DUBAI: How do you empower women? Chef and culinary consultant Sally Hurst provides what some might consider an unconventional answer — by cooking.
A resident of Beirut for the past five years, Hurst recalls an anecdote told by women in the traditional Lebanese mountainside areas.
“Women had the key to the larder back in the day, before they had refrigeration, and having that key was the ultimate power in the household. You controlled everything by what was in there and by who you fed and how you fed them,” she told Arab News.
Originally from America, Hurst is the project manager of an upcoming book, “Empowering Women through Cooking,” featuring the recipes and personal stories of 52 women from different backgrounds living in Lebanon. This book is the latest venture of the Amman-founded “Empowering through” social movement that helps individuals in more than 10 countries via events and publications.
“Some people had a problem with the title, because there is this idea that cooking is something women have to do,” Hurst said of the book, which took nearly four years to complete. “The idea is that a lot of women choose, like me, to do this. It does empower you — there’s something about being able to feed your family with what you do in the kitchen that is really rewarding. A lot of women do that for a living in Lebanon.”
Offering their recipes of traditional savory dishes (some of which have foreign influences) and sweet delicacies, the participants include a refugee from Syria, a Filipino household helper, the founder of the Beirut Marathon Association, and a cook who was born with Down syndrome. “I wanted it to reflect the diversity of Lebanon because I think that’s one of its strengths,” Hurst said.
It is much more than a recipe book. Another one of its objectives is to inspire aspiring chefs and entrepreneurs by offering advice on setting up a culinary business, as well as health and wellness tips specific to Lebanon and through sharing stories of women-led businesses in the culinary world. Most of all, at a time when Lebanon is facing multiple economic and social crises, proceeds of the book will go to the World Food Program MENA to feed the hungry of Lebanese society.
Maamoul: Why the storied sweet is so important during Eid in Palestine
Prepared in circles, the Eid cakes are stuffed with dates, while maamoul are stuffed with dates or walnuts, pistachios and nuts, and the outer layer is sprinkled with crushed white sugar
Updated 10 May 2021
GAZA CITY: In the last week of Ramadan, the smell of maamoul and cakes wafts from Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Maamoul, also popular in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, is a traditional shortbread cookie popular in the region, and one of the main sweet items prepared for Eid Al-Fitr celebrations.
Samira Al-Burai, 54, is enjoys preparing maamoul with her sons and daughters.
“We bring basic ingredients a few days before making maamoul. All the family members, including my sons, will participate in making it.
“I learned (how to) make cakes and maamoul from my mother, then I taught it to my daughters so that this tradition may continue during the last days of Ramadan. My children are accustomed to the smell of cakes at this time of every year.”
Maamoul and cakes are one of the most prominent pieces of celebration associated with Eid Al-Fitr, despite the harsh conditions faced by Palestinians.
Prepared in circles, the Eid cakes are stuffed with dates, while maamoul are stuffed with dates or walnuts, pistachios and nuts, and the outer layer is sprinkled with crushed white sugar.
Some women earn money during Ramadan by making and selling maamoul to others.
Salwa Kabariti, 57, used to make them for her family. With the passage of time and after they fell on hard times, she began to produce larger quantities and started selling to neighbors, friends and even to some shops.
Maamoul and cakes are one of the most prominent pieces of celebration associated with Eid Al-Fitr, despite the harsh conditions faced by Palestinians. Some women earn money during Ramadan by making and selling maamoul to others.
“Due to our poor economic condition, I began searching for a source of income. This work offered a good source. It helped me and my family to overcome our economic crises,” Kabariti said.
“There is no Eid without maamoul. I love (it) and will continue making it every Ramadan as long as I have the ability to do so,” she added.
Despite the large number of bakeries that sell maamoul in the Gaza Strip, many women prefer making theirs at home to preserve the festive atmosphere in their households.
Lubna Al-Sumairi, 40, said: “I like preparing it in my house with my husband and other family members. Making maamoul is one of the most important customs that we enjoy during the
last days of Ramadan; its preparation, delicious taste, and the pleasant atmosphere gives us a happy feeling.”
‘Grown-ish’ actress Yara Shahidi teases collaboration with Adidas
Updated 09 May 2021
DUBAI: Part-Middle Eastern star Yara Shahidi is set to drop a new global collection created in collaboration with sportswear giant Adidas. The “Grown-ish” actress this week posted a teaser of her collaboration on Instagram, and the response to her designer debut is overwhelmingly positive.
“Y’all knew this was coming #collab (sic),” she captioned a video of herself wearing a mustard yellow track jacket with a teal collar worn over a white shirt. “Yessss,” wrote US singer Justine Skye in the comments section, applauding her friend over her latest venture.
According to Shahidi’s Instagram post, the new line will be titled Recreate x Yara.
While Adidas hasn’t officially confirmed the news yet, it seems that Shahidi has been dropping hints about a collaboration with the sportswear giant for quite some time now — either that, or she’s just a dedicated Adidas fan. The 21-year-old has been championing the brand for months and has been seen multiple times wearing collaborations from the brand’s other partnerships, including lines with Pharell Williams and Beyonce.
In an IGTV video, the actress revealed that Beyonce sent her an entire clothing rack filled with Ivy Park x Adidas swag before the pieces even hit the shelves.
She also starred in a campaign for the brand’s signature Superstar sneakers in 2020.
The 21-year-old star is set to executive produce and develop an on-screen adaptation of Cole Brown’s critically-acclaimed debut book “Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World” and single-camera comedy series “Smoakland” alongside her mother, and business partner, Keri Shahidi.
Additionally, the actress, who is the youngest network producer ever, is set to star as Tinkerbell in Disney’s “Peter Pan and Wendy.”
Production on the new film, which is expected to arrive sometime in 2022, is currently underway in Vancouver, Canada.
Ramadan recipes: This freekeh-stuffed chicken is comfort food for the soul
Updated 09 May 2021
DUBAI: Jordanian Chef Hassan Al-Naami shares his delectable recipe for fragrant freekeh-stuffed chicken, a dish that is wildly popular at The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai, where he brings his culinary vision to life at the hotel’s Middle Eastern restaurant, Amaseena.
As Ramadan draws to a close, give this dish a go for a special iftar this week.
Whole baby chicken
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp paprika
1/3 tbsp 7 spice
½ tbsp coriander powder
2 ½ tbsp lemon juice
1 handful of almonds
1 handful of pine nuts
5 cups freekeh
3 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup onion (chopped)
1 tsp cinnamon powder
½ tsp cardamom powder
1 tbsp 7-spice
1 ½ tbsp cumin powder
6 cups chicken stock
Salt and black pepper to taste
1. Wash and drain freekeh until clean. In a hot pan combine olive oil and spices, toss for a few minutes till fragrant. Add the freekeh then sauté for another 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and bring to boil. Cover and cook for 30-40 minutes on a low heat. The freekeh should be cooked but still have a chewy texture.
2. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a small bowl, mix all the spices and rub chicken with spices all over and inside, including under the skin. Take the cooked freekeh and stuff the chicken with it, cross the legs and tie with twine. Place the chicken in a roasting tray, cover with foil and roast for 60-80 minutes. Allow the chicken rest before serving (keeping it covered).
3. Serve stuffed chicken on over leftover cooked freekeh. Decorate with roasted nuts and serve with minted yogurt on the side.
Model Imaan Hammam prepares meals for the less fortunate this Ramadan
Updated 08 May 2021
DUBAI: This week, Moroccan-Egyptian-Dutch model Imaan Hammam teamed up with Amsterdam-based restaurant The Wild Room to give back to those who need it most by helping to prepare meals for the most vulnerable in the community this Ramadan.
“Last 10 days of Ramadan! What a beautiful healing month! So sad it’s coming to an end,” the 24-year-old shared with her one million Instagram followers, alongside a carousel of photos depicting her pouring tomatoes into a pot, surrounded by bags of prepared meals and getting ready to pray.
“Today these women and I worked so hard to prepare meals for those in need. Helping others is not only important but also a GOOD thing to do. It makes us happier and healthier too. Giving also connects us to others, creating stronger communities and helping to build a happier society for everyone. And it's not all about money — we can also give our time, ideas and energy. I want to thank all the strong women today who were involved from the bottom of my heart. I am so grateful to be part of this initiative. May Allah bless you all,” she added.
Last Ramadan, the catwalk star, who was born to an Egyptian father and a Moroccan mother, revealed that she donated to two mosques and She’s the First, a non-profit organization that fights gender inequality through education that Hammam is an ambassador for.
The model also donated funds to a mosque in Fisher, Indiana, to help them develop a prayer space for women and to the Islamic Cultural Center of New York.
Saudi actress Sumaya Rida personifies the zeitgeist of an era of change in the Kingdom
Sumaya Rida is a rising star of Saudi Arabia’s fledgling domestic film industry, empowered by the Vision 2030 agenda
Rida wants more investment in Saudi writers, producers and directors who can share the Kingdom’s stories with the world
Updated 07 May 2021
DUBAI: Cinema returned to Saudi Arabia just three years ago, when a 35-year ban was finally lifted. Since then, movie theaters have been springing up across the Kingdom, invigorating the domestic film industry and inspiring a growing cast of homegrown actors.
One rising star of modern Saudi cinema is Sumaya Rida, known for her breakout television roles in “Another Planet” and “Boxing Girls” and big-screen appearances in “Junoon” and “Roll’em” — among the first films to premiere in the Kingdom after legalization.
From early childhood, when she began performing in school plays, Rida knew what was her true calling. “I also used to make short films with my little sisters and brothers using my father’s Sony camera,” the 32-year-old told Arab News.
“I actually acted and directed short films when I was 12 years old. I loved how the whole family would gather to watch what I made, and to me it meant the whole world at that time, and filled me with passion.”
The Saudi-born actress moved to the UK as a teenager to attend the King Fahad Academy, an elite independent school in the London borough of Ealing. Even while completing an MSc in international marketing management at the University of Surrey, Rida kept up acting on the side, appearing in several commercials.
Following her studies, she spent five years in the world of business, but all the while felt a profound longing for the stage and screen. It took a chance encounter to set her on the right track.
“After working so much in the ruthless business world, I stumbled one day on Ali Al-Sumayin, a well-known, award-winning Saudi film and commercial director, who led me to the world of performing again,” Rida said.
While visiting Al-Sumayin at his office in Jeddah in 2017, Rida took part in an acting class. The familiar adrenaline rush of performing before an audience quickly came flooding back.
“I can’t describe the feeling,” she said. “I had a lot of butterflies in my stomach that day and I had this nostalgic feeling, so I told him I wanted a part in a show.”
Soon enough, Rida had recorded an audition and landed her first role. To prepare, she signed up for an intensive four-month acting course and one-to-one coaching with respected Turkish instructors, as advanced acting courses were not yet available in Saudi Arabia.
“In the Kingdom, we didn’t have any institutions for acting or performance training, so I had to do it the fast way,” Rida said.
“Every actor should have mentors, because they always direct you and show you different perspectives.”
Today, Rida performs in both English and Arabic. For one show she had to master the bedouin accent. “It was a bit challenging in the beginning, but it was fun,” she said.
Her latest project is a movie called “Rupture,” a Saudi-made psychological thriller directed by Hamzah Kamal Jamjoom, produced by Ayman Kamal Khoja and funded by MBC Studios.
Playing the lead, Rida portrays the journey of a Saudi woman struggling to save her marriage, and ultimately her life, from a villain with a twisted mind.
“I played against Billy Zane from ‘Titanic’ who is both a wonderful human being and a tremendously talented actor,” she said.
“The movie intelligently incorporated a few powerful themes in its thrilling narrative. One of these was about standing up for your own cultural values, even when relocating to another country.
“Another was about the importance of privacy and the dangers of oversharing on social media, and the third was about the concept of striking a balance between co-dependency and individual freedom in a marriage.”
Renowned Egyptian director Khairy Beshara says Saudi cinema has made a leap through the new generation of directors who are creating exceptional and brave films on a high artistic level. Click here for more.
For Rida, the most important part of the project was having the opportunity to play a strong, independent Muslim woman, standing up for herself, her family and her beliefs.
“It is honestly an honor and a rare opportunity to work with such gifted Saudi filmmakers and producers on this project,” she said.
“I’ve enjoyed Hamzah’s direction. His positive energy and passion were infectious. We will hopefully finish filming after Ramadan. I can’t wait to share this film. I’m excited because it’s one of the very few Saudi feature films that recognizes the struggles of Saudi women.”
The strict social codes and gender segregation of a much more conservative era meant that Saudi actresses were rare when Rida was growing up. Support from her family has been crucial, but so has been the opening up of Saudi society.
“The timing was very good because I started when Vision 2030 was taking place and I was going with it,” Rida said.
Under the Vision 2030 plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy away from oil, the Kingdom has placed greater emphasis on the arts, opportunities for young people and the social and economic empowerment of women.
As a result, Saudi women are finding their voices and discovering their strengths — a journey Rida says she found key to becoming a professional actress.
“This helped me to understand myself. I wanted to tell stories. We have a lot of stories here in Saudi Arabia, and I wanted to feel, to be able to emote, to risk and share, and to be courageous and vulnerable as an artist. This is very fulfilling.
“The real fulfilment also lies in overcoming all the limitations that have been placed on humanity.
“I discovered that performing is a very fun thing. It’s very nurturing, fulfilling and it feeds the soul and your inner self.”
As an artist, Rida is still on a journey of self-discovery and building her confidence on camera. She hopes to try new characters, to help her develop “naturally and sincerely, because acting is a continuous process — we keep learning and evolving constantly.”
As for her country, Rida says she is thrilled to see so many changes taking place and to be part of a new wave of young actors and filmmakers shaking up the Saudi film industry. “This makes me very happy and optimistic,” she said, but acknowledges there is still a long way to go.
“I see very passionate actors every now and then, but I really believe that we need to work on ourselves more than we think. It’s not just getting a degree in performing or acting and that’s it — it’s a continuous process.”
Rida also hopes to see more young Saudis coming forward to share their stories with the world. “We need to not only invest in actors but invest more in writers, producers and directors, because it’s not the job of one person alone,” she said.
“Acting is not only the actor you see on the screen. Behind that there is a huge production.”
Without investment, training and opportunities, this potential cannot be mastered. The raw ingredient, nevertheless, is talent — of which the new Saudi Arabia has in abundance.
“It’s unlimited,” said Rida. “It’s infinite and it keeps evolving.”