It wasn’t until she had her first child 12 years ago, did Dubai-based Dima Sharif think about perfecting her skills in the kitchen. Her mother, after years to trying to teach her the family’s much-loved recipes, finally handed her a notebook of recipes with a faint hope that maybe someday, her non-governmental organisation worker daughter would be interested.
“Months later, I took a look at the notebook — a collection of hand written recipes — and lost myself in it,” recalls Sharif. Immersed in her mum’s notebook, she experienced all types of emotions. The recipes held in that book brought back memories from her childhood, aromas of her parents’ home and dishes she had enjoyed with her grandmothers. “From that moment food for me became more than simply cooking, ingredients, and techniques. It became my connection to my roots, life and heritage.”
Coming from a background of farmers and orchard owners, she started supporting organic farmers from the UAE. “I started raising awareness of organic, local and environmental issues and promoting The Farmers’ Market on The Terrace through my blog and YouTube channel. I strongly believe in having access to outstanding local and organic produce that is fairly priced”.
Launching her range of seasonal and organic pickles and preserves, Sharif’s Organic Mooneh Essentials, was the social media star’s way of supporting local farmers.
With her first cookbook, Plated Heirlooms, Dima conjures magical visions of her motherland, Palestine. “Falasteen is a unique and beautiful country, one that is full of heart and traditions,” she says. Through food, the author wants to bring focus on the essence of the land, which she fears is forgotten amidst the noise that dominates the headlines.
“For me food is a reflection of culture, history and all aspects of our lives; it’s what unifies us as humans. I wanted to explore this universality in my book. If we were to change the names of the cities, people and the concoctions, the book becomes universal and comprehensive to all of us whoever we are.”
Sharif shares recipes from Plated Heirlooms:
Roasted Lamb & Cauliflower in Tahina Sauce (Sinyet zahra mashwiyeh bil t’hineh)
2 cauliflower heads, cut into medium size flowerets
800g lamb cubes, cooked, reserving the meat and broth
½ cup tahina
Juice of two lemons
¼ cup yoghurt
3 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs olive oil
1 small bunch fresh coriander leaves
Toasted pine nuts and pomegranate seeds
Steam the cauliflower until half cooked, remove and line on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil then season with salt and black pepper. Roast in 230°c oven for 15 minutes or until cooked through and starting to brown.
Make the broth using the lamb cubes (see recipe below).
Make the tahina sauce by seasoning the tahina with salt and black pepper and lemon juice. Then add the yoghurt making sure to scrape the bottom as you mix. Add enough broth to reach a slightly thick but runny consistency. Set aside.
Once the cauliflower is finished roasting and the broth is cooked, mix them together in a deep baking tray and top all with the tahina sauce. Shake the tray to distribute evenly.
Roast in a 230°C oven for 15 minutes.
Saute the minced garlic in the olive oil until translucent but not browned. Then add the finely chopped coriander leaves and stir to coat thoroughly. Set aside.
Once the lamb and cauliflower is roasted, sprinkle the garlic and coriander mixture over it. You can garnish with some toasted pine nuts and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds for colour.
Serve hot with warm khubz, green olives and a garden salad.
Make your own broth
Of course it is easier to dissolve some liquid stock concentrate or stock cube in hot water, but fresh, homemade meat broth undoubtably adds depth to the flavour profile of any dish. To make your own stock, put the meat (and meat bones, if any) in a thick-bottomed pot, with cold water. Let it steep for 30 minutes. Add sea salt and then, on low heat bring it to a simmer. Skim the pot with a slotted spoon to remove scum. Once the broth is clear, remove from the heat and cool.
Aromatic Yellow Rice (Ruz Bukhari)
2 cups long grain rice
1 tsp saffron threads
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 ½ tbs olive oil
3 cups vegetable, chicken or meat broth
2 tbs rosewater
¼ cup toasted slivered almonds
1 tbs finely chopped parsley
½ cup raisins, soaked in water then drained (optional)
Wash and drain the rice. Heat olive oil slightly and add the saffron and raisins. Saute lightly. Add the rice and stir well. Season with salt and black pepper then add the broth and rosewater. Stir to mix well. Cover the pot and bring the mixture to a boil.
Once the broth is reduced and the rice is starting to show on the surface, lower the heat and continue to cook until the rice is cooked. Do not lift the lid throughout the cooking to not allow the steam to escape. Once the rice is cooked, fluff it with a fork. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with toasted slivered almonds and finely chopped parsley.
Great accompaniment with fish or seafood dishes. Serve hot.
Rose and Cardamom Infused Milk Pudding (Mhallabiyyeh bil hail wil ward)
1 litre milk
4 tbs corn starch
4 tbs ground rice
1 cup caster sugar
1 tbs rosewater
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
Fresh or dry rose petals
Handful of chopped toasted pistachio
White chocolate shavings (optional)
Blend all ingredients except rose water until smooth.
Pour the mixture into a pot over medium heat. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring constantly. Once boiled, reduce the heat and simmer until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in the rosewater. Set aside to cool slightly.
Pour the pudding in dessert cups or small serving bowls, filling only up to two thirds of the cup. Cover the surface with cling film to prevent the formation of skin. Refrigerate to chill. Serve with a sprinkle of a white chocolate shavings then with some roughly chopped toasted pistachios and top with a rose petal.
Plated Heirlooms will be available in most bookstores in the UAE next month. For pre-orders, visit dimasharif.com or Sharif’s stand every Friday at The Farmers’ Market on The Terrace, Bay Avenue, Business Bay.
— Pratyush Sarup is a Dubai-based freelance writer