It’s been a while since we’ve posted an interview on here, but we’re coming back with a bang: today we’re sharing with you a fun interview with the supremely talented Dubai-based chef and photographer, Sukaina Rajabali. When I first came across Sukaina’s blog, Sips and Spoonfuls, I was simply awestruck by the exceptionally beautiful food photos that greeted me on her page. Sukaina’s passion is photography and it shows; her photos showcase perfect staging and matching props that effectively contrast with the food and make every scrumptious bite ‘pop’ on the page. I’m not exaggerating when I say that her photography surpasses the level of even some of the fanciest food magazines out there.
As for the food, Sukaina uses fresh ingredients for all her recipes, something we at MidEats prize a lot! After having children, Sukaina ramped up her healthy eating habits to make sure that her lovely daughter, Maryam, and her infant son, Hassan, can grow up eating real foods, packed with nutrition and prepared with love (and a good dose of creativity to boot!) After reading through the interview with Sukaina, and checking out her featured recipe (it’s dessert that features pistachios — need I say more?), hop on over to her site and browse to your heart’s content!
– Heba of MidEATS
Interview with Food Blogger Sukaina Rajabali of Sips and Spoonfuls
We love to hear ‘blog birth’ stories! What sparked your interest in food, blogging and photography?
If I’m honest, although I have always been interested in eating food, my interest in the actual preparation of food and developing recipes only surfaced in the last five years or so after moving to Dubai and having children. I wanted to make sure my kids had the best possible start with healthy homemade meals where I was in control of every ingredient used.
Sips and Spoonfuls is one of our favorite food photography blogs. Your photos are simply breathtaking … makes me want to slip into my computer screen and grab a bite out of that clementine custard! How did you get so good at it? Do you have any tips for beginners?
After the birth of my girl Maryam, I went through a patch of feeling disillusioned with my career and job prospects (I am an optometrist in a previous life!) or the lack of. I had always dreamed of being a stay at home mom and I was living that dream. Yet, I harbored feelings of failure, frustration and discontent. This blog was initially created to fulfill the void I had of not having a career, a life outside of home, a place where I could unleash my creativity.
Through this blog, I have found my true vocation, my true joy- photography. Every morning, I am excited to pick up my camera, cook foods that I haven’t before, capture foods in a way I never thought possible.
While we’re on the topic of photography, what is the greatest challenge to capturing the perfect picture? Is it lighting, props placement, food styling, equipment, or something else?
Why thanks for the compliment. I initially took a beginner’s course to acquaint myself with a DSLR at Gulf Photo Plus. After that, I read many online articles and watched countless Youtube tutorials to enhance my photography skills. I carried my camera everywhere, taking photos of anything and everything that came my way. For anyone who wishes to get good, practice really does make perfect — so practice as much as you can. It also helps to get inspired by others who are good at their craft: I like to follow the work of various photographers who I find exceptionally talented, taking the time to carefully study their photographs, paying attention to styling, composition, lighting, shadows and their use of color and textures.
One of the biggest hurdles for me is working quickly whilst the food is fresh to capture the perfect shot. I usually have my 3-year-old trying to ‘help’ me and my 6-month-old squirming in the background, waiting to be fed. I try and plan my shoots well in advance deciding on composition, styling and props beforehand so that when it’s time to shoot, I waste as little time as possible.
What are your favorite seasonal ingredients … you know, the ones that you eagerly wait to see at the market? What are some of your favorite ways to use them in your recipes?
You now live in Dubai, a place famous for its fresh fish. What are your favorite seafood dishes, and how do you like to prepare them?
Yes! I love visiting the fish market and find the process of choosing fresh fish quite exhilarating. Fish can be delicate and should be prepared simply and without much fuss or too many spices. Currently, my favorite way to eat fish is rubbing on it a mint and coriander paste with lots of garlic and lemon. Then simply, grilling or barbecuing it. Here’s a simple recipe for Grilled Red Snapper to get you started.
What do you like the most, and the least, about blogging?
For me, the best part about blogging has been finding a hobby and vocation that I truly love and enjoy: photography. I also love the social media side, connecting with readers, many of whom have become friends with on Twitter. On the contrary, social media can take up a lot of time which means less time with my family. So finding a balance is crucial and that is something that I’m still learning nowadays.
Since you have a two-year-old (and now a newborn!) and still manage to find time to cook, we’d love it if you can share some time-saving tips in the kitchen! What are some of your go-to meals for a busy day, that are also palatable to young children?
My go to meals usually involve pasta these days. Currently our household favorite is this creamy pea and mint spaghetti. It’s vibrant, fresh and full of flavor. I usually omit the mint for Maryam as she considers it ‘seaweed’, and I also add a few slices of birds eye chili for us. To save time, I love to recycle leftover foods, so for instance, if we have leftover roast chicken from dinner, I will shred that and add it to a salad for lunch. I also tend to have staples such as pizza bases, crumble and tart doughs in the freezer ready on the go.
We love preserving food traditions here at midEATS. What are your favorite food traditions?
One of my favorite food traditions may not sound like one at all but it’s eating all together as a family at least once a day without any distractions such as TV or phones. I love getting Maryam to set the table and involving her where I can in the food preparation process. Also, a tradition that I highly recommend for everyone to follow is to end every meal with something sweet, no matter how small. Even a small square of dark chocolate will suffice.
Name three kitchen tools you cannot live without. How do you use each of them?
Some of my favorite kitchen tools would be my mandolin and Kitchenaid stand mixer. I tend to bake a lot and use my stand mixer practically every day.
What are your favorite Middle Eastern recipes on midEATS? What would you like to see us add to the site?
I am loving your recipe on Roast Chicken with Ghee, Zaatar and Pomegranate Molasses. It uses some of my favorite ingredients and since I even attempted to make a batch of pomegranate molasses at home, I cannot wait to make this.
Featured Recipe from Sips and Spoonfuls: Eton Mess Trifle
One of my favorite dessert flavor combinations of all time is pistachios and rosewater: the two just go together so well! My no-bake pistachio cookies, which are gluten-free, grain-free and dairy-free, hit the spot every time I’m in the mood for that delicious combination. Sukaina’s featured recipe involves both pistachios and rosewater, and another favorite of mine: real whipped cream! Eton mess trifle is a traditional British dessert made of strawberries, pieces of homemade meringue and cream. The name sounds a little weird, but that’s because it’s traditionally served at Eton College’s annual student cricket game against Winchester College. If you’re curious about the history of this dessert, check out the post about it on Cakespy!
Sukaina makes it Middle Eastern with her addition of rosewater and pistachios; she says this about the process: “I decided to make this classic British dessert with a Middle Eastern twist. A splash of rosewater in the meringues and a scattering of pistachio nuts. You may leave both these out if you are so inclined. Meringues has also been on my wish list to both bake and eat for the first time.” If that doesn’t have you drooling … wow! Now for the recipe:
Eton Mess Trifle (with a Middle Eastern twist)
Cook Time: 2 hours
Keywords: bake whisk dessert snack gluten-free low-sodium soy-free vegetarian pistachio cream strawberry rosewater trifle Middle Eastern British summer spring
Ingredients (5-6 trifles)
- 3 egg whites
- 2 pinches salt
- 3/4 caster sugar
- 1 tsp rosewater (optional)
- handful chopped pistachio nuts
- 10 ounces strawberries
- 2 tbs caster sugar
- 500 ml whipping cream
- 4 tbs caster sugar
- chopped pistachios for garnish
(1) Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Centigrade and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Tip the egg whites into a clean and dry mixing bowl and start beating at medium speed. Add the salt, and whisk until frothy.
(2) Whisking at high speed, start adding the caster sugar a tablespoon at a time, whisking 3-4 seconds between each addition. Whisk until stiff peaks form. The meringue will appear very glossy and puffy like clouds. It should not feel gritty (If it does, keep whisking until sugar has dissolved). Add the rose essence if desired and whisk for 30 seconds until incorporated.
(3) Scoop a large tablespoon of the mixture onto the baking tray, using another tablespoon to ease it onto the parchment paper. Leave a 1 inch gap between meringues. Sprinkle with pistachio and bake for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hrs, rotating after 1 hour. I baked mine for 1 hour and 20 minutes to achieve a crispy outer shell and a marshmallow centre. Bake for longer if you’d like it crispy all the way through. Turn the oven off and leave the door open. Allow meringues to cool in open oven. Break roughly by hand.
(4) Hull the strawberries and chop roughly. Add the caster sugar and allow to macerate for 30 minutes. Whiz into a puree. Beat the whipping cream until stiff peaks form (I added sugar to mine but that is optional). Fold the strawberry puree into the cream roughly to create a marbled effect.
(5) To assemble the trifle, start with a layer of strawberry and cream followed by a layer of broken meringues and lastly, a sprinkle of pistachio nuts. Repeat layers 3-4 times and serve immediately.
(6) Makes 5-6 trifles depending on glass size. Unbroken meringues can be stored in airtight container for 2 weeks.
Hi, I’m Sukaina. I’m a freelance food writer and photographer and Sips and Spoonfuls is my blank space on the web to unleash my creativity.
This blog is a compilation of generations of recipes, tales of my family, my childhood as well as labours of my photography. It is filled with beautiful memories, beautiful meals and beautiful images.
You will also see tidbits of my two beautiful children, Maryam and Hassan, and my husband, Akber.