Don’t overeat at Iftar says nutrition expert Zahra Abdalla
Dubai chef, author and food content creator is sharing wise words for those fasting for the rest of the month
As a British born half Sudanese, half Iranian chef married to a Jordanian and living in the UAE; if there’s one thing to which Zahra Abdalla has become accustomed it’s absorbing various influences into her food and creating eclectic dishes for every palette. Her work often comes to the fore during Ramadan, where eating when the sun goes down becomes a major focal point of each day. However, the expert says, no matter how urgent the meal may seem, never lose sight of eating’s purpose: to nourish the body and mind.
Abdalla is scheduled to be the first speaker in the month-long Flow Talks Series — Ramadan Edition beginning on the Jumeirah Emirates Towers café’s Instagram page @flowdubai today at 4pm. The live sessions will then take place at the same time every Tuesday with various guests. Abdalla will discuss the importance of sustainable eating and mindfulness during the Holy Month, but before she takes to ‘the Gram’, we caught up to have a conversation of our own on the subject.
What are your top tips for a healthy fasting experience this Ramadan?
Stay hydrated. We are fasting for long hours in the day and water is key to help replenish. Drink water during Iftar and Suhoor. You can also increase your water intake by consuming hydrating fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, melon and watermelon. Consume real and wholesome food that is nourishing and healthy. Try to avoid fried and processed food as much as possible. Don’t overeat at Iftar. Break your fast with three dates, a glass of water and allow your body to rest before you resume with your main food.
What do you think is the biggest mistake people make during this time of year? How do you overcome it?
Food waste is one of the biggest problems that need to be addressed during the month of Ramadan. With poor planning, it is easy to get ahead of yourself and buy more food than you need and cook more food than you need. The key is to bring awareness to this issue and find simple ways to reduce the problem.
• Plan your weekly menu so you buy only what you need and in the correct quantities.
• Don’t overstock your fridge and pantry to avoid throwing food away.
• Prep food and freeze to give them a longer shelf life than when kept in the fridge.
• Use the whole ingredient, avoid discarding any components that can be used.
• Create new recipes with left-overs.
• Cook smaller portions.
What part does mindfulness play in Ramadan? Do you think people put enough emphasis on being mindful in regular life?
When I think about the importance of being mindful, thoughtful and sustainable — I am always conscious of the important of this matter in a full circle approach whilst not taking a universal stance on my position.
• Be Mindful: Food always seem to taste and make you feel better when you are mindful about how you source it, how you prepare it and how you eat it.
• Think about your food, your ingredients and the process of preparation.
• Be mindful of each step in the cooking process. Keeping a present state of mind allows you to be.
• Practice gratitude.
• Appreciate the food. We are very lucky to have access to a wonderful selection of good food.
• Create the right energy space. Reset yourself if you need to and always cook with love. Your energy flows in the food.
• Tune in to yourself. Consider each of your five senses, feel, hear, see, smell and taste the food to experience it.
How do you alter what you cook during Ramadan? What recipes do better?
During this time of the year I usually like to make traditional Middle Eastern recipes for my family. Sometimes it can be difficult to prepare these dishes in small portions so I always get creative and find simple ways to avoid any food waste. Divide recipes and freeze. I always make a large batch of my favourite recipes such as stuffed vines leaves, stuffed cabbage, mini-kofta balls, kibbeh. I portion the food to smaller quantities that I know my family and I will eat. Use whole ingredients. When I make stuffed vegetables like potatoes, courgettes, and tomato — I always reserve the cored parts and incorporate into other recipes such as soups, dips, broth, or cakes. Freeze used ingredients before they go bad and use them in your everyday recipe.
How do you think the dining scene has evolved in the UAE since you began professionally cooking? How has it improved?
It is exciting to see more members of the community taking a more pro-active approach in conversation around sustainability and food waste. Dubai municipality is also taking a more active approach in this conversation and setting targets and benchmarks that as a collective community we are working to achieve.
Where is your favourite place to eat and what does your dream Iftar include?
Spending Iftar with close friends and family is truly a privilege that I never think we truly appreciated and understood until the pandemic. I look forward to the day that I can host my usual family gathering with my loved ones and break our fast together under one roof.
Who are your cooking inspirations? What advice do you have for people looking to make it as chefs today?
I know it sounds cliché but my grandmother, mother and mother-in-law are my cooking inspirations. They all, in their own way, taught be the art of cooking and the beauty that it brings with it. Food is a way to learn about traditions and culture, it is a wonderful medium of connecting people and it is healing.