While she might be a banker by day, Tala Soubra is passionate about everything from photography and writing, to travel, dining and getting creative in the kitchen. Her honest restaurant reviews aim to shed light on venues that succeed in balancing the best experience with value for money, while her travel diaries and city guides are full of personal perspectives on exotic destinations. Food has always been important to her family, but as a child, Tala confesses to having been ‘a fussy eater’.
Why have you shared your mum’s recipe for Sheikh el-Mehshi?
As a young child I didn’t have much of an appetite – in fact I hated eating. My mum used to try and get me to eat by trying many different recipes. I used to stand on a stool in the kitchen and watch her cook. Sheikh el-Mehshi was something she made often, and it soon became one of my favourite meals. It’s a traditional Lebanese dish and I love its tomato-based sauce, which is warm and comforting. Also, the main ingredient is eggplant, one of my preferred vegetables.
Who taught your mum to cook?
Cooking skills within my family have definitely been passed down through the generations. Also, my grandmother and grandfather have a lovely piece of land in Lebanon where they would grow fruits and vegetables, so my mum grew up surrounded by great seasonal ingredients.
You live in the family home – does your mum still do most of the cooking?
Yes, which is amazing. Her food is healthy as she always does everything from scratch. It’s mostly during weekends that I have time to cook and we often do this together. She is practical and I always ask her for advice. And she leaves minimal mess, which is something I have learned from her. When I started out, the kitchen would always be a disaster.
Is the rest of your family involved in these culinary pursuits?
Definitely, my dad and my brother love to cook. In fact, my brother and I used to pretend to have our own cooking show when we were much younger. All of us love being in the kitchen now because we are genuinely interested in doing so. Because of this, I believe our food tastes better.
Follow @talasoubra on Instagram or visit talasoubra.com
Iranian–American chef, cookbook author and global TV personality, Ariana Bundy grew up in New York and London and has also lived in France, Italy, Switzerland, Singapore, California and Dubai. She inherited her love of food from her restaurateur father; her grandparents, who grew fruits and vegetables on their own land; and her mother, whose traditional cuisine takes Ariana ‘home’.
Tell us about the two recipes from your mum that you’ve chosen to share.
Mast-o-khiar is a cooling cucumber soup that’s served in summer. My mother taught me how to make it when I was young as it’s easy for kids to do. I can remember eating it in my grandparents’ garden under the stars while listening to the sounds of crickets. Tass kabab is something she used to whip up really quickly when we were living in New York. It’s super simple (you just layer the ingredients in a pot and leave it all to cook for an hour), but it’s the combination of flavours that makes this dish so special.
Did you eat a lot of Iranian food as a child?
My mum actually made really funky food for us, from all over the world – be it Japanese, Mexican, Chinese… she was very adventurous. But it’s her distinctive Iranian dishes that I loved most – they always took me home, wherever we were living. We were all brought together when the air was filled with the aromas of saffron, cinnamon or chopped herbs with freshly cooked rice.
Do you ever cook together now?
We do. She’s a fast cook, so she makes a lot of mess – she is going to kill me for saying that! I actually have to keep saffron and turmeric hidden away from her, as she manages to get those ingredients everywhere.
Does your son Dara like to cook?
He does – I always give him an apron and we cook together. He loves Iranian food as there’s something comforting about its soft flavours.
Follow @arianabundy on Instagram or visit arianabundy.com
Sukaina Rajabali was born in the UK, grew up in Tanzania and gave up a career as an optometrist to pursue her passion for photography. She currently shoots for a variety of food brands, restaurant chains and hotels, but is perhaps best known for her Instagram feed that’s brimming with striking images of scrumptious fare. We were surprised to find out how old she was when she learned to cook.
Did you grow up cooking with your mother?
No, and it’s pretty awful actually, but when I was 18 years old and getting married I didn’t even know how to boil an egg. My mum was a housewife and she cooked all her life, so there was never any reason really for me to step into the kitchen.
How did you ever learn to cook?
Well, my husband and I moved from Tanzania to the UK and we basically lived on take-away food. I hardly ever cooked, and when I did it always went wrong. It’s only when we finally relocated to the UAE a few years later and when I moved in with my mother-in-law that things changed. Between her and my mother teaching me, I finally learned my way around the kitchen.
Which recipe have you chosen to share?
Masala scrambled eggs – because it is one of the first proper dishes I learned to make. It’s really simple and you can have it ready really quickly. Rather than eating it for breakfast, my family and I often have this for lunch or dinner when we can’t be bothered to make anything more complicated. My kids, Maryam and Hassan, love it.
Are your children more involved in the kitchen that you were as a child?
Yes. And this past December they spent a lot of time watching the series Chopped while we were on holiday in Tanzania. They’re now obsessed with becoming chefs, and since we’ve been back, they have helped me cook a lot. We do fun things like having pizza parties and rolling our own dough.
Follow @sukainarajabali on Instagram or visit sukainarajabali.com