Starters and sides
Luxury travel and food consultant, VIBHA DANIA-DHAWAN’S passion for exploring epicurean delights began as a young girl, inspired partly by her mother’s love of cooking, and her desire to experiment with local ingredients and cultural dishes. Her appetite for cooking intensified as she travelled the globe, interacted and cooked with several world-renowned chefs including Rasmus Kofoed, Virgilio Martínez Véliz and Juan Mari Arzak. Tapping into her love of delicious cuisine, Vibha has imagined a new dining concept – V’s Kitchen, which combines intimate cooking classes with a personalised flair.
The marinated feta she has shared with us was a starter she tried on a visit to Greece. “I didn’t get the exact recipe from the chef, so when I got back, I experimented with different flavour combinations to get it right. Keeping it overnight is key to developing the flavours of the fresh herbs and garlic,” says Vibha. “The olive oil used in this dish can be drained and used later as a salad dressing, drizzled over seafood or as a dip.”
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LIDIJA ABU GAZALEH, a TV presenter, food blogger, writer and content creator, is the founder of Lidija’s Kitchen, a gourmet catering company in Dubai. Through her content, Lidija presents a delicious world of food, fashion, entertaining, and travel to her community of passionate connoisseurs of the good life. Her collaborations with chefs and restaurants in the region and around the world can be found on her website lidijaskitchen.com.
She has a fusion style of cooking, which is the result of varied cultural experiences – she is of Serbian heritage, grew up in Canada, married a Lebanese national, and then moved to Dubai where she currently resides with her husband and three children. Her recipe for mushrooms stuffed with sundried tomato pesto topped with whipped goat’s cheese is a delicious bite-sized appetiser that she likes to call a ‘faux cupcake’.
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SALLY PROSSER is one of Dubai’s most trusted but humble food bloggers and writers, having started out when influencers were unheard of. “I’m just a home cook with several cookbooks,” says Sally. She uses her platform to share her knowledge and passion for raw ingredients and food artisans. “Knowing where our food comes from is very important... I try to weigh the pros and cons especially because of climate change. I buy regional fruit and vegetables as far as possible.”
Sally’s tomato salad is one of her husband’s favourites. “He’ll eat it every day if he got the chance,” she says with a chuckle. “When I first started making this salad it used to be about chopping everything up, adding some balsamic vinegar and olive oil, chucking in some seasoning and that was it. It was very simple. But then I started using pomegranate syrup and my guests would say “'Wow! What’s in that?' It lends a tang to this salad which makes it delicious.”
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ELMIRA PELOVELLO joined Spinneys over two decades ago when there were only seven stores in the UAE. “I came here to visit my brother and I saw Spinneys in Sharjah…I applied for a job and was hired,” she explains. She is now the company’s operations manager. In spite of her hectic schedule which involves, among other things, visiting multiple stores each week, she finds time to cook for her family, especially on weekends. One of her favourite dishes is a Filipino-style macaroni salad. “This salad is made for almost every type of celebration in the Philippines be it Christmas, weddings or birthdays. It is my comfort food,” says Elmira. “It’s mostly equal proportions of everything but if you love cheese, you can always add more. Sometimes I add extra raisins, since my son loves them.”
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Being born into a multicultural family and having a childhood spent living around the world have influenced ZAHRA ABDALLA’S interaction with food. Her cookbook Cooking with Zahra was published in 2019 and reflects her Sudanese and Iranian heritage. The menu at her recently-launched restaurant Zahra’s Kitchen has drawn heavily from her book but also caters to various diets. “The idea was to be inspired by Middle Eastern flavours but to also be inclusive,” explains Zahra.
The saffron chicken with freekeh recipe she shared with us is a wholesome, flavourful dish. “Freekeh is an ingredient from the Levant…usually saffron chicken is made with rice and barberries but I integrated Palestinian and Iranian flavours and then I added ginger to it, which isn’t typical to either cuisine. This is one of my favourite interpretations of the marriage of two cultures,” she adds.
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DALIA SOUBRA juggles being a mother to three young children, a TV presenter, cookbook author, food consultant and Harper’s Bazaar Arabia’s acting food editor with ease. “I have three passions – food, real estate and journalism. I completed my degree in real estate development and moved to Beirut to refurbish old buildings, which I did for some months before I opened a café bakery with a friend. Our cupcakes became really popular and we’d get international orders,” says Dalia.
In 2006, they moved the business to Dubai. “That’s when I started sharing my cooking online and gradually began writing for various publications.” Her first cookbook Food, Love and Life from Dalia’s Kitchen was released in 2013 and includes her recipe for overnight braised short ribs. “I love Korean food. And since I’m Syrian, I use a lot of pomegranate molasses in my cooking, so whenever I’d eat Korean short ribs, I couldn’t help but think that it would taste great with an element of sourness. That’s how I came up with this recipe,” she explains.
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HIND AL MULLA turned her childhood hobby of “cooking up a storm” into a thriving career. She is the self-taught cook and baker behind seven Home Bakery cafés and a catering company, which she runs in partnership with her brothers. When we asked her to share one of her favourite recipes with us, we weren’t expecting an apple crumble – but after tasting it, we could do with a bowl every day.
“I used to make this dish with peaches and ate it with yoghurt for breakfast. One day my husband asked me to make something for him and his friends. I didn’t have peaches but there were plenty of apples lying around and the outcome was a hit,” says Hind. I kept playing with the recipe, adding and removing ingredients until I was satisfied. It’s an easy dessert and can be made in one dish and served with ice cream.”
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LIZ STEVENSON hadn‘t planned on becoming a pastry chef. She graduated with an art degree, and worked in West Africa for a while before returning to Montreal where she got a job as a cook. “I got to work with my hands and I was still creating, so for me it was a perfect fit. I loved it!” explains Liz. “When I moved to London I worked for Gordon Ramsay in a restaurant called the Boxwood...and I gravitated towards the pastry section because it was quieter, methodical and process based. I really liked the discipline. It was a very formative time of my career.”
She’s currently involved with multiple projects including a chocolate-tasting workshop, in partnership with The Tasting Class. “It’s an introduction to how chocolate is grown and made, and training one’s palate to detect all the different flavours notes in various kinds of chocolate,” explains Liz. The wobbly lemon jelly recipe she shared with us is one she often makes for friends, ”I really love it! What makes it so great is the orange juice that gives it a beautiful colour.” she says. When it comes to making this jelly at home, her advice is not to be scared when turning it out of its mould, “I’m self-taught and can do it.”
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YASMINE IDRISS-TANNIR is like a ray of sunshine, spreading happiness and warmth with her beautiful cakes and tempting sweets. A graphic designer by profession, she began channelling her artistic talent into food when she moved to Dubai 12 years ago. Nowadays she bakes and decorates anywhere from 10 to 15 cakes a month, at times working on up to four a week.
Pavlovas are a recent passion of hers. She began making them for her friends during Ramadan last year. The dessert was a hit and she soon earned the nickname Princess of Pavlova. “People loved them. It is a very light dessert that’s refreshing and perfect for a warm country like the UAE. Best of all it can be presented in a number of ways with a variety of berries, fruit and edible flowers,” says Yasmine.
Click here to find Yasmine's recipe