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Mum’s Recipes: Q&A with Layla Al-Dorani

by Kim Wyatt

In 2014, Layla Al-Dorani was named one of the prestigious Forbes Middle East Top 200 Most Powerful Arab Women. A pioneer in Qatar’s flourishing wellness industry, the entrepreneur has made a successful business out of well-being. In 2010, Layla launched Qatar’s first cold-pressed juice company, the award-winning vegan brand RAW ME. Since then, RAW ME has expanded to create a range of vibrant, vitamin-packed plant-based food and beverages ranging from gluten-free granolas to jackfruit burgers and chocolate chia puddings. But that’s not all. Alongside RAW ME, Layla and her business partner husband have launched other vegan businesses, including Nosh Cravings and Fruity Friends.

 

Combining wellness with business has been a dream come true for Layla. Having completed an executive MBA (EMBA) degree, a plant-based nutrition certification from Cornell University, and Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training, the entrepreneurial powerhouse has overcome obstacles to create a successful path for other wellness warriors in Qatar. Alongside her husband and young daughter, the close-knit family share a passion for healthy living and hope to inspire other families too.

 

K: You grew up with a high animal protein diet. Has this impacted your attitude towards food?

 

L: As a child, I had a low carb and low sugar diet because my parents were big fans of Atkins and Keto (proponents of high animal protein and dairy, plus low carbohydrate diets). However, I didn’t like steaks or processed meat. I hated eating chicken off the bone! I couldn’t stand the sight of animal skin, blood, cartilage, and veins. It grossed me out.

During fourth grade, I struggled with my eating habits. I became overweight, suffered from anxiety, and had low self-esteem. Shortly after the first Gulf War, we moved to the United States, and since then, I have been on a journey to improve my mental and physical well-being.

I was constantly on a new diet trying to lose weight. It wasn’t until I became vegan that my body finally shed all the excess weight. My body has never felt cleaner and lighter.

 

 

K: Why did you become interested in veganism?

 

L: When I was young, I saw my first sheep being slaughtered and thought very clearly that the process was not humane or merciful. The cries of the sheep continue to haunt me. I don’t believe we need to live in a world that causes pain to any sentient being. It wasn’t until university that I was introduced to the concept of clean living. I started to be mindful of what I was consuming and really trying to put thought into how food was produced. I believe veganism is a process that requires consistent practice. It takes work to develop one’s own awareness of consumerism and consumption.

 

K: How has Qatar’s wellness industry changed over the last ten years?

 

L: The healthy food landscape has changed drastically over the last decade. I remember when cold-pressed vegetable juices were not available in the market. Now, the majority of restaurants have a minimum of one vegan option on their menu, so you can really see the movement being supported.

 

K: How important is yoga to you?

 

L: Yoga is very important as it sets the foundation of my approach to life. I started to practise during university and completed my 200 hours of training with Yama Yoga in Qatar and my 300-hour training with Absolute Yoga in Thailand and then visited Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Shala in Mysore, India. I was the first Qatari to have practised with their family.

 

K: What are the principles of RAW ME?

 

L:  –    100% plant-based, we do not work with any animal-derived products.

–     We provide transparency in the process of how our food and beverages are produced.

  • We earn high-quality certifications in food safety management (RME Factory is ISO certified).
  • We are focused on recycling and sustainability.
  • We provide the best environment for our teams to learn and grow.

 

K: Why did you set up RAW ME in Doha?

 

L: Qatar is one of the places I consider home. I saw the potential to create positive change and impact a market that was just starting to bloom.

 

K: What personal values drive your passion for the wellness industry?

 

L: In the beginning, my focus was on the individual impact on our customers. As RAW ME grew, we turned our attention to B2B. I knew the value the company had to offer. My belief is businesses will always require support and guidance in the vegan industry. I am proud to be one of the leaders in the market that can provide HORECA with alternative plant-based solutions.

 

K: Is your daughter interested in veganism?

 

L: My six-year-old daughter is very interested in veganism and understands the concept of how food is processed and where it comes from. We don’t lie and hide facts from her. We believe nutritional education is very important because it is not taught in schools. Doctors are more apt to provide prescription drugs than advice on proper eating habits. We read vegan books to our daughter, tour factories, take her to farms, and visit local fruit and vegetable markets. We see her sharing her understanding with classmates and friends. For example, she took one of the vegan books to “show and tell” at school. For her recent birthday, we had catering from Nosh Cravings (our vegan restaurant). Her friends learned something new that day and tried their favourite foods and desserts with a vegan twist.

 

K: How do you and your family like to keep fit?

 

L: We practise a plant-based diet which essentially increases our fruit and vegetable intake. Every week, we choose a family activity, whether it’s bike riding through the park or swimming at the beach.

 

K: What are your family favourites?

 

L: We love Mexican food! Honestly, we eat the same food as every other family but just with a vegan twist, such as lasagna, tacos, chilli, burgers, and pizza.

 

K: Do you ever have cravings for meat or dairy?

 

L: I follow the 80/20 rule when it comes to healthy eating and indulgence. I do have those cravings, which is the reason we opened a vegan fast-food restaurant called Nosh Cravings. It offers cheesy nachos, beef-like burgers, shawarmas, and cupcakes! I wanted to create an opportunity for the younger generation—who typically love fast food—to eat plant-based food without feeling like they are making a big sacrifice. We offer catering services for kids’ parties. It’s been an exciting year since we opened.

 

K: Has the pandemic created more interest in health and wellness?

 

L: Definitely! Most people had to cope with the restrictions of lockdown, increasing their fears, insecurity, and isolation, but the unexpected “extra time” meant there was room for new experiences and for personal self-reflection. Market data and food company reports have suggested Covid-19 amplified the interest in functional and healthy foods that deliver benefits such as immunity and stress management.

 

LAYLA’S TOP TIPS FOR A HEALTHY FAMILY LIFESTYLE

  1. Ditch sodas and drink plenty of water.
  2. Incorporate vegetables in every meal, including breakfast.
  3. Eat together as often as possible.
  4. Substitute animal-derived products with plant-based options. It’s easier than you might think!
  5. Be a role model for your kids—they will follow in your footsteps.

RECIPES

Vegans do not use any animal products, including meat, dairy, or honey. Instead, they use a variety of veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes to fuel their day. Want to whip up a few tried and tested vegan recipes but not sure where to start? Try these mouth-watering plant-based alternatives.

1. CARROT HOT DOGS

Who knew that carrots could be so delicious? These carrot hot dogs may look like a BBQ classic, but Layla says, “they actually taste like hot dogs too!” A smoky, sweet marinade brings the carrots to life. Top with your favourite condiments and relishes.

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 carrots (about the same size and aim for no more than ¾ inch thick)
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp liquid smoke
  • 6 hot dog buns

 

METHOD:

  1. Slice hot dog buns in half (lengthways) and set aside.
  2. Peel carrots and trim ends.
  3. Combine all remaining ingredients in large shallow dish. Submerge carrots into liquid and marinate for minutes.
  4. Transfer carrots and marinade to large pot. If marinade does not cover carrots, add water until the carrots are fully submerged.
  5. On medium heat, bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat. Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes or until carrots are cooked through. You should be able to pierce them with a fork, but they should not be so soft that they break easily. At this point, you may serve carrots or sear them on well-greased grill to char outsides.
  6. Serve on hot dog bun with favourite toppings.

2. NO TUNA SANDWICH

Not a fish fan? No worries! Try this super easy tuna-free recipe that can also be used as a salad topping or served as a dip with sliced veggies and crackers.

 

INGREDIENTS

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (save the liquid for mayo recipe below)

½ cup vegan mayo (see recipe below)

¼ cup celery chopped finely

¼ cup onion chopped finely

½ tbsp Dijon mustard

Salt & pepper to taste

 

METHOD

  1. Pour brine (liquid) from chickpeas into bowl. Set aside. The liquid will be used for vegan mayo recipe (below).
  2. Pour chickpeas into colander and rinse thoroughly with water. Shake off excess water.
  3. In large bowl, add chickpeas.
  4. Lightly mash with fork until coarse but not smooth.
  5. Add remaining ingredients and mix gently. Refrigerate for one hour.
  6. Serve with toasted whole wheat bread, lettuce, and sliced tomatoes.

3. VEGAN MAYO

Aquafaba is the starchy liquid in canned beans. When drained, it is used as an egg replacer in various vegan recipes, such as this simple mayo.

INGREDIENTS

3 tbsp aquafaba (liquid from canned chickpeas—see no tuna recipe above)

2 tsp Dijon mustard

¾ tsp salt

¼ tsp fine white pepper

2 tbsp white vinegar

250ml vegetable oil

METHOD:

  1. Blend all ingredients until thick and creamy—approx. 10 seconds.
  2. Store in airtight container in fridge. Keeps for about two weeks.
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