Yumna Jawad: Feel Good Foodie

          Spoiled by her mom’s cooking and too tired to cook herself after working all day Yumna Jawad decided after getting married to change all that. Calling her mom—there was no Facetime back then–Jawad would have her stay on the phone and tell her step by step how to make a meal. It took just two weeks and from there Jawad, who moved to Kalamazoo, and now lives in Grand Rapids, used her new skills not only to cook for her family but as a springboard to creating Feel Good Foodie, her healthy, quick, and creative food blog. She also keeps an active Instagram account with three million followers.

          I came across her blog when researching healthy recipes since I’ve moved on during the pandemic from trying all those dessert recipes I’ve been clipping and saving for years and was very impressed. Besides recipes, she also offers nutritional information, substitutions, how to videos, how long does it take to make the recipe and links to similar recipes. So I emailed Jawad and she responded within ten minutes even though it was late at night but then judging by how often she updates her blog, she may not sleep much if at all.

          It turns out that she worked in Branding and Research & Marketing for consumer packaged foods and the retail food industry and eight years ago began sharing recipes on her Instagram account. She now has over two million followers which is pretty amazing. I have like 2000. Her blog has 400,000 visitors a month. So I asked her why she thought she was so successful.

          “When I first started sharing recipes on social media, my photos were all taken on an iPhone and it was always the meals I made that day for myself or my family,” she says. “The food wasn’t styled or edited, but it was easy and approachable. I think it resonated with a lot of people seeking ways to eat healthier that was attainable and easy-to-manage. And when others tried recreating my recipes, they had similar results without ‘Pinterest fails’. That encouraged them to try more and share more, which I believe helped me establish credibility in my brand and recipes. And all of that was before I even knew that I was even building a health and wellness brand.”

The Flavors of the World

           Jawad has an international background that adds to the creativity of her recipes. She was born in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and also lived in Sierra Leone until age 11. When Civil War broke out there, the family moved to Dearborn, Michigan. After marrying, she and her husband, a cardiologist, moved several times as well before ending up in Kalamazoo and now Grand Rapids  She first learned to cook traditional Lebanese food but now has exponentially expanded her repertoire but there’s often a Middle East/Mediterranean aspect to her recipes because of their focus on vegetables and healthy ingredients.

          Her culinary inspirations, besides her mother include Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame.      

          “While not all of Ina’s recipes are low calories/low fat, I love her realness, approachability, and passion for cooking,” says Jawad. “She inspires me to be who I am and allow that passion to come through with my recipes without any fluff.”

          Curtis Stone is also another food idol because, she says, he is all about eating unprocessed and unpackaged foods as much as possible, which is actually healthier and cheaper.

          “This is something that I focus so much on with my wholesome home-cooked meals,” she says.

          And because, as the mother of two children, she likes meals that are quick to prepare, she’s a fan of Rachel Ray.

          “Rachel rally popularized the idea of 30 minute meals that made home cooking so accessible for so many people; and that is directly in line with my thinking,” says Jawad.

          Currently she adds three recipes a week to her blog—meals she’s been making for her family since she learned to cook 12 years ago. Some are inspired by tradition, others by watching cooking shows, reading food magazines, and following social media and focuses on new approaches creating healthy wholesome meals.

          “This includes, for example, trends like quinoa crust breadsticks, or cauliflower pizza or sweet potato toast,” says Jawad. “I keep up with the latest trends and test new ideas myself and then add my own twist to them, usually by making the prep easier or by swapping some ingredients to personalize the recipe.”

Recipe Data Base

          She’s also adding to the recipe data base on her blog.

          For those who wonder how to incorporate new foods into their kitchen repertoire, she has some tips. When she used to discover new produce at farmers’ markets, she’d ask the grower for suggestions. Now, Jawad uses the vegetables or fruits in a way that makes it more connected to what  she knows.

          “I recommend experimenting with it in a way that you normally eat other similar foods,” she says. “For instance, since rutabaga is a root vegetable, I would prepare it similar in a similar way to other root vegetables by roasting it because I know I would naturally enjoy that more than steaming it. I would also recommend trying something new in smaller quantities and having others to share it with. It makes the process more enjoyable to try a new ingredient or recipe with other taste testers. When it comes to kids, the same advice applies. But also, I strongly recommend having kids help in the purchase and preparation of ingredients. It gets them more excited about what they make because they feel more invested in the process. When all else fails, mask it in a smoothie or blended soup.”

The following recipes are courtesy of Yumna Jawad.

Chicken Lemon Orzo Soup

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 onion diced
  • 3 large carrots peeled, halved lengthwise and finely sliced
  • 3 celery stalks small diced
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon butter or olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 3/4 cup orzo pasta
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric optional
  • Juice of 1-2 lemons to taste
  • Fresh parsley

Place chicken and scraps from the outer layers and end of the onions, carrots, and celery along with a couple bay leaves in a large stock pot. Add bay leaves and 8-10 cups water and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until chicken is fork-tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove chicken and shred; then strain the chicken broth using a fine-mesh sieve and discard the vegetable scraps and bay leave

Heat oil in the same pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, carrots, celery, garlic and cook until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the shredded chicken, orzo, rosemary, and turmeric (if using). Then return the broth to the stockpot and bring a boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer until the orzo is cooked, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with fresh parsley or mint, if desired.

Air Fryer Sweet Potato Fries

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes peeled
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
  • Preheat the air fryer to 380°F. Peel the sweet potatoes, then slice each potato into even 1/4 inch thick sticks.

Place the sweet potatoes in a large mixing bowl, and toss with olive oil, salt, garlic powder, paprika and black pepper.

Cook in 2 or 3 batches, depending on the size of your basket without overcrowding the pan until they’re crispy. I recommend 12 minutes, turning halfway. This may vary based on your air fryer.

Serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauce

Quinoa Patties

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ red onion finely chopped
  • ½ cup mozzarella cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • Water as needed add moisture
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil

For the Avocado Yogurt Dip

  • 2 tablespoons cilantro chopped
  • ½ cup yogurt
  • ½ avocado extra ripe
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine quinoa, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in onions, cheese, garlic, and cilantro. Add the breadcrumbs, stir, and let sit for a few minutes so the crumbs can absorb some of the moisture. Feel free to add water if the mixture feels too dry. Form the mixture into 6-8 patties.

Frying Instructions:Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Place add quinoa on the heated pan, making sure not to overcrowd the pan and cook until the patties are golden color, about 7 – 10 per side minutes.

Baking Instructions:Place the quinoa patties on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the oil on top of the patties. Bake in a preheated oven at 400°F for 15 minutes, until golden.

To make the avocado yogurt sauce, whisk together the cilantro, avocado and yogurt. Season with salt and pepper and serve with the cooked quinoa patties.

 Notes

Storage: Store any leftovers in an airtight container. They will last up to 5 days in the fridge.

Freezing Instructions: You can also freeze the patties before or after cooking them.

  • To freeze them prior to cooking, lay them on a flat baking dish in the freezer for at least 4 hours. When frozen, place them in an airtight bag. Thaw in the fridge overnight and cook per instructions.
  • To freeze them after cooking, simply store them in an airtight bag after they’ve cooled. To re-heat, thaw in the fridge overnight and bake in a 350°F oven until heated through.

Substitutes: For best results, follow the recipe as is. However here are some common substitutes that would work well in this recipe.

  • Instead of eggs, you can use a flax eggs. For each regular egg, use 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed + 3 tablespoons water.
  • Any type of shredded cheese can be used in place of mozzarella.
  • If you prefer not to use breadcrumbs, you can use a gluten-free flour like almond flour or oat flour, or you can also use panko breadcrumbs.

“Satisfy your sweet tooth with a plant-based treat in under 10 minutes,” Jawad says about the following recipe. “3-ingredient chia pudding is the perfect pick-me-up. High in fiber, protein, and healthy fats, this recipe is as good for you as it tastes.”

3-Ingredient Chia Pudding

  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • ½ cup almond milk or milk of choice
  • 1 teaspoon honey or other sweetener
  • Strawberries, blueberries, or other fruit

Pour all ingredients into a Mason jar and mix well. Let sit for a few minutes and then stir again until it is smooth and there’s no clumping.

Cover the jar and store in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

When you’re ready to eat, top with your favorite fruit and serve.

Flavors of the Sun: Middle Eastern Ingredients from a Century Old Family Business

“Herby and garlicky, with a bright jolt of sumac, this is everything you want in a one-pan meal,” says Christine Sahadi Whelan about her recipe for Sheet Pan Chicken with Sumac and Winter Squash.

         Whelan, a fourth-generation co-owner of Sahadi’s and a lifelong Brooklyn resident, grew up in the James Beard Award-winning specialty grocery store that first opened in 1898. A graduate of NYU with a Degree in Finance and International Business she also trained at the Institute for Culinary Education, she also made mamoul with Martha Stewart. She brings all this to the table as Sahadi’s Culinary Director and now with her new book, Flavors of the Sun: The Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients with its more than 120 recipes. The flavors of the Middle East are just steps away from your kitchen with this book.

         Sahadi’s is truly a family affair. Both her children as well as her husband work at the store which is an integral part of their neighborhood and the city of New York as well. Their excellence was recognized as a true American Classic by the James Beard Foundation.

         Whelan notes that the ingredients in her Sheet Pan Chicken like many of the recipes in the book can easily be substituted.

         “Kabocha and delicata squash are good options because they don’t need to be peeled, but acorn squash or butternut work, too,” she says. “I sometimes use a couple of different kinds for visual interest. Either way, you’ll have folks wanting to eat directly from the pan the second you take this out of the oven.”

         The book is an amazing introduction to the wide variety of ingredients such as sumac, pomegranate molasses, aleppo black pepper, and halvah that are best sellers in the store. Whelan shows us how to use them in easily her accessible recipes that are a great way to learn the nuances of Middle Eastern cookery.

Warm Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini-Yogurt Dressing

“We are always happy to share recipes with customers who want to try their hand at our family favorites at home, but we love it even more when customers return the favor! This recipe is a variation on one that came to us from longtime patron Steve Marcus, who devised a hearty cauliflower side dish incorporating all his preferred Sahadi’s staples,” writes Whelan in the introduction to this recipe. “It’s well-spiced and tangy, with a hint of sweetness from dried apricots, and a nice cold-weather option when there aren’t a lot of fresh green veggies to choose from.”

SERVES 6 TO 8

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp za’atar
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • ¼ cup tahini
  • ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt, full or low fat
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped Turkish apricots

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Cut the cauliflower into 2 in [5 cm] florets and mound on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toss with ¼ cup of the oil and the za’atar, ½ tsp of the salt, and the Aleppo pepper. Spread the cauliflower in a

single layer and roast, turning once or twice as it cooks, until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

While the cauliflower is roasting, whisk together the tahini, yogurt, remaining ¼ cup of olive oil, and the lemon juice in a large bowl. Season with the remaining ½ tsp of salt and the white pepper. Add 2

Tbsp of water to thin to drizzling consistency, adding more by the tsp as needed.

Add the warm cauliflower and toss to coat with the dressing. Gently stir in the parsley and apricots to distribute evenly. Serve warm.

Sheet Pan Chicken with Sumac and Winter Squash

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp za’atar
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • ¼ cup tahini
  • ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt, full or low fat
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped Turkish apricots

Pat the chicken pieces dry and, if you are using breasts, cut each in half to make 2 smaller pieces.

Whisk together 2 Tbsp of the sumac with the salt, dried thyme, dried oregano, and garlic in a large bowl. Add the oil and stir until well blended. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl, turning to coat them with the mixture, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the squash in half through the stem end and remove the seeds.  Cut the squash into ½ inch thick slices and arrange them in a single layer (or overlapping slightly) on a large baking sheet. Scatter the herb sprigs on top, reserving a few for serving. Arrange the chicken on top of the squash, skin-side up, leaving a bit of room between the pieces and tucking in red onion chunks here and there. Dot the lemon slices around the pan. Pour any remaining marinade over everything.

Roast in the center of the oven for 30 minutes. Baste the chicken and squash with pan juices and continue to cook for 15 minutes, or until the skin is browned and the chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sumac and the reserved herb sprigs. Serve directly from the baking sheet.

Sweet and Spicy Nut Brittle

“One of the best parts of working in this business is that I always have top quality nuts available for snacking or baking,” says Whelan. “This is a fun way I like to use them that also doubles as a nice holiday gift.

MAKES ABOUT 4 CUPS  

  • 2 cups roasted unsalted mixed nuts (about 1/2 lb, coarsely chopped 11/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup Amaretto or bourbon
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3/4 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1 tsp flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray.

On a separate rimmed baking sheet, spread the nuts in a single layer and toast in the oven for 5 minutes. Transfer the nuts to a large bowl and cover to keep warm. (Warming the nuts helps the caramel flowover them more readily.)

In a 1 quart saucepan, combine the sugar, amaretto, honey, and butter. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Heat over medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves, then continue to boil until the mixture reaches 300°F (hard crack stage).

Carefully pour the sugar mixture over the nuts and mix quickly with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, coating all the nuts. Immediately pour onto the prepared baking sheet and spread in a thin layer.

Sprinkle with the Aleppo pepper and salt. Let cool completely, then break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

The above recipes are excerpted with permission from Flavors of the Sun: The Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients (Chronicle Books, 2021) by Christine Sahadi Whalen. Photographs © 2021 by Kristin Teig