UNDERSTANDING the importance of food during the holy month of Ramadan led Anisa Karolia towards writing her newly published book.
The popular British food blogger with a huge online following has put together a collection of 80 delicious easy-to-make recipes for The Ramadan Cookbook, which is perfect for a month of fasting, but also all year round for those wanting to prepare healthy meals.
This fuss free book with a wide variety or recipes continues a home-cooking journey that started off in childhood and led to her starting a popular blog and YouTube channel.
Eastern Eye caught up with one of the UK’s most popular Muslim food bloggers, with over 240,000 followers worldwide to discuss her cooking journey, inspirations and debut book filled with family favourites suitable every day. She also gave top cooking tips, Ramadan memories and what the holy month means to her.
What first connected you to cooking?
I grew up in a family of foodies. My mum absolutely loves cooking and baking. My grandmother also loved cooking. My summer holidays were spent at my gran’s who taught me how to cook. I would always get involved in the kitchen. She said it’s a good life skill to have. So, I made it my mission to share delicious recipes I grew up with for everyone to enjoy.
What made you want to start blogging about food and doing a YouTube channel on it?
I had started sharing pictures of food I made for my family, and friends told me I should share step by step videos on YouTube. Initially I wasn’t very confident, but with the support of my husband Adam, we made it happen, and started to share recipes.
Did you imagine becoming so popular online?
No never! I had absolutely no idea where this path would take me. I became known for my Ramadan recipes very quickly because I found nobody shared recipes quite like mine and my audience could relate to me, I guess because my recipes are easy to follow too!
What inspired you to write The Ramadan Cookbook?
I always wanted to write a book but didn’t know where to start. So, when I was approached by Penguin Books with an idea for a Ramadan cookbook, I was delighted. When I first started my food blogging journey, I think it must have been around Ramadan time. Most of my recipes were for Ramadan and since then I realised how popular and searched for Ramadan recipes are. Between (publisher) Ebury and myself we couldn’t find a Ramadan recipe book anywhere. So, I knew this was a book that people needed.
Tell us about the book?
My book has my most loved childhood recipes as well some of my fan favourites old and new, taking you from Suhoor to Iftar. The best thing is all the recipes can be enjoyed throughout the year in your everyday cooking, as well as for specific celebrations.
How did you decide on which recipes to include in this book?
Growing up, I started writing my own recipe book, which has been with me since childhood. I wanted this book to have all my favourite recipes I grew up enjoying. I wanted my recipes to be easy to follow with accessible ingredients that could be found either in your cupboard or your local supermarket, so that nobody has an excuse to not make them.
How important is healthy eating during Ramadan?
I have seen a shift in Ramadan cooking. When I was growing up lots of savoury starters, if not all, were fried. I think people have now understood that having 30 days of fried snacks isn’t such a good idea. Some people still fry or have moved to using an air fryer or baking starters in the oven instead. Of course, it doesn’t taste the same for some things, but making these small changes is definitely better. We break our fast with dates, which have good minerals and vitamins in, lots of water and sometimes coconut water or watermelon, which are good for hydration.
What is the key advice when preparing a Suhoor meal to get you through a day of fasting?
Again, I’ve seen a shift in preparing suhoor, where previous generations would probably eat an actual meal rather than leftovers from the night before. Actually, you don’t need to eat that much to last you through the day and probably what you have eaten the night before should be sufficient. People have moved now to eating smarter, like having slow-release foods that include oats, cereals, banana and date smoothies, eggs, and wholemeal toast – some recipes using these ingredients are in my book.
What is your advice for an iftar meal?
Batch prepare what you can, like savoury starters, a month in advance and freeze until needed. We normally cook enough to last two days. That way food isn’t wasted and you’re not spending too much. Generally, it’s well known that at iftar you’ll never eat as much as you think, so don’t worry about cooking too much.
What are your personal favourite recipes in the book?
I would of course say all of them! But my most favourite is butter chicken because it’s so luxurious, creamy, and always looks so good, especially with soft naan bread. My kids love chicken chow mein or anything Indo-Chinese really. Nan gosht is the traditional lamb curry I think just about everyone loves and gulab jamun is so good with a nice cup of tea!
What top cooking tip would you give?
Don’t be afraid to try! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! If you’re unsure just ask anyone you’re comfortable asking, family, friends or even your favourite blogger!
What does Ramadan mean to you?
Ramadan is a month of self-reflection, a chance to better ourselves through a closeness to God, give to charity, show acts of kindness, and practise discipline, not just in eating but also in our actions too!
It’s like a month of training for the rest of the year, to try our best to be good people, a detox and cleanse for your mind, body, and soul. The anticipation of waiting for Ramadan is always special and a good feeling.
What are your favourite Ramadan memories?
Walking in from school, being tempted by the delicious aroma of cooking that was happening. My brother and I rushing to the kitchen to see what was in the pot! Looking forward to the fun preparation for Eid; buying special new clothes, thinking about the feast on the day, family get-togethers, bonding over food, and of course, just positive good vibes. I still feel the same way now.
What inspires you as a food author and blogger?
Being surrounded by amazing family cooks and learning from them growing up. Now I guess it’s our children – they are at the age where I think they are a little bored of curries and want to try more exotic dishes, and online social media trends. My boys are constantly messaging me new and different recipes to make for them – if it’s easy enough I just tell them to try it!
Why should we pick up your new book?
The Ramadan Cookbook includes 80 delicious recipes, plenty to get you through Ramadan, everyday cooking and celebrating through the year. It includes all my childhood favourite recipes, online fan favourites from my Instagram and YouTube to some modern fusion dishes which won’t disappoint!
The Ramadan Cookbook is published by Ebury Press. Instagram: @anisagrams