Tell us about your cultural heritage.
My cultural heritage is Syrian. My parents migrated from Syria to Lebanon and then adopted Australia as their new home in 1968. I was born and raised in Australia several years later.
When did you first start cooking?
My cooking journey began around the age of 20. When I was younger, my mom had a rule that no one was allowed in the kitchen - it was her domain. Not that we ever complained, her food was and still is amazing.
Is there a particular person or place that has inspired your culinary journey?
I come from a very multicultural family. When we get together, we all bring a dish each. This opened my eyes to many different types of food and cultures. I was definitely intrigued to learn about the dishes and the techniques behind making each one.
We absolutely love your Instagram page @eatwithlovebysamira - do you have a favourite dish we should try?
I recommend trying my Umm Ali dessert; it's one of my favourites. This dessert takes me back to Egypt. It's a national dessert that I fell in love with on my first trip to Egypt, and it’s very easy to make. Definitely a crowd pleaser.
What should people know about Middle Eastern cooking?
Middle Eastern cuisine uses a lot of ancient spices and many superfood ingredients that can be found at local supermarkets. We believe in sustainability and minimizing food waste, and our dishes are full of flavour. We offer a wide variety of vegan and meat lover dishes, all rich in texture and flavour.
This year, you are helping us educate people about Ramadan (which will occur within the A Taste of Harmony dates). Can you tell us more about Ramadan and what it means to you?
Ramadan is a celebration for us Muslims and one of the 5 pillars of Islam. It occurs once a year for a month. For me personally, Ramadan is a spiritual journey and a month of worship. During this time, I like to reconnect with my inner faith and also detox my body, mind, and soul.
What is a typical Ramadan day for you?
My day begins at 3 am. I wake up and recite some verses from the Quran. Then, at 3:30 am, I wake my children up to feed them a nutritious meal which includes a little mezza, eggs, labna, olives, and watermelon for extra hydration. After praying some extra prayers, I go back to sleep. Later, after school drop-off and work, I prepare our iftar (breakfast) dinner. Afterward, I go to the mosque to pray and recite more verses of the Quran. My goal is to complete reading the entire Quran within the month of Ramadan. I pick up my children from school and involve them in making a dessert. We talk about what Ramadan means to us. A family tradition of ours is preparing a sharing plate to deliver to other families before we break our fast, teaching my children the importance of sharing during this holy month. We then break our fast, pray together, and go to the mosque for tarawih prayers as a family. Once back home, we enjoy fruit and dessert, drink plenty of water, and head to bed.
Is there anything non-participating friends and colleagues can do to support you and others observing Ramadan, especially in the workplace?
The best way to help is to ask questions if you're curious about Ramadan. We're always happy to explain. For those working in the evenings, it would be great to have the meal break at iftar time, allowing them to break their fast.
We're guessing you do a fair amount of cooking for Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan celebration) – what are some of the dishes you serve and what is their significance?
My family and I have a tradition of enjoying a big breakfast after morning prayers. Everyone brings a meal, and we share it together. At the end of the day, my children love to eat stuffed vine leaves, which I prepare the day before. This is a slow-cooked meal that requires about 6 hours of cooking.
Why is it important to celebrate cultural diversity in the workplace?
Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, with more than 270 ancestries and over 120 religions being practiced. It's important to celebrate diversity in the workplace so that everyone feels appreciated for who they are and the unique talents they bring.