Fort Wayne – If Muna Khader had to choose a cooking idol, she would have two – her mom, Fikria, a native of Egypt; and Manal Alalem, a Jordanian chef.
Although she is a native of Jordan, Khader spent most of her childhood in Kuwait, a country of more than 200 nationalities. Growing up in such a diverse place exposed her to a variety of Mediterranean foods.
Since moving here with her husband, Ramzi Saadeh, and son, Michael, in 2007, Khader’s intent is to share Mediterranean dishes with others.
When moving to the United States, I had short- and long-term goals. The short one – I have to interact with the people. That’s why I worked at IPFW for four years at the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. Unfortunately, they laid me off because of budget cuts, she says.
Then I have my long-term goal: I would like to do something for the community, for Fort Wayne. We should give something to the people. So, I thought if I start with the healthy food. Good for anybody. I did my own menu for my friends and people I know in Fort Wayne. My goal is seeking a good team to work together. To present the Mediterranean food, and let Fort Wayne people see and try it.
At home, Khader, 48, knows that serving healthful meals begins with fresh ingredients.
We cook every day, she says. I love to give my family fresh food every day. We do everything from scratch. It keeps for a long time.
Always willing to learn new cooking techniques, Khader turns her attention to cooking shows and the Internet.
I’ve been taking classes online by Nita Gill. Garnishing and carving, she says. We eat by our eyes. I don’t have doubts about my food. People are attracted (to a dish that is garnished).
If someone is serious about learning proper cooking techniques, Khader, an employee of Hotel Fort Wayne, suggests signing up for a cooking class.
I could say join a school for culinary arts. Ivy Tech has an excellent program for the culinary arts. If you don’t have experience from parents or grandparents, the classes will help you. You learn the techniques, she says. After going to school, an aspiring chef should go to a good restaurant and complete an internship that will help with what they are trying to learn.
That will give them the skills they need, Khader says.
Q. What is your favorite cookbook?
A. If I did have a cookbook, it would be from Chef (Gordon) Ramsay and Chef Manal Alalem.
Q. What is your favorite vegetable?
A. Avocado and the red radish. The little round one is full of vitamins.
Q. What is your favorite cooking utensil?
A. The chef knife and the carving tools because I cannot live without them. I cannot do my job without them.
Q. If you were stuck on an island, what’s one food you would have to have?
A. Fish. I am a fish person. I love any kind of fish. In Kuwait, you can have any kind of fish.
Q. What one word describes your cooking style?
A. Freshness, tasty.
1 cup crushed walnuts
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons coconut
3 tablespoons raisins
2 cups water
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon rose water, for flavoring
3 cups warm water
1 teaspoon yeast
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup semolina flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
Mix together ingredients for stuffing and set aside.
For syrup, add sugar to the water and boil on stove. When the mixture boils, add the lemon juice and rose water and simmer for 20 minutes. Set aside to let cool before pouring it over the stuffed pancake.
For the pancakes, add water to a large bowl. Mix in the yeast, salt, sugar, baking soda and baking powder to the warm water in a big bowl. Gradually add the semolina and all-purpose flour to the mix until all ingredients are blended. Leave the mixture to rest for 20 minutes, then pour in pancake-sized portions on a hot griddle until they start to bubble. Do not flip or leave on griddle for more than three minutes; pancake should be uncooked on one side. Remove from the griddle and let cool for 2 minutes. Stuff the pancake with walnut mixture, and close to form a crescent shape (use almost 3/4 tablespoon of the stuffing in each pancake, but do not overstuff). Fry in oil until cooked through, and drain on paper towel to get rid of excess oil. Makes 10 to 12 servings.
1 pound raw chickpeas
2 pounds split fava beans
1 bunch of cilantro
2 medium onions
3 gloves of garlic
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon dried coriander
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon baking soda
2 tablespoon falafel spices (available at international grocery stores)
1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
Soak the raw chickpeas and fava beans in water overnight. In the morning, drain the water and place chickpeas and fava beans in a food processor. Add all other ingredients except sesame seeds to the chickpeas and fava beans in the food processor. Grind the ingredients until almost a paste. Add the sesame seeds. Form golf ball-size balls and drop in hot frying oil. When cooked, remove from the fryer and place on paper towel to drain excess oil. Eat with pita bread or make a sandwich with chopped tomatoes, lettuce and parsley. Makes 30 to 34 falafels.
Kabob with Saffron Rice
2 pounds ground beef
2 medium onions
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
2 cups basmati rice
Pinch of saffron
1 teaspoon rose water
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup sliced raw almonds
2 bay leaves
3 whole cardamom
3 whole cloves
1 small cinnamon stick
3 3/4 cups water
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt (or to your taste)
For kabobs, put all ingredients in a food processor and run on medium speed until all ingredients are mixed together. Cut the mixture into medium-size balls and roll each ball on a cutting board to form an 8-inch long kabob meat. Grill the kabobs and set aside, but keep warm until serving with rice.
For rice, wash the rice in cold water and drain. Soak the rice in cold water for 1 hour and drain again. Soak saffron in the rose water; set aside. Sauté the raisins and raw almonds in little butter and set aside for garnishing. Put bay leaves, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon in water and bring to boil. Add the rice to the pot and let boil on low heat for 5 more minutes. Drain the boiled water completely and add the butter and the saffron soaked in rose water to the rice. Season with salt, if desired. Place the rice on a serving dish and place the kabob on top of the rice. Garnish with the raisins and almonds. Makes 6 to 8 servings.