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Chef Chadi: I want to change mentality of cooking in Middle East.

Chadi Zeitouni is a popular TV chef on Middle East satellite channels, yet lacks that "star" attitude. You'd think you were cooking at home with a friend when you see him flit around adding a dash of oil in a pan or more boiling water to one with rice in it or tasting the quantity of spices you've added and clutching your arm to say it tastes "different but good".

The Lebanese chef has collaborated with Coca Cola this Ramadan to bring quick and easy versions of traditional recipes.

All you need to do is pick up a family-size bottle of Coca Cola from any supermarket. Behind the label find a quick and easy recipe from UAE, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman or Iraq.

"Our key was how to simplify the life of people during Ramadan in terms of cooking," said Zeitouni at the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management where he took us through the steps to recreate our versions of the Emirati Biryani.

"This is a step-by-step way of teaching the new style of cooking Arabic dishes, especially to the younger generation. Everyone knows the dishes from the Middle East, Khaleej and Lebanon. What I did was change some things in the recipes to create a healthier, fresher version."

"Food brings people together. And that's the Coke policy too: bringing people together," said Sarah El Tarzi, communications manager, Coca Cola Middle East. "We commissioned a survey on consumer usage and attitude, and found that for mothers, cooking is one of the top five most-enjoyed activities during Ramadan.

"It's not just about cooking a dish. Chadi just loves what he does and has a happy personality. Plus, he's well known in the region, so we took him on board to create/recreate these traditional favourites."

However, being connected to the campaign is only the starting point for Zeitouni.

"Yes, we start with Ramadan but our aim is to change the mentality of cooking in the region. Whether it's Ramadan or Christmas it doesn't matter."

But for Zeitouni, changing the mentality of cooking doesn't entail forcing his style on anyone else.

"I don't need to have people cook exactly the way I do. What I want them to do is learn the cooking tips for a particular dish. If you want more spice, no problem, but I don't want you to wash the rice. For me what's important is for you to know how hot the water should be when you cook the rice, not the consistency of the cooked rice that you like. I want you to pick from the recipe the right and healthy way of using the ingredients.

"I'm the only chef in the Middle East and Arab countries who looks straight into the camera when cooking on TV and says please try my recipes and ask your doctor or nutritionist whether my recipe is healthier than yours or not. And when a chef like me who's well known is cooking with olive oil and it tastes really good, the people can change their mentality. It's not complicated, just use olive oil instead of butter. What's important is you give people an alternative.

"It's difficult to break habit, especially when we've been taught to do things in a particular way through generations. It's difficult to change the mentality of the people and to do the same dish in another way. But convincing the people in a fun and healthy way is all it takes.

"Our food is the best food in the world. What I want to change is some ways of cooking some dishes, not all. We have a lot in our Arabic mezzeh. We have a lot of healthy food but the problem lies in how to become friends with the ingredients.

"Food is like a woman if you keep her happy, she'll be good to you forever and forever."

EMIRATI BIRYANI BY CHEF CHADI ZEITOUNI

Biryani is originally an Indian dish consisting of rice and meat as well as Indian Biryani spices. This dish is very popular in the Arabian Gulf countries especially in the UAE. The basic ingredients of the Emirati Biryani do not differ from the Indian version, except for its mix of Emirati spices.

Ingredients (for 6 people)

1kg chicken breasts, chopped lengthwise

4tbs olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 garlic clove

3tsp grated ginger

1tbs Emirati spices salt, black pepper, curcuma or turmeric (according to taste)

4tbs olive oil

For the rice

2 cups basmati rice

4 cups boiling water

1/3 cup rose water

1tsp saffron

To prepare the Emirati spices (all ground)

3tbs black pepper

1tbs cinnamon

1EeA'tbs red chilli

1tbs cumin

1EeA'tbs cardamom

2tbs coriander

1tbs carnation

1tbs ginger

For the garnish

1 cup roasted or fried cashews and/or almonds

1tbs parsley, chopped

1 red bell pepper, sliced long

Soak the saffron in rose water and set aside. Heat olive oil in a saucepan and cook onion until golden, then add chicken pieces and cook through. Add crushed garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, curcuma and Emirati spice mix (to taste) and saute.

In a separate pan, add rice to boiling water. Cook the rice and add soaked saffron just before the rice is cooked. Serve rice with chicken, garnished with the nuts, parsley and red pepper.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Jul 13, 2013
Words:895
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