Q&A with Jordanian chef Batool Rasheed

Last week we held a wonderful Conflict Kitchen London on Jordan, held at Monikers Restaurant in Hoxton, East London. Eorann O’Connor met with head chef Batool Rasheed to discuss Jordanian culinary traditions, her influences and what treats she had in store for diners.

How did you get involved in the Conflict Kitchen London project?

I was introduced to the Grub Club, whom I went on to collaborate with, hosting my own supper club. Through this I was introduced to the Conflict Kitchen London project, which I thought was a fantastic idea. I am being supported by the Princes Trust to set up my own food business … My aim is to open Jordanian culture to the world and for others to learn about the nature and traditions of Jordanian people through the history of their food.

What do you think of the concept of the Conflict Kitchen as a new way of discussing peace?

They say that music is the language of a culture, but I think that food is as powerful as music. I know a lot of people who are concerned about Arabian culture and the political climate, but who are only influenced by what they hear and see in the media. Food gives people an alternative picture of a culture; it unites people and opens people’s minds and hearts to a different side of the Arabic culture that you don’t hear about every day.

The Middle East is divided although they share many things; one of those things is food. Recipes that go back thousands of years are still being used in Middle Eastern countries that are at war with one another. But food also unites people globally. In last week’s Conflict Kitchen London I met Debbie, a Burmese chef; we have become friends and plan to open a pop-up restaurant fusing both Burmese and Jordanian food in a celebration of both cultures. London is so multicultural I think it is important to celebrate different cultures and one way of doing so and uniting people is through sharing ideas and sharing food.

How did you learn the traditional Jordanian recipes? Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

I’ve been cooking since I was twelve years old, when I used to help my mother at home in Jordan. Cooking for me means spending time with my family, with all my siblings gathered together. I’m inspired by the freshness, the beautiful colours of all the food on the table, which remind me of the company of my family. We have a saying in Jordan that the best restaurant in all of Jordan is the mother’s kitchen!

So what’s on the menu tonight?

First up is hummus fatteh. In the Middle East hummus is not actually chickpea paste but the word for chickpeas. So the starter is chickpeas cooked with cumin water, roasted bread (fatteh) and tahini dressing which is blended with lime, garlic and cumin and topped with almonds, pomegranate seeds, parsley and olive oil.

Then we have the halloumi and date salad, which is inspired by my father. I grew up in Jordan Valley and we used to play outside in the fields. When we came back from playing my father would be in the kitchen stir frying dates and halloumi, which he would put on top of parsley, tomatoes and mixed vegetables.

Next is the tuna kofta, which is pan-fried minced tuna with herbs and spices. Alongside that is a za’atar dipping made from olive oil, sumac, sesame seeds, crushed thyme and pistachios. There is a saying that if you eat this every day you become cleverer, so at home my parents used to make this for our breakfast almost every day.

The main course is mansaf, the national Jordanian dish, which is served at almost all Jordanian celebrations and also traditionally used to resolve conflict between tribes. It’s made of slow cooked lamb cooked in whey, yoghurt, warm spices and served with turmeric saffron rice and topped with almonds, pine nuts and parsley.

The dessert is the caraway pudding, which is traditionally made when a woman gives birth as a celebration of the newborn but also because it is nutritious for the mother after giving birth. It’s served with basbosa, a Middle Eastern sweet cake made from semolina, yoghurt and coconut alongside a traditional Arabian cream and cinnamon tea.

After this mouth-watering description, Batool had to go back to working her culinary magic, as guests started to arrive into Hoxton Square’s Monikers for an evening filled with amazing food and fulfilling conversation, both deepening awareness of Jordan and bringing people together.

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