This year, cooking has made a comeback. With more time at home, we’re trying new recipes, sharing top tips, and experimenting more in the kitchen. From absolute beginners to experienced chefs, many people have rekindled or kick-started a passion for cooking. Baking has been the clear winner, with lots of trending #InstagramWorthy photos of tantalising home-baked treats, from banana bread to brownies. It seems that the baking trend is showing no sign of slowing down.
As many home bakers might tell you, pounding dough, beating eggs, and whipping cream can feel like therapy. Some studies have even shown that baking and cooking can help to alleviate depression, boost self-esteem, improve mental health, and give a sense of control in our daily lives.
For Doha-based Muhammad Nasir, who is husband to Fawwazah and dad to 11-year-daughter Huda and seven-year-old son Yusuf, baking and cooking are “absolutely vital”. “There is something about the smells and flavours in the kitchen that help you forget your troubles. Cooking is therapy! I’ve tried all styles of cooking, but if I had to choose my favourite, it is baking. I just love the smells and flavours,” he says.
Born in Sri Lanka, Muhammad grew up in a busy household with four other siblings. His earliest food memories are filled with the annual Eid lunch where his mother, a keen home baker, would “cook up a storm” by preparing delicious menus filled with Sri Lankan food that Muhammad says “would trigger every single taste bud in your mouth and bring every single sense to life”. In fact, Muhammad credits his mother’s culinary guidance and skills to helping him through his first days in Doha.
So, has Muhammad’s cooking style changed this year? “If I think about cooking my favourite Sri Lankan dishes, nothing has changed because most ingredients are available in Doha, thanks to my go-to store—Ceylon Hypermarket,” he says. However, he does believe that the coronavirus lockdown has made him more adventurous: “I think Covid-19 has got me experimenting more in the kitchen by working on dishes that I would otherwise not even think about. I have some of my favourite dishes—pancakes, banana muffins, bread kottu, and a few others. I make a yummy tuna salad [that] the kids love. When I’m in the zone, I like to cook a baked, cheesy, mouth-watering pasta dish.”
A typical day of eating in the Nasir household starts with homemade French toast for breakfast followed by a lunch of red rice with spicy chicken curry, gotu kola sambol (pennywort salad), and a brinjal moju (eggplant pickle). It ends with a dinner consisting of chapati (flatbread), leftover chicken curry, and a thick dhal (lentil) curry. Thankfully, Muhammad’s children now share his passion for cooking and also have their very own baking kits: “My kids love to cook. Thanks to my mother, both kids love baking too. They generally eat almost anything that is given to them, though they prefer sticking to their favourites.”
MUHAMMAD’S TOP TIPS
- Do not be afraid to experiment with recipes.
- Always remember the simple ingredients that can help salvage a dish if it becomes too spicy, salty, or sweet.
- Enjoy the cooking process. You have got all the time on your hands, so have fun.
- Simplicity is awesome. You don’t need to watch MasterChef to be a home cook.
- Made a delicious meal? Don’t forget to take a photo. You might want to remember that meal for the next time you want to make it.
1. BANANA MUFFINS:
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 large bananas, mashed
- ¾ cup white sugar
- 1 egg
- ⅓ cup butter, melted
- Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Coat muffin pans with non-stick spray or use paper liners.
- Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- Combine bananas, sugar, egg, and melted butter in a large bowl. Fold in flour mixture and mix until smooth.
- Scoop the combined mixture into muffin pans.
- Bake in preheated oven. If you are making mini muffins, then bake for 10 to 15 minutes, and if large muffins, then bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Muffins should spring back when lightly tapped.
2. BANANA PANCAKES (inspired by @delscookingtwist on Instagram)
- 1 and 1/2 cups self-rising flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 pinch cinnamon (optional)
- 1 pinch salt
- 2-3 medium-sized ripe bananas (if very ripe, skip the sugar)
- 1 cup milk
- 2 large eggs
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon (if using), and salt. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with a fork (don’t mind if you have small chunks remaining). Add the eggs and pour in the milk and canola oil. Mix until just combined.
- Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined (do not overmix). Let sit for a couple of minutes (gets fluffier if you keep longer).
- Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. For each pancake, spoon about 1/4 cup of the batter onto the skillet. Cook until bubbles form over the surface of the pancakes then flip with a thin spatula and cook for 1 or 2 additional minutes.
- Serve warm with maple syrup drizzled on top and any other toppings of your choice.
3. SWEET POTATO CAKES (inspired by @nadiashealthykitchen on Instagram)
- 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 3 spring onions, chopped
- 1/2 head of broccoli, shredded
- Small bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder (add more if you want it spicier)
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- Salt & pepper
- 5 heaped tablespoons oat flour or chickpea flour
- Coconut oil for frying
- Preheat oven to 220°C/425°F
- Arrange the sweet potato cubes on a large baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with 1–2 tablespoons olive oil.
- Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, then leave to cool.
- Transfer the sweet potato into a large mixing bowl and mash with a potato masher or a fork.
- Add the onions, broccoli, coriander, flour, chilli, and paprika. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well then shape into small patties.
- Heat 2 tablespoons coconut oil in a frying pan over medium to high heat. Cook for a few minutes on each side, then flip and cook for another minute or so until browned.
- Serve with your preferred style of yoghurt dip (I like a spicy version).