Expat Magazine

Celebrating Homecooks – Sawsan, Chef in Disguise

By Tasneem Rajkotwala @tasu0704

Today, on the first post to Celebrate Homecooks, we have with us a woman with an angelic soul. I first met Sawsan on the sets of Philips 30DaysofHomemade and have been a fan of her work since. There is a spark, passion and intensity in every recipe she shares on Chef in Disguise and a story supporting the post. Dig up authentic Middle-Eastern recipes, alongwith a journey she’ll take you along to show what it really means for a woman to live in the Middle East with fascinating stories from her childhood. She explains on her blog that Middle Eastern cuisine is full of gastronomical treasures and dedicates major portion of her blog to a lost Palestinian heritage and dishes. Also find basic kitchen essentials like making cheese from the scratch, lunchbox ideas, delicious salads and baked goodies; with easy instructions for everyone to follow.


Sit back and go through the post with your favorite brew, for I promise it is long but really interesting to meet a homecook as passionate as her! Meet Sawsan and celebrate the joys of home-cooks we are blessed with in every home –

Please tell us who you are and where do you come from?

Hi, my name is Sawsan. By day I am an orthodontist, by night I am a passionate food explorer

I am Palestinian, I was born in Jenin, but I was raised in Amman (Jordan). I lived, studied and worked in Amman up until June 2014 when my husband got a job offer in  Ras Al Khaima (United Arab Emirates).

We packed everything and decided to take on this new journey. A new chapter called our adventure in the United Arab Emirates.

How did you develop your interest in cooking?

Unlike many foodies out there who start their love relationship with cooking or baking early on, yours truly was a late bloomer. You see, studying dentistry leaves you little time for other activities. Despite the fact that my mom is a really talented cook and baker, I learnt next to nothing from her (something I came to deeply regret later).Part of it was the fact that I had little time to spare with all the studying I had to do and another part was the fact that my mom cooks (and bakes!) without measurements. She can double a recipe or half it and get it perfect almost every time without the help of measurements. Impressive? sure! Easy to learn from? No.

Sure I occasionally helped mom with a cake here or some cookies there but I never made anything alone from A to Z. As for cooking, I only helped with the prep work, things like chopping vegetables and stirring soup lol. You may not believe it but the first meal I cooked whole from scratch was the meal I prepared for my husband a couple of weeks after our wedding!

 It was a long process and it wasn’t easy. I can’t remember the number of times I tossed out dough that didn’t rise or cakes that rose only to fall again. Nor do I want to remember the number of disasters, burnt, under or over cooked meals I have made. But I am a strong believer in the saying: ”sometimes you win, sometimes you learn” and I have learned something new with every recipe and every mistake and now looking back, I am proud of the journey and how far I’ve come

Please tell us about your family background and culinary habits that has inspired your style of cooking.

I think what sets my family’s culinary habits (and the whole Levantine/ Middle eastern way of cooking for that matter) apart from any other cuisine is a simple trio :

A heavy focus on fresh ingredients especially leafy greens

Rich spices.

Olive oil

I think growing up with a cuisine that focuses on those three things gave me a deep appreciation for fresh ingredients. Freshness really makes all the difference when you’re a home cook. It also gave me a deep rooted love for spices. I truly enjoy working with different spice combinations and exploring new ones.

What are your top five favorite and must have ingredients in the pantry. And why?

  • Zaatar: Everyone LOVES zaatar in my house, the kids love it in sandwiches or with some olive oil for breakfast . I use it in pastries, salads and to season chicken. It adds so much freshness and zing.
  • Olive oil: I don’t think I can function in the kitchen without olive oil. I used it in my cooking, in baking and it is a staple on our breakfast menu.
  •  All spice (pimento berries) I use this in almost all my cooked recipes, I love the smell, flavor and earthy notes in it. I had a very hard time here in the UAE in the first few weeks when I couldn’t find all spice!
  • Cinnamon: As my husband puts it, the only thing I have not added cinnamon to is cinnamon it self
  • Cardamom: I love the smoky notes in cardamom, I use it in my coffee, chocolate, dough, and even on my rice. It really adds so much to a dish

Rapid five :

  • a. Have you ever had to work with a strangest ingredient in your kitchen? If yes, what was it? –  Yes, I am part of the daring cooks and daring bakers groups and every month we get a new challenge that pushes you outside your comfort zone. I usually have to go hunting for ingredients to finish my challenges and that is part of the fun. One example would be tapioca starch we used to make Pao de Queijo (https://chefindisguise.com/2014/05/27/pao-de-queijo-irresistible-brazilian-cheese-bread/) I have never worked with it before that challenge. It was a new and fun addition to my pantry
  • b. Your favorite chef and why? – My mum, in my book she is the ultimate chef. Her food is the very definition of comfort food.
  • c. Your go-to week-night meal? – Chicken nuggets cooked in the air fryer with a salad
  • d. Your soul-food?
    If it’s a pantry item, zaatar.
    If we’re taking about something baked: my grandmother’s date ring cookiesIf it’s a cooked meal: my mum’s bean stew
  • e. Your favorite kitchen appliance? – It’s a toss-up between my Nutribullet and my kitchen machine

What, in your opinion, is the most versatile food/ingredient to work with?

I think it has to be flour, there is so much that you can do with it. A few simple additions turn it into bread or cookies or a cake or pasta or crackers… the list goes on and on

Have you ever made a mistake in the kitchen? Please tell us in detail.

Waaaay too many times The very first time I used a pressure cooker I did not know that I needed to release the steam to open the pot. I spent two complete hours trying to open the pot! By the time I finally opened it, the bean stew inside it had turned into mush lol

You have to be really proud of yourself. What is your secret to be an amazing home cook?
As with every other challenge in life, there are three keys

Be adventurous

Learn from your mistakes

Do it from the heart and with passion or don’t do it at all

In an era of fast food and take away, what advice would you like to give people regarding the importance of home-cooked meals?

I think flipping the box and reading the ingredients on most food labels is enough to send you running in the opposite direction. There are so many nasty chemicals and additives in store bought food that it hardly qualifies as food!

Cooking your own meals not only means that you can eliminate all those chemicals and additives but it is also a great way to connect with your family and kids, ask mom for a recipe, have your kids help you in the kitchen, invite some friends over and cook together. Cooking and baking are great ways to make memories with the people you care about

If there is one dish that people should definitely try from your blog or site, what would that be?

That’s a tough one!
I am not sure if I can recommend one recipe for everyone to try but I think that I would love it if people would read this post –  https://chefindisguise.com/2014/11/02/romanieh-lentils-and-eggplants-cooked-in-pomegranate-sauce/

Because it means so much to me.

Its been wonderful knowing Sawsan personally and through her blog. You can find her wonderful recipes and work on Chef in Disguise and her social media channels.

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and look for updates to know which home-cook we are celebrating next. 

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