focus on fresh ingredients especially leafy greens

Rich spices.

Olive oil

I think growing up with a cuisine that focuses on those three things gave me a deep appreciation for fresh ingredients. Freshness really makes all the difference when you’re a home cook. It also gave me a deep rooted love for spices. I truly enjoy working with different spice combinations and exploring new ones.

What are your top five favorite and must have ingredients in the pantry. And why?

  • Zaatar: Everyone LOVES zaatar in my house, the kids love it in sandwiches or with some olive oil for breakfast . I use it in pastries, salads and to season chicken. It adds so much freshness and zing.
  • Olive oil: I don’t think I can function in the kitchen without olive oil. I used it in my cooking, in baking and it is a staple on our breakfast menu.
  •  All spice (pimento berries) I use this in almost all my cooked recipes, I love the smell, flavor and earthy notes in it. I had a very hard time here in the UAE in the first few weeks when I couldn’t find all spice!
  • Cinnamon: As my husband puts it, the only thing I have not added cinnamon to is cinnamon it self
  • Cardamom: I love the smoky notes in cardamom, I use it in my coffee, chocolate, dough, and even on my rice. It really adds so much to a dish

Rapid five :

  • a. Have you ever had to work with a strangest ingredient in your kitchen? If yes, what was it? –  Yes, I am part of the daring cooks and daring bakers groups and every month we get a new challenge that pushes you outside your comfort zone. I usually have to go hunting for ingredients to finish my challenges and that is part of the fun. One example would be tapioca starch we used to make Pao de Queijo (https://chefindisguise.com/2014/05/27/pao-de-queijo-irresistible-brazilian-cheese-bread/) I have never worked with it before that challenge. It was a new and fun addition to my pantry
  • b. Your favorite chef and why? – My mum, in my book she is the ultimate chef. Her food is the very definition of comfort food.
  • c. Your go-to week-night meal? – Chicken nuggets cooked in the air fryer with a salad
  • d. Your soul-food?
    If it’s a pantry item, zaatar.
    If we’re taking about something baked: my grandmother’s date ring cookiesIf it’s a cooked meal: my mum’s bean stew
  • e. Your favorite kitchen appliance? – It’s a toss-up between my Nutribullet and my kitchen machine

What, in your opinion, is the most versatile food/ingredient to work with?

I think it has to be flour, there is so much that you can do with it. A few simple additions turn it into bread or cookies or a cake or pasta or crackers… the list goes on and on

Have you ever made a mistake in the kitchen? Please tell us in detail.

Waaaay too many times The very first time I used a pressure cooker I did not know that I needed to release the steam to open the pot. I spent two complete hours trying to open the pot! By the time I finally opened it, the bean stew inside it had turned into mush lol

You have to be really proud of yourself. What is your secret to be an amazing home cook?
As with every other challenge in life, there are three keys

Be adventurous

Learn from your mistakes

Do it from the heart and with passion or don’t do it at all

In an era of fast food and take away, what advice would you like to give people regarding the importance of home-cooked meals?

I think flipping the box and reading the ingredients on most food labels is enough to send you running in the opposite direction. There are so many nasty chemicals and additives in store bought food that it hardly qualifies as food!

Cooking your own meals not only means that you can eliminate all those chemicals and additives but it is also a great way to connect with your family and kids, ask mum for a recipe, have your kids help you in the kitchen, invite some friends over and cook together. Cooking and baking are great ways to make memories with the people you care about

If there is one dish that people should definitely try from your blog or site, what would that be?

That’s a tough one!
I am not sure if I can recommend one recipe for everyone to try but I think that I would love it if people would read this post –  https://chefindisguise.com/2014/11/02/romanieh-lentils-and-eggplants-cooked-in-pomegranate-sauce/

Because it means so much to me.

Its been wonderful knowing Sawsan personally and through her blog. You can find her wonderful recipes and work on Chef in Disguise and her social media channels.

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and look for updates to know which home-cook we are celebrating next. 

Zaatar Chicken Fingers

Cricket fans, raise your hands!

With the ongoing back to back season of T20 and Indian Premier League my house has somewhat turned into a club house, especially on weekends. We are constantly munching on anything and everything while glued to the television, screaming and cheering for our favorite players. Continue reading “Zaatar Chicken Fingers”

Modern Dining (and Science) at Tresind, Dubai

Our first time at Tresind last year left us in awe and we loved how Chef Himanshu Saini carefully curated an Indian menu with a unique touch. I never went writing about it here because everyone was talking about the restaurant at one point, however, it had to be one of my most memorable restaurant experiences in Dubai (that I have recommended to relatives and friends on several occasions), and something that made me re-evaluate Indian cuisine. Tresind creates hallucination with your palate but not flavors and offers a laid-back fine dining. Situated on the second floor of Nassima Royal, this restaurant is successfully delivering a gastronomical food experience for more than a year to the residents of UAE. And just a little after eight months or so, we had to be back! Just had to….!   Continue reading “Modern Dining (and Science) at Tresind, Dubai”

Mutton Keema Egg Fry

By now all of you who have been hanging around here for a long time know I fall for recipes that don’t take much of my time in the kitchen. It doesn’t mean I don’t cook lavish meals but on most days you’ll find me whipping up items that won’t take more than 30 minutes. I should rather consider adding a tagline of “quick homemade meals” below the blog’s header. Someday…
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Continue reading “Mutton Keema Egg Fry”

No-Bake Healthy Peanut Butter Truffles

Spring break has come to an end and with that Little A starts a new phase of life from today. ‘Big boys goes to big school’, he tells me these days. And with that very sentence I get a feeling I am so used to (only!) after becoming a mother. Our schedule for the ten days was pretty full with alot of activities we got around doing together that I rather missed when he attended play-school.  And then I also had to make the most of an extra pair of tiny hands and a curious mind in my kitchen. We kicked off the first day after Easter with a healthy snack using pretty much everything we love from our pantry and our sweet cravings for the holidays were incredibly satisfied. Continue reading “No-Bake Healthy Peanut Butter Truffles”

Handi – Street Style Potato Canapes.

Living for over a decade in Bombay, food sold off the streets of Bhendi Bazaar embodied an immortal relationship with my college/work life – an affair so absolute and unconditional. A solitary place to remind ourselves that we are so broke yet intoxicated with simple joys. While meat dominated the scene, Chana Bateta stall near the mosque saw a rush of people from different walks of life followed by handi. Sold for a mere 0.50 paise or sometimes free if you had a rapport with the vendor, Handi was a soft whisper in the mouth amongst the noisy vehicles honking their way through a lane so small. Continue reading “Handi – Street Style Potato Canapes.”

Meatballs in Onion Tomato Sauce

Do you remember the recipe of Kofta Curry in Coconut Milk I posted a few months ago? I am overwhelmed with the kind of response I’ve received from people who have tried that. Meatballs are a kind of staple in my house, so you can understand my excitement when readers try out the recipes that are so close to my heart. And what makes it even more special is that meatballs in any form is a heirloom recipe being passed through generations. You know those kind of dishes that you make ever so often, no one in the house actually demand it. And those for which you just eye-ball the ingredients without having to measure them exactly. Meatballs are just that. And more. Ones that take you back in time to savor the childhood feats you have grown up to. Continue reading “Meatballs in Onion Tomato Sauce”

Kurkuri Bhindi {Crispy Air-Fried Okra}

I am so glad this week is drawing to a close. I have hardly had time to put my feet up but also pleased to be able to put up new content on the blog, develop new recipes, attend some events and get to know an incredibly amazing community of bloggers here apart from managing daily chores and brace ourselves for Little A’s big school from next month {Yes!!! He is a big big boy now!}. I had been in my shell for far too long, so I guess this year will be a little different.

For bidding farewell to a week that’s been interesting and exhausting at the same time, and my third family recipe for Philips Middle East #30daysofhomemade, I’m bringing you an uncomplicated and tasty finger food easily turned into an appetizer. It can get messy and need perseverance as dealing with okra can be quite grimy but the end-result of this crispy okra is oh-so-worthy! Continue reading “Kurkuri Bhindi {Crispy Air-Fried Okra}”