“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”
I have always had my heart in food diplomacy, and through my passion, I found my treasure.
In nine cities and across five continents I crossed paths and forged bonds with the most riveting people from all walks of life. In most cases, food was always the bond and common theme.
My expanding creative tribe is my treasure. It keeps nurturing my soul and bolsters my faith in food diplomacy.
In Singapore, my current station, my tribe steadily keeps expanding. I recently hosted chez moi two exceptional shakers of the food scene in Singapore.
My two distinguished guests were Mr. KF Seetoh, The founder of The Makansutra (means food bible in Chinese). And Mr. Tjioe, the founder of Tung Lock group that operates 16 restaurants in Singapore alone.
Mr. Seetoh is the key player in placing the Singaporean food heritage on the world culinary map. “He was hailed as a “Food Guide Maven” and the “Guru of Grub” by New York Times and CNN respectively.” And he starred in “Unknown Parts”, the late Anthony Bourdain’s show.
While Mr. Seetoh keeps the glorious culinary heritage alive, Mr. Andrew Tjioe is leading the restaurant business towards the future. He is shaping a revolutionary dining scene with a significant social impact. Mr. Tjioe strives to recruit world-class chefs, propel local chefs to a whole new level, and serve the finest ingredients while creating hundreds of job opportunities.
My rule when I host exceptional foodies is to keep it surprisingly simple and unpretentiously homey.
I started my guests off with a vegan spread of Mediterranean mezze that carries a personal twist, such as tahini-chipotle, pomegranate-babajanuj, and fava beans-falafel.
The second course was a Frekeeh-seafood dish inspired by my coastal hometown Alexandria in Egypt.
It is a one-pot-dish of Freekeh (a whole grain packed with fiber and protein) vegetables, and seafood cooked in zesty tomato sauce.
To accentuate the Mediterranean streak of the dish, I studded it with some briny green olives and sprigs of fresh thyme that brought out the subtle flavors of its ingredients. The chewy texture of the freekeh and its smokey flavor is a great alternative to rice. Typically, this dish is cooked in the clay pot you see the featured photo.
The crowd-pleaser dish that calls for less than 30 minutes to fix stirred up an interesting two-hour exchange about food, culture, and history. It was a lunch to remember with the finest foodie company.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, whole
- 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 200 grams calamari
- 200 grams shrimps, tails on, shelled, and deveined
- 2 cups freekeh
- 1 cup green olives
- 4 cups of vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 5 sprigs thyme
- Juice of one lemon
- salt and pepper
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoon coriander
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Preheat the oven to 375°.
- Heat the olive oil in cast iron pan, stir fry the onions, celery, garlic, whole cherry tomatoes for 2-4 minutes until fragrant. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and add to the heat resistant dish.
- Add more olive oil to the hot pan if necessary, add the freekeh, and stir it to cover it in oil. Remove the freekeh and add it to the vegetables.
- In the same hot pan, stir fry the shrimp and the calamari. Remove them once the shrimps start to become pink and the edges of the calamari curl up. Remove the seafood from the pan and add them to the roasting pan.
- Add the stock, the spices, and the herbs and roast in a preheated oven for 20-30 minutes until the freekeh swells, the liquid is reduced, and the vegetables are tender.
- Serve hot as a main dish or a side next to grilled or roasted fish.