Late last year, while gallivanting through the various halls of the Sharjah International Book Fair, I was drawn to one particular area — not because my eye caught a particular title or because I chanced upon a well-known author. To be fair, it wasn’t even a visual cue that spiked my interest. It was an olfactory one.
Standing before a chopping board with an array of ingredients on a table in front of her was a woman dressed in a striking salwar and kameez, an apron fastened around herself, deftly tossing together a salad. It was the aroma of freshly chopped mint and the citrusy zing of lemon that quite literally attracted me to the stall where Sharjah resident and Indian expat Raham Sithara was displaying her culinary skills to a bunch of curious foodies.
Raham was not just cooking up amazing – and healthy – salads. The former school teacher had just launched her cookbook, Sithara’s Delicious Dilemma. A 150-page hardcover, well-illustrated compendium of recipes, the book features instructions for 49 dishes, including 30 vegetarian ones.
Why 49? “You can pick seven dishes for each day of the week. You can select three or four recipes out of the seven to prepare a feast or a regular family meal,” says the mother of two.
Raham admits that she was a late beginner when it came to cooking. The youngest of five siblings, she was a tad pampered during her growing years and “was not allowed to cook at home”, she says. Hailing from the south Indian state of Kerala and married into a family who are connoisseurs of Mughal food in Bengaluru, Raham, a Cutchi Memon, was forced to learn cooking quickly when she moved with her husband to Saudi Arabia. She credits her experiments with Cutchi Memoni dishes – that her in-laws relished – for firing her up with a passion to hone her culinary skills.
“One of my dreams was to specialise in Mughlai dishes and I’d seek out cookery experts to share their tips with me,” she says. Another dream of hers was to whip up desserts “particularly because my husband loves them”.
Sithara’s Delicious Dilemma has a delicious mix of appetisers, main courses and desserts, tastefully garnished with Raham’s signature dishes all throughout. Almost all of the recipes are created keeping in mind the health factor. Thus we have the recipe of a yummy Moringayila Oats Dosa and Peanut Chutney, the Memoni special spinach treat called Muthiya; the pineapple pachadi, a staple in many Kerala sadyas; the Pumpkin parippu payasam, a Kerala delicacy; not to mention how to prepare the classic mutton paya (mutton leg soup gravy); the Hariya chicken phal (commonly served at weddings of Bengaluru Mughals) and Raham’s mother’s favourite mutton curry. “But if I was asked to pick three of my favourite dishes they would be the Memoni mutton biryani, potato fish cake and the Sunset Egg treat,” she says.
With Ramadan here, this book of recipes would come in handy when preparing dishes for iftars and suhours.
A special dish of the Memon community, until recently no celebration in the community was complete without this biryani. It is served with a variety of sweets, date pickle, onion raitha and kababs.
A snack with loads of health benefits, it can be served for breakfast or had as a main dish for dinner.
The very thought of this sweet dish gets my family nostalgic. This was my late mother-in-law’s signature dish.
Sithara’s Delicious Dilemma, Dh70, is available at Kinokuniya bookstore and on Amazon.com.