Zahra Abdalla is an incredibly multi-talented Dubai-based food blogger, food stylist, brand ambassador and recipe developer. Blurring the lines between modern and traditional food, she is successfully presenting cross-cultural culinary expressions through the lens of her multicultural heritage, by redefining Western dishes peppered with Middle Eastern ingredients and vice versa.
Zahra Abdalla is half Iranian, half Sudanese and happily married to a Jordanian. She considers herself a modern day Bedouin who was born in London and has had the luxury of calling Khartoum, Riyadh, Athens, Sacramento, London, Windsor, Vancouver and Toronto home. She now calls Dubai home.
With over 60,500 followers on Instagram, Zahra has a remarkable feed: everything from zaatar manakeesh and batata harra to peanut butter date balls. But, if you think her Instagram is impressive, wait till you see her blog that’s full of evocative visuals and simple doable recipe collection that perfectly encapsulate Zahra’s innovative repertoire.
When and why did you decide to start a food blog?
I started my blog over 8 years ago. Initially, it was intended to serve as a recipe index for my close circle of friends, however, over the years it has evolved to serve viewers and followers from all over the world. It is such a humbling feeling when I get feedback, emails or messages from people from Latin America, India or Egypt.
What is the best part of being a food blogger?
I inadvertently stumbled onto a career that I love. It is commonly stated that you should always do what you love – I always knew that I loved food and, more importantly, loved feeding people, so I am incredibly grateful that I have been able to convert my joy of food into a food-related business.
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Beautiful leg of lamb marinated and ready to go into the oven. The festive season is all about family, friends and good food. While I love making food, I am not a big fan of grocery shopping – fortunately online shopping services are seriously my saving grace. Rather than spending my timing going to the supermarket, I order my grocery list online and have everything delivered. I typically buy all my beef, lamb and chicken from @butchershop.ae and my veggies and fruits from @kibsons. Wishing you all a happy holiday. #cookingwithzahra #lamb #butershopae #onlineshopping #festiveseason #happyholidays
Who are your cooking inspirations?
My mom and grandmother. I have beautiful and fond memories of my childhood and food is always at the center of everything. I love Ina Garten, author of Barefoot Contessa, her cooking style is always so simple yet delicious. I love Jamie Oliver’s drive to inspire a whole new generation to eat well and eat healthy.
Who is your culinary icon?
I don’t think I have one specific person; there are many incredible chefs who have inspired me and influenced my style of cooking. I have a soft spot for Julia Child. I love her passion and commitment to the art of cooking. She continues to inspire generations of cooks to follow their passion and have fun in the kitchen.
How do you infuse cross-cultural flavors into your repertoire?
My food is definitely influenced by my travels. Having lived in so many different parts of the world, I have had the opportunity to discover and learn about so many new and beautiful flavors. I love playing around in the kitchen and recreating western recipes with Middle Eastern flavors and vice versa.
I absolutely love dates, in all its variations.
A kitchen gadget you can’t live without?
A good, sharp knife and a lemon squeezer.
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Delicious Pumpkin Bread with Pecans and Dark Chocolate Chunks. I prepared this delicious and moist cake with @aseelfoods Corn Oil. I love the warm and comforting smell that fills my home when I prepare this recipe. See recipe below! كعكة اليقطين مع جوز البقان وقطع الشوكولاته الداكنة. أعددت هذه الكعكة اللذيذة والشهية بزيت الذرة الصحي النباتي من @aseelfoods . أحب الرائحة الدافئة والحنونة التي تملأ منزلي حين أقوم بإعداد هذه الوصفة. الوصفة أدناه! #cookingwithzahra #aseel #quickrecipeswithaseelfoods #cookingwithaseel #aseelfoods @aseelfoods #وصفات_سريعة #وصفات_طبخ **************************************************** Preparation time: 10 – 15 minutes Baking time: 60 – 70 minutes Ingredients: – 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour – 2 tsp. baking soda – 1 1/2 tsp. salt – 1 tsp. cinnamon powder – 1 tsp. nutmeg powder – 1/2 tsp. cloves powder – 1/4 tsp. ginger powder – 1 can (425g) pumpkin puree – 4 eggs – 1 cup @aseelfoods corn oil – 2/3 cup water – 1 3/4 cups sugar – 75 grams 85% Dark chocolate, chopped – 1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped Topping: – 25 grams Dark chocolate, chopped Directions: 1. Pre-heat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. 2. In a medium sized, sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon powder, nutmeg powder, clove powder and ginger powder together. 3. In a stand mixing bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients and mix with a hand or stand mixer for about three minutes. Don’t over mix the batter, as not to take the air out the dry mixture. 4. With a spatula, fold in the chocolate and pecans. 5. Evenly pour the batter into two well greased and flour dusted loaf pans. Evenly sprinkle chopped chocolate and pecans over the batter 6. Bake in the oven for about 60 minutes. At 60 minutes, insert a toothpick in center to make sure it comes out clean. 7. Allow to cool for about 10 to 20 minutes before serving. I love eating this cake when still warm with a cup of freshly brewed aromatic Iranian tea.
What do you always have on hand, either in your fridge, or pantry, for a quick snack?
It is important that my children have healthy eating habits. I always stock the fridge with cut vegetable crudités they can much on. The kids like baked Zaatar Pita chips with some labneh on the side – it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes to prepare. My eldest son is a sweet tooth so as a healthy alternative, I have a batch of chocolate-dipped energy balls for him to enjoy.
Any two kid-friendly recipes that you would recommend from your blog?
My kids’ two favourite recipes that they love when I make them are spaghetti with garlic shrimp and coriander, and Basilla (Pea and Lamb Stew).
What’s your signature dish?
I have three signature dishes: Yuluanji (Iraqi style stuffed onion and vine leaves), broad bean and dill rice served with braised saffron lamb shanks, and finally Musakhan (Palestinian-style chicken served with braised onions and taboon bread)
If you were having a dinner party and you could invite anyone, who would your guests be?
Edward Said, Amal Clooney and Lela Abu Leila.
What would be your dream destination regarding food?
I am torn between Cape Town and Tokyo.
When outside the kitchen, how do you spend your time?
I am usually with my kids. My guilty indulgence is curling up on the sofa and enjoying a good book that I can read uninterrupted. Once I start reading, I disappear in the book until it is finished.
If your current self could give your past self one sage baking advice, what would it be?
Don’t stress the small stuff. Be grateful for every roadblock, it is a diversion to something better.
What makes Dubai special to you?
I love how Dubai is so multi-cultural. Diversity is celebrated and respected.
Zahra Abdalla shares her quick and easy recipe for Grilled Chicken Salad with Roasted Peppers, Baby Spinach and Fig Vinaigrette exclusively with bazaar readers.
Some of my best creations were developed by accident. A few years ago, I had hosted a party for a friend’s birthday and had a lot of leftover salad. Adamant not to waste any food, I went to the supermarket bought some chicken and created one of my favourite recipes to date. This delicious yogurt-marinated chicken salad with roasted bell peppers, baby spinach and a drizzle of fig vinaigrette is a versatile recipe that is perfect for any occasion. This vibrant salad has a wonderful balance of sweet, nutty and savoury flavours. I usually prepare this recipe as a salad, but I always like to layer all the components into a wrap, perfect for a picnic, and I reserve the dressing on the side and add just before serving.
500 g chicken breast
½ cup yogurt
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp paprika powder
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper powder
2 tsp nigella seeds
2 orange or red capsicum, quartered
3–4 cups baby spinach, washed and dried (or baby rocket for a spicy flavour)
¼ cup feta cheese, cubed
1/3 cup pine nuts
½ cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp mustard
1 tsp honey
1–2 tbsp fig preserve (or raspberry jam)
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven at 200℃. Place the capsicum pieces on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast in oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, store in an airtight container until cooled, then peel and cut into thin slices.
To make the grilled chicken, first marinate the chicken in yogurt, turmeric powder, paprika powder, minced garlic, salt and black pepper powder. Leave for 20 minutes or overnight.
In a medium-sized pan, heat a little olive oil on high heat and cook the chicken for 2 minute on one side. Flip the chicken breast and cook for an additional minute. Cover the pan, lower the heat and allow the chicken breast to cook for another 10 minutes. Add the nigella seeds, toss to coat the chicken. Turn off the heat and leave the chicken to rest for 10 minutes.Allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes, then slice and keep aside.
To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, honey, fig preserve, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper have emulsified.
Toss the roasted capsicum, baby spinach and feta cheese with a couple tablespoons of salad dressing. Serve on a large platter, layer the chicken on top and garnish with toasted pine nuts and feta cheese.
Tip 1: Alternately this salad can be used as filling for a wrap. For this, layer some baby spinach, a couple strips of roasted capsicum, a drizzle of the fig vinaigrette, some chicken strips and little roasted pine nuts in the centre of a tortilla wrap. Fold the base of the wrap a couple of inches up, and fold each side over to the centre so that they overlap. The same quantity makes up to 12 small wraps.
Tip 2: You can store the extra salad dressing in the fridge for up to a week.