Meet Anissa Helou, cookbook author, food writer, blogger, and chef specializing in Levantine and North African cuisine. Helou grew up in Beirut, spending summers at the family’s ancestral home in Syria, before moving to London at the age of 21 to study interior design. She’s been there ever since, with a few stints in between in Paris, where she used to run an antique shop, and in Kuwait, having served as an art adviser to Kuwaiti royalty.

Today Helou lives in her Shoreditch warehouse loft, where she cooks, writes, and teaches in her state-of-the-art kitchen (she’s currently anticipating the construction of her dream home on a plot of land in Sicily with a sea view—marvelous, isn’t it!). Helou is the author of several cookbooks, including Lebanese Cuisine (1994), Street Café Morocco (1999), Mediterranean Street Food (2002), and most recently, Levant (2013). Last year, she was listed by Arabian Business as one of the 500 most powerful Arabs in the world and one of the 100 most powerful Arab women. was fortunate enough to intercept her for an eye-opening (and appetite-stirring) discussion of her kitchen, eating habits, and fridge contents. Here's what we found out. How often you cook and eat at home?
Helou: Not very often. Only when I am testing recipes, blogging or having friends over. Otherwise I survive on salads or go out. What are your fridge essentials?
Helou: Lemons, onions, garlic, whole wheat flour, feta cheese, fresh herbs, lettuce, cabbage, rosé and white wine, and organic eggs. What meal do you cook most at home?
Helou: Salads for me and jeweled rice for my friends. As a chef, do you ever find yourself torn as to whether you should make something from scratch or buy it ready-made at the store?
Helou: I never buy ready-made unless I know the cook (like my agent’s mother, for example). Could you potentially whip up a meal from your fridge’s contents for 8-10 unexpected guests?
Helou: I doubt it, but from my pantry, yes. What’s your policy regarding expiry dates?
Helou: I ignore them for 2 or 3 days, but not much beyond that. Is there anything that’s never allowed in your fridge?
Helou: Pepsi or Coke, or any of the fizzy or sweet drinks. Anything that is not healthy. How do you suppose your refrigerator reflects on your character?
Helou: I am a lady of extremes (of sorts). Either it is completely empty or crammed full!

I have two low fridges side by side. Both are integrated [into the kitchen cabinetry] so you cannot tell they are fridges — I don’t like the look of appliances. One is my “ingredients fridge” [see photo above] with all kinds of essentials, some of which I bring back from my travels: pepper paste (both Turkish and Korean), tomato paste, various mustards, Argan oil, salep, whole-wheat flour (it goes off if it is not kept refrigerated), bottarga, and dried fruit, to name but a few. I do sometimes use this fridge for fresh stuff if the other one is overflowing. This only happens when I am cooking for a tasting or [making] a meal for friends. Otherwise it is generally empty except for lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, spring onions, lemons and fresh herbs, which is what I need to make my daily salad, plus the obligatory red onions and garlic which I need for most of my cooking.

In my “fresh produce fridge” [see photo above], I have a lot of food because that day I was cooking a Persian dinner for friends. On the top shelf, there are individual servings of saffron muhallabiyeh; on the middle shelf, spring cabbage, feta cheese, red endive, rocket and mint for my herbs and cheese platter, which is a typical Iranian appetizer, a little like our crudités; and on the bottom shelf a leg of lamb, sitting over a bowl of homemade labneh for the aubergines borani; more rocket and purple-sprouting broccoli and chicken thighs which were going to be for a lunch but I had over-shopped!

Be sure to check out Anissa Helou's blog at

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Beirut Fridge Raiders Vol. 4:... Crave on Jun 24, 2014


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