Wednesday, May 23, 2012

EGYPTIAN CUISINE: Interview with Brenda and Heba of MIDEATS [part 1]

Bell Peppers and Squash stuffed with Quinoa, Beans and Vegetables (Photo Courtesy of MidEATS)
     I have been sitting on this interview with Heba and Brenda of the site MidEATS  for quite sometime, so I am glad to finally put it up. Both Egyptian-American, both women have been  using their site to bring the delights of Middle Eastern food to the world. Of course in hearing they were Egyptian, I jumped on the chance at an interview to learn more about the cuisine and culture.
     MidEATS is a great site with tons of recipes covering the whole Middle Eastern region. It also includes fun interviews with other bloggers and is really quite informative. Their wit drips throughout their writing, and as you can tell from the pic above, the food photography (and recipes) aren't too shabby either!
     We covered alot, so I decided to split the interview into two parts with the other going up tomorrow. Today, learn more about the ladies, the food that is quintessentially Egyptian, the difference between Egyptian food and the other North African cuisines and each lady's never fail dishes.
     Without further ado, I introduce you to the beautiful ladies of MidEATS blog, Heba and Brenda.

  1. Introduce yourselves!
Brenda: I am Egyptian-American, born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  I have always loved to eat food.  In college, my nickname was “Fatkid” and my roommate gave me an award that said “Good Eater.” Ha! Anyway, I moved to Washington DC after graduate school.  After going through the rat race of working on K Street for a few years, we moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, and we love it!!

Heba: My name is Heba, turning 19 soon - totally kidding about that number, but it doesn’t hurt to dream, does it? I’m Egyptian, both my parents are, but I was born in a little island in the Persian Gulf called Bahrain, where I lived until I was a pre-teen. At the young age of eleven and half, I moved to the States, and I’ve lived in Virginia ever since. I’m convinced it’s one of the prettiest states in the U.S. - even though I’ve only visited about ten.
l-r: The bloggers Heba and Brenda (Photo Courtesy of MidEATS)
2.   How did MidEats come about?
Heba/Brenda: It’s really a story of two blogs, and two bloggers, who got a big idea and decided to collaborate and go for it. You see, I have a personal blog focused on healthy living called My Life in a Pyramid. When I first started blogging, I focused more on traditional recipes, many of them Egyptian. Brenda also had a blog, Eau de Spice, focused on Egyptian and Middle Eastern recipes. We connected through an awesome citrus-cardamom rice pudding recipe that Brenda posted, and the rest was history. MidEATS was born out of our desire to make Middle Eastern cooking accessible to more people in the world, and to have a centralized resource for people to look and find the recipes they love, or for people looking to try something new!

3. What are the native dishes in Egypt? What's the style of cooking there?
Heba: There are so many. Some native dishes off the top of my head include Egyptian squab, or pigeons, (fried in ghee) and stuffed with a toasted green wheat called fireek (freekeh in English), which are to die for. Stuffed vegetables are also supremely popular- all kinds, but most notably grape leaves, white eggplants and marrow (zucchinis). Can’t forget the molokhia soup (Jew’s Mallow), the ful medames (fava beans) and the ta’ameya (fava bean falafel). Oh yea, and koshary! The Egyptian style of cooking involves sauteing a lot of onions and/or garlic in ghee (my favorite) … and tomato sauce belongs in most recipes. I discuss that combination in this post.

top- bottom l-r: koosa mahshi (stuffed organic marrow with beef and rice); bitingan abyad mahshi (stuffed white eggplants); molokhia soup; Ta'ameya (spice fava bean falafel); Koshary (Photo Courtesy of MidEATS

Brenda:  We have covered a wide array of traditional Egyptian dishes given that we are both Egyptian.  To add to Heba’s list, there are a few classics that we always have around our dinner table: eggplant with spicy ground beef (moussaka), a rice dish that covers toasted bread and beef cubes and is topped with a fiery vinegar tomato sauce (fettah), panfried beef (bifteak), and last, but not least, the heavenly Egyptian-style bread pudding (om ali).

l-r: bifteak (panko crusted steak sandwiches); Om Ali (Egyptian bread pudding); moussaka (roasted eggplant and potatoes with bechamel sauce (Photo Courtesy of MidEATS)
4. Briefly, what sets Egyptian food apart from the other North African cuisines to the untrained eye?
Heba: This is a tough one. As a general rule, I would say Egyptian cuisine is less spicy and has less European influence than the food in other North African countries. I need to learn more about the cuisines of other countries in North Africa before I can speak any further about specific differentiations though.

Brenda: Tomato Sauce. Ha! I am kidding, but tomato sauce is very widely used in Egyptian cooking more so than other Middle Eastern dishes.  But in all seriousness, it is the spice mixtures. For example, Moroccan cuisine uses a lot of saffron and ginger, where Egyptian cuisine almost never uses these.  Egyptian cuisine uses a lot of cumin.

5.  An Egyptian kitchen is nothing without _____?
Heba: Cumin. We add cammoon (pronunciation of cumin in Arabic) to a lot of savory recipes! Oh, and grass-fed ghee (samna in Arabic) - it elevates almost any dish from mundane to finger-lickin’ good!

Brenda: Tomato sauce, cumin, and ground coriander.  I use these three in almost every Egyptian dish that I make!

6.  What are common misconceptions about Egyptian food?
Heba: There aren’t very many classy Egyptian restaurants I can think of that cater to a Western audience in the U.S. So, most people who aren’t exposed to Egyptian culture and food through friends probably have no idea what to expect! Well, besides falafel … and hummus? So, I guess the biggest misconception is that Egyptian food isn’t distinct and unique compared to other Middle Eastern and North African food -- which is a myth of course! Egyptian food is flavorful and unique, and I wish there were a good Egyptian restaurant in the States that I could use as an example. Well, until one sprouts up, I’ll be sharing my traditional recipes on midEATS!

Brenda: Similar to what Heba mentioned, the common misconception is that the only thing Egyptians have added to Middle Eastern cuisine is ta’ameya and foul. But never fear, Heba and I are out there sharing the many, varied dishes that Egyptians have to offer!

7.  What is your never fail dish?
Heba: Hmm, I’ve perfected cauliflower based soups like this one and this one. They’re ‘never fail’ ‘cause they’re super easy!
shurbit arnabeet (creamy cauliflower soup ) (Photo Courtesy of MidEATS)
Brenda: My ful muddammas. People beg for more. Seriously.

8.      What's the best part about food blogging?
Heba: Hmm, there are many fun things about food blogging: artistic picture-taking, taste-testing (this may be my favorite part), bragging about the latest recipe creation, sharing food and cooking experiences with others, and inspiring others to try favorite recipes.

Brenda: Hearing what others have to say about dishes they have tried! There is nothing more liberating to know that not only that someone took the time to read your post, but to trust you enough to try to make the recipe!!

ful muddamas (fava bean stew) (Photo Courtesy of MidEATS)
9.  As the go-to source for Middle Eastern Cuisine, what would you like people to learn from you?
Heba: That it’s fun to experiment with flavors, and that there’s no such thing as one “right” way to make a dish. Sure, there are certain traditions that have been passed down, and it’s our goal to keep these traditions alive, but at the same time, it’s just as important to keep our creative juices flowing and create new traditions as we go along!

Brenda: To be fearless in the kitchen! Cooking traditional foods may seem complicated, but I just want everyone to fear less and try more. This is why my goal is to make traditional dishes more accessible!

Stay tuned tomorrow as the ladies go deeper into their own cooking styles, and places to visit in Egypt [part two here]

Visit MidEATS for more delicious Middle Eastern recipes and follow them on twitter

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