Interview with internationally renowned cookbook author Hadia Zebib Khanafer:

The Arab world is in the news for its dysfunctional politics. There are ongoing wars in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Iraq. There is the Arab-Israeli conflict with Israel continuing to take Palestinian lands while the people of Gaza live in a big prison. While Middle Eastern politics maybe unsavory, there is a consensus that the food is not only savory but healthy as well. 

The Forum and Link reached out to renowned Lebanese cookbook author, Hadia Zebib Khanafer, with questions about Lebanese cuisine and her two successful cookbooks.*

Forum & Link: Please introduce yourself to readers?

Hadia Zebib Khanafer: I am the author of “Sofra ‘Amra” and “Hadia, Lebanese Style Recipes.” I also have my own blog called Hadia’s Lebanese Cuisine and I’m a passionate self-trained cook.
I grew up in Beirut and I came from a family of fantastic cooks. Currently I reside in Congo/Kinshasa with my husband. I am a mother of three great young men. I value the ritual of gathering with my family, friends and loved ones around a dinner table.

You have written two cooking books. When did they come out and what motivated you to write them?

I released my first cookbook in Arabic in April 2003. The second expanded edition came out in April 2007. The idea of translating my book to English for non- Arabic speakers was always on my mind. Hadia (Lebanese Style Recipes) was released in December 2014.
For many years, I have entertained dinner guests with delightful recipes where with time I acquired a reputation for being a good cook, so I began to think what it would be like to put my recipes in a book.  I started to collect the recipes after the encouragement of my husband, family and friends telling I should write a cookbook. And that's how the journey began.

Is your book focused on Lebanese cuisine?

The book has the familiar Lebanese recipes that readers expect to find in restaurants and markets, but there is a lot more than that in the book. In addition to the wide variety of the Lebanese recipes, the book features a diverse compilation of recipes from around the world. I was blessed to have been able to travel far and wide with my family, and those travels have inspired my cooking. The book features 600 recipes, mostly from Lebanon, but from other parts of the world as well.

Is cooking an art or a science? Can anyone be a good cook?

Cooking is both art and science.  I believe anyone can cook. It is a skill that can be learned, developed and over time with practice be perfected. I know not all people have the same level of passion about cooking, but I tell you, you don’t have to be a Michelin star chef to create wonderful dishes. All you need is fresh ingredients and a few basic techniques that can be mastered with practice.

What advice do you give to the novice cook?

Know your limits, start with the basics and slowly build your skills. You can never be a good cook without some serious failures. The more you practice the better you are going to be.

What is your cooking philosophy?

Use fresh produce, eat vegetables and fruits that are seasonal, cook from scratch, be open to different cuisines, use your senses - and the most important ingredient is the love for those you are cooking for.

In this day and age people are busy. Why do you think it is important to cook at home instead of simply eating out?

Though eating out every now and then is fun, food at home is healthier and more nutritious. Home cooking creates an environment that brings family conversations around a dinner table. Good home cooking can be soothing to the heart, body and soul. Besides, most foods served at restaurants have high amounts of calories and eating out is always going to be considerably more expensive.

What are the keys to success as a cook?

Believe in yourself, be organized, keep learning, be passionate and improve and practice to refine your skills.

Are you an active on social media? Do you have a YouTube channel?

To a certain extent, yes I am active, especially on Facebook. And yes, I recently launched my Youtube channel.

What is your favorite restaurant in Lebanon?

I have many: Mounir in Brumana (Lebanese), Babel Bay (seafood), Sultan Ibrahim (seafood), Mayrig (Armenian), and Couqley (French).

What advice do you give to those who enjoy good food but find cooking intimidating?

Try recipes other people have created. Count on reliable straightforward cookbooks such as mine- I have written my book in a way accessible to the novice cook. And, it is always good to read a recipe before you begin cooking. Be calm and composed and remember that cooking is like anything in life - the more you practice, the better you will become.

What is your favorite recipe for a quick and healthy meal?

Lebanese-style spaghetti with yogurt. All you need is to sauté the garlic with olive oil, add to the yogurt, adjust salt to your taste and smother over the spaghetti et voila that’s it.  It’s budget friendly and healthy.

* Interview is published in the Forum and Link of 1/26/2017.


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