Doha based blogger and photographer Shehar Bano Rizvi has recently added another string to her creative bow. The busy mum of three children—daughter Amna, aged 11 and sons Hamza and Hassan, aged eight and seven—and wife to Mohsin, has recently become a published cookbook author. Her first book, titled Virsa – A Culinary Journey from Agra to Karachi, is a loving homage to the food of her native Pakistan. It is dedicated to her mother, whom Shehar describes as a “fantastic cook”. It seems there’s no stopping this former Project Management Professional turned social media influencer with a passion for food.
As a self-described storyteller, Shehar’s social media feeds are filled with drool-worthy images and descriptions of her creations. Yet, Shehar’s own culinary story is quite surprising. In 2004, the then-new bride packed her bags with husband Mohsin and headed for a new life in Qatar. But Shehar felt there was a pressing issue brewing in the background—she had literally never set foot in a kitchen.
Shehar says that prior to becoming a wife, she had no interest in cooking. “Growing up in Pakistan with house help, I never felt the need to cook. When I got married, it really hit me that I’d be moving away from my family,” she says. It was then she asked her mother to dictate to her tried and tested family recipes as she carefully took them down in her notebook.
Despite her late start in cooking, Shehar soon became more confident in the kitchen. However, it was a visit from her parents where she believes she got her final seal of approval: “I started cooking when I moved to Doha and followed all my mum’s recipes. They turned out to be amazing! I remember the first time my parents visited me in Doha. My father couldn’t believe that I cooked food just like my mother.” Shehar says that she is fortunate enough to come from a family of great cooks like her mother, grandmother, and aunts, all of whom have influenced her own cooking. She attributes what she calls their “heirloom recipes”—which have been passed down the generations—to making her the cook she is today. In fact, her family’s culinary history directly influenced the title of her book: “Virsa, means “heritage” in the Urdu language, and this project has been a labour of love for me.”
As someone with an obvious passion for her culinary heritage, how would Shehar describe Pakistani cuisine? “It’s a blend of various cooking traditions from the Indian subcontinent, with influences of Persian cuisine and the Indian Mughal Empire. Though Indian and Pakistani cuisines have a lot in common, there are some differences based on regional preferences and choice of spices that are commonly used in each cuisine,” she explains. Shehar clarifies that although Pakistani cuisine tends to be known for its meat-based dishes, it features many vegetable and lentil-based dishes. She also adds, “aromatic spices feature heavily and are cooked in liberal amounts of oil which creates its signature rich flavour and texture”.
Pakistani cuisine may sound complex, but Shehar has devised an everyday plan to feed her active, growing family with a focus on simple curries, breads, and fresh produce: “I cook every day, mostly from my mum’s recipe book. For everyday meals, I cook simple, easy, and healthy Pakistani meals comprising of a vegetable curry or meat curry, with a side of lentils served with chapati (homemade flatbread) or rice and salad.” When time is tight, Shehar loves to whip up a family favourite, “daal chawal (lentils and rice) with a side of pickle and salad”. But when it comes to dinner parties, she likes to cook richer, more elaborate meals, such as nihari (meat stew) and biryani.
Luckily for Shehar, her three children seem to be avid little foodies who enjoy a broad range of cuisines as far afield as Italy and Japan: “My kids are not fussy eaters and try everything, given that it’s not very spicy. For everyday cooking, I keep the Pakistani food on the milder spice level. Other than Pakistani food, we also cook Chinese food (the Desi version), pizzas, pasta, and even Japanese Maki rolls.” It seems the rest of Shehar’s family likes to cook too, “my husband loves to light up a BBQ grill every now and then. My daughter loves baking and decorating cakes, cupcakes, and cookies,” she shares. Shehar’s passion for cooking has clearly become a family affair!
TRY THESE PAKISTANI DISHES RECOMMENDED BY SHEHAR!
- Biryani: a meat gravy cooked in aromatic spices then mixed with rice;
- BBQ meat: chicken tikka, mutton chops, and seekh kababs;
- Chicken karahi: chicken and tomato gravy cooked in a wok on high flame, garnished with lots of ginger, fresh coriander leaves, and green chillies;
- Different flatbreads such as paratha and naan;
- Samosas: fried pastry filled with potato or minced meat.
Chicken Karahi(wok chicken gravy)
- Prep Time: 15 mins
- Cooking Time: 45 mins
- Serves three to four
- 500 g chicken
- 1 tsp. ginger paste
- 1 tsp. garlic paste
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper, freshly crushed
- 1/4 tsp. red chilli powder
- 1/4 tsp. garam masala powder
- 3-4 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped
- 2-3 green chillies
- 1 tsp. ginger, julienned
- 1 tsp. fresh coriander leaves
- 4-5 tbsp. oil
- Fry the chicken pieces in a wok (karahi) with ginger-garlic paste for a few minutes on medium-high heat.
- Add black pepper powder, red chilli powder, garam masala powder, salt, tomatoes, and half of the julienned ginger. DO NOT add water.
- Cover it and cook on low-medium heat until the chicken becomes tender.
- Add green chillies, coriander, and the rest of julienned ginger and let it cook for a few more minutes.
- Garnish and serve with naan and some raita.
Bhindi Fry (fried okra)
- Prep Time: 15 mins
- Cooking Time: 30 mins
- Serves two to three
- 500 g bhindi (okra/ladies’ fingers, cut into small pieces)
- 4-5 whole dried red chillies
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp. salt
- 3-4 tbsp. oil
- Fry cumin seeds and whole red chillies in oil for a few minutes.
- Add okra and salt and fry on high flame for five minutes.
- Lower the flame, cover, and cook on low heat (DO NOT add any water).
- Add lemon juice when done.
Qulfi (cardamom and milk ice cream)
- Prep Time: 10 mins
- Serves six
- 2 cans evaporated milk
- 1 can condensed milk
- 8 oz. whipped cream
- 3 slices white bread, sides removed
- 2-3 Green cardamom seeds, crushed
- A couple of drops of kewra essence (optional)
- ¼ cup pistachios, crushed
- Put all in blender and freeze. That’s it!