For most culinary experts, the mark of a great cook is a science; this includes presentation, balancing textures, innovating tastes and much more. I might not be a culinary expert, yet I personally believe that the food I enjoy the most is cooked with passion, and from the heart. The culinary talent and vision of Mrs. Salwa Najia shows the marks of a great cook, as she chooses to cook with passion, and challenges her skills to excel through her journey in publishing two established cookbooks. Her first book, Al Mathaq (The Taste) is a gastronomic reference and a studied ode to regional and international dishes, and her second book, released this month, Atbaq Wa Athwaq (Plates and Palates) is an eclectic progression of innovative recipes. bazaar meets Mrs. Najia to find out more:
What are the types of dishes you enjoy cooking the most?
I love taking known dishes from different countries, and modifying them. I mix in different flavors, with the additional final touches of an elegant presentation. I’m also very fond of making Arabic pastries, Mo’ajanat, with very non-traditional ingredients and interesting applications, like mixes of eggplant, sesame oil and sun-dried tomatoes. Not only do they look good, they taste absolutely delicious.
What inspired you to write the recipes for your first cookbook?
I was always interested in cooking from a very young age; based on this hobby and passion, I started a collection of recipes. I never had an idea back then of creating a book, the recipes were just filed for my reference.
Some I’ve collected over the years from my mother, some I came across on my travels all over the world. I’m so fascinated by cooking that I would meet the chefs at restaurants where I loved the food, and ask for recipes and tips to create my own version of the dishes I had.
What do you wish to communicate with your cookbooks?
I would love to show people that cooking with passion is the most important thing. I worked really hard to communicate how I created these recipes. I want to present my readers with dishes they want to learn to cook, and might have a hard time finding an easy recipe with an elegant presentation.
Can you give us some examples of these hard-to-find recipes?
For instance, there are many Palestinian dishes that are very traditional and very hard to come by in modern restaurants. In these cases, I will locate the recipe from different sources, usually from its original source, before crafting my own—a recipe that is easy for everyone to prepare.
How is the second book different from the first?
The second book is very global with regards to the types of recipes compiled. I came by a variety of different recipes for unique appetizers and desserts. My experience improved in terms of producing the book; better photography, and printing quality. Nonetheless, people love the first book because it is very comprehensive reference of regional and international recipes, with a total of 700. Any and every recipe that comes to mind is in that book. The second book is also loved for its variety of eclectic recipes.
Was it harder to create recipes for your second book?
Not at all! I actually acquired the experience I needed from my first book. Now, creating new and interesting flavors comes naturally to me. Before I started my second book, I used to wonder how other authors did it. Slowly but surely, I accumulated more recipes and started my project once again.
How has the feedback been for your second book?
The feedback is greatly positive; I am overwhelmed with the kind responses I’ve received from my friends and fans. My knowledge has reached those who can make use of it, that’s what makes me happiest, especially when people from older or younger generations approach me with their success stories with the recipes.
What’s the next step for Mrs. Najia?
I would love to translate my books into the English language to make them accessible to those people who prefer to communicate in English.
What tips do you have for home cooks?
Take cooking one step at a time, be determined and challenge yourself. I never thought I could perfect very technical dishes, yet I did because I love how small details can make all the difference. I love working hard, from the heart, in every aspect of life and that always shows in cooking.
Mrs. Salwa Najia’s new cookbook, Atbaq Wa Athwaq, is available at bookstores and cooperatives across Kuwait.