Having grown up in three culturally distinct regions, Taiba Qezalbash is uniquely qualified to dish on culinary diversity. The Pakistani-British content creator behind @findingmyrecipes was raised in South Asia before relocating to the Middle East and eventually landing in England — and while she clearly has a nomadic nature, Taiba finds that old-world cooking keeps her grounded. Here, she shares formative food memories from her childhood and the recipe that she presents each year on Eid.
How does your heritage influence your home cooking?
As a person who grew up in three unique societies, I have been blessed to learn and understand the cuisines that came with them. I have been able to encompass the best of South Asia, the Middle East, and the West. South Asia brings the spice, the Middle East brings the aroma, and England brings the comfort. Taste is the first influence in my cooking, so incorporating all three attributes (spice, aroma, and comfort) has always been key to my most-loved dishes.
How do you celebrate Eid? What does Eid represent and mean to you?
The day of Eid is truly a day of warmth and happiness. In the morning, we wake early, bathe — while making sure to not wash off our henna stains from the night before — and then dress in clean, beautiful clothes. Usually, I’ll wear a simple shalwar kameez and heavy jumka earrings. We then gather to wish each other well and enjoy breakfast together, usually sheer khurma. Then we visit the masjid to pray as a family. Although our prayers are silent, we all ask God for the same thing: to bless us, forgive us, and reunite us in the heavens. Lunch is another feast, but with even more family members and loved ones. Niharis, biryanis, kebabs, roast chicken, aloo tikkis… you name it, it’ll be on the table. Then we gather together and talk into the night, listening to poetry or qawwalis with a hot cup of karak chai, mithai, fresh fruit, and cream cake. When I think of Eid, my heart is full. Eid is the day after the month of Ramadan, which we’ve spent in meditation, helping the needy, asking God to forgive us for even the smallest mistakes, and strengthening our spirits to become better people. It’s a fresh start. Coming together with loved ones, we find joy throughout the day, so Eid is truly a representation of sheer peace. It’s a day I look forward to every year. Our mothers make Eid even more special by serving us the best dishes, finding outfits for us, and buying gifts, so I tend to connect Eid with my mother especially. Eid is a reminder to cherish our families, to help others by continuing our charitable acts, and to live peacefully amongst each other.
Is there a story or favourite memory behind the recipe you’re making today?
My favourite memory comes every year when I wake up in the morning and go downstairs to wish my family "Eid mubarak." The person I look for first is my beautiful mother. I’d go into the kitchen and see her bright smile and her deep dimples while she still had a towel wrapped around her wet hair. She’d hug me and then hand over a bowl of sheer khurma. Every Eid morning, there are huge pots on the stove brewing delicious dishes, but it’s always sheer khurma that I associate with Eid. After I graduated from university, I moved to the Middle East and lived alone for a few years. On my first Eid, I missed my mother dearly so I called her and asked her how to make sheer khurma. On the day she taught me, I was in my kitchen with her on FaceTime. I went through all the steps repeatedly in case I missed one of her treasured tips. My mother would only add dates and almonds to her sheer khurma, but as time went on, I began adding pistachios, cashews, and rose petals to give a uniqueness to the taste and consistency. In South Asia, we love using a lot of ghee and sugar, but for health reasons, I reduced the ghee and sugar count by 50% and started to add more fruit and nuts to balance the flavor (hence the addition of the nuts and rose).
What are some of your other favourite dishes?
Kebabs and nihari are another few of my favourite dishes that hold so many memories! Kebabs are super easy to make and extremely delicious if you get the meat right (70% lean, 30% fat). I remember my mother standing in her kitchen chopping a ton of onions to blend. I’d stand there crying because my eyes were so sore, but when the kebab hit the skillet and its juices flowed, I’d be there waiting. I had to grab the first bite and it was always worth it — juicy, smoky, spicy, salty, and piping hot. I’d breathe out of my mouth to try to cool the first bite, but it was best eaten straight from the fire and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Nihari on the other hand was a slow, 12-hour process. I remember falling asleep late while watching my mother brew a delicious pot of thick nihari. Not only is it the national dish of Pakistan, but it’s one of my most-loved dishes. It’s made from lamb shanks brewed on low heat until the meat falls off the bone, then thickened with a flour mixture and garnished with fresh lemons, chopped coriander, julienned ginger and green chillies. When cooking nihari, my aunts would gather together with my mother and chat throughout the night while we slept. It was comforting to sleep while knowing I’d wake up to nihari.
Do you have any memorable or funny kitchen fails or stories involving cooking your recipe?
On one Eid, I was making sheer khurma and I accidentally asked my sister to pass me the salt thinking I was asking her for sugar. She handed me the salt jar (which was identical to the sugar jar) without questioning it and I added in a teaspoon. At that point, my gut told me to check the jar. Lo and behold, I’d just added in some salt. I panicked for a second and then thought, maybe it’ll taste like salted caramel. So instead of throwing the sheer khurma away, I added 4 tablespoons of sugar and a little more cardamom powder to try and hide the salt. I checked the taste and while it didn’t exactly taste like salted caramel, it did taste like an interesting variation. I’d later asked my mum and she told me some people actually add salt to their sheer khurma! Moral of the story: You can never go wrong with sheer khurma — get as creative as you want.
Do you have any tips/tricks or advice for anyone who would like to recreate your recipe?
The best tips I have given to my friends, family and followers are: 1. Don’t stress! Cooking can be very relaxing. Pace yourself, prepare beforehand, and go with the flow. 2. If you’re confident, add spices and sweeteners according to your taste. If you like salty, add more salt. If you like sugar, add more sugar. If you like spice, then add more spice. Always check the flavors throughout the cooking process and add a little at a time to prevent yourself from overseasoning.
Taiba’s Sheer Khurma
For the pudding:150 grams roasted vermicelli, crushed
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 liter whole milk
1 tsp. cardamom powder
For the garnish:1 1/2 tbsp. clarified butter (ghee)
5 cardamom pods
4 Palestinian Medjool dates
2 dried rose petals
Use your Walnut Cutting Board to chop up nuts and dates into small pieces.
On medium heat, warm clarified butter in your Always Pan for 1 minute.
Add in cardamom pods and allow to infuse for 30 seconds.
Add chopped nuts and dates into your Always Pan and lightly roast for 1 minute while gently stirring.
Remove the nuts from the pan and allow to cool.
In the same pan, add in crushed vermicelli and stir for 30 seconds or until the vermicelli has soaked up the clarified butter.
Add in sugar, whole milk, and cardamom powder.
Increase heat to high setting and stir constantly until milk comes to a boil and vermicelli softens.
Turn off heat and allow to rest for a few minutes.
Garnish with nuts, dates and crushed rose petals.
To make your Eid even more special, serve and enjoy this dish with your loved ones throughout the day.