I moved to study in Canada in 2005 and just like any pampered, “well brought up” Egyptian girl I had absolutely no clue about housekeeping. The first time I washed my clothes, every piece of clothing came out red. (On a positive note, who wouldn’t like an opportunity to buy new clothes?) I got frustrated though when it came to my own nourishment, because food (eating it that is) has always held a certain importance in my life. As usually happens, my mother came to the rescue with one simple suggestion – www.wasfasahla.com – and since then, I have been eternally grateful.
Wasfa Sahla was founded by former financial analyst Aliaa al-Sawy in 1998. Many of her friends had just gotten married at the time and struggled to balance careers with taking care of their families. With a love of cooking, Sawy knew deep down that she could provide something that could help them, if even a little. “My mother asked me once when I was in university to make some pasta for dinner. She told me to just add pasta to water and add some salt but she forgot to mention that I had to boil it. Needless to say, I did not,” Sawy admits. Sawy knew she could help her friends by telling them, step by step, how to navigate breakfast, lunch and dinner, relieving a little of the pressure they were under as new wives and mothers. And as Sawy so aptly points out, 62 percent of internet users are women, so the rescue would come online.
“Cooking is an art; it’s an amazing stress reliever. When I’m in a bad mood, I cook out my frustration. If cooking as a hobby, you will enjoy doing it,” she advises.
The website wasfasahla.com was officially launched in 2001 as a “cooking only” website. It contained Egyptian, Middle Eastern and international recipes that catered to Egyptian taste. Today, the website is a more holistic portal to help women in a variety of aspects of their lives. The main features on the website are still the recipes but a pregnancy calendar and a diet section (where the system automatically generates a two week diet according to the information you enter on a questionnaire) feature strongly as well.
Wasfa Sahla’s first cookbook ‘wagabat saree’a’ or ‘fast meals’ was released in 2007. Today Wasfa Sahla has released six cookbooks so far, all published by Dar al-Shorouk.
In 2011, Wasfa Sahla started publishing its seasonal magazine. Sawy explains that the magazine is not to be confused with other cooking magazines that she describes as “recipe catalogues.” “A magazine needs to have sections about different topics. It needs to have content, articles to read, not just recipes to flip through,” Sawy explains. She believes that Wasfa Sahla is a “real magazine,” like the foreign magazine Real Food – which usually has about eighty recipes per issue but also has content. The next issue Wasfa Sahla will be out in July and will contain Ramadan recipes as well as summer recipes.
Sawy explains that the recipes in the magazine are developed by the Wasfa Sahla team. “We are not going to invent how to make Piccata, for example, or Filet Mignon, but we switch things around to reach our own perfect flavor of the recipe. To develop recipes you need to read cook books, I don’t mean those cookbooks that contain recipes, but books about ingredients, about methodology and about how different flavors react together,” says Sawy. She continues, “We make our own combinations and make everything as close as possible to Egyptian tastes.” The magazine has new recipes that are published every season and developed specifically for that season.
The website contains 2500 recipes in English or Arabic depending on the website language a user chooses. One of the features that al-Sawy finds impressive on the website is the ingredient dictionary, which contains the names of ingredients in English with Arabic translations.
Being a longtime fan of Wasfa Sahla, I inquired about the cooking classes but Sawy has put them on hold for now. Busy with the other arms of the company, Wasfa Sahla has now become Wasfa Sahla group containing three different companies: Wasfa Sahla website, which now enjoys around eighty thousand views per month, Wasfa Sahla Print, which creates everything Wasfa Sahla publishes in partnership with Dar al-Shorouk (books and magazine) and, last but not least Wasfa Sahla Food Consultancy, which helps companies in the food sector develop recipe packaging, help with food shooting and evaluating consumer opinion!
Wasfa Sahla has done much to initiate the “art” of food journalism in Egypt with special food savvy art directors, food photographers and food stylists. Many factors play a role in publishing something for Wasfa Sahla like props, mood, color and theme.
“Next issue of the magazine will be very different,” says Sawy. “It will include more articles as well as a section for food critique which has never really been done properly in Egypt.”
Al-Sawy was not surprised when I admitted that I actually take the laptop next to the stove to cook. Her advice however, I will follow to the point, “Follow ingredients and methodology religiously till you become an expert… I would recommend holding back on creativity in desserts.”
In Egypt we say the key to good food is “nafas” or breath. I thought it actually meant to take a breath but Sawy tells me “nafas is positive energy, which moves from your hands to the food.”
“Be happy that you are cooking. Mood affects taste; always use your hands as much as possible while cooking since it sends energy into the food,” says Sawy.
Tuna salad with red beans
Time of preparation – 10 minutes
2 can tuna
1 can red beans
2 green onions, cut into small
1 yellow pepper, small cubes
½ bunch dill, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper
- In deep bowl, add tuna, red beans, onion and pepper. Stir to combine.
- In small jar, add oil, vinegar, lemon juice and dill, season with salt and pepper. Stir ingredients to combine, then add to salad and serve.
Rice with sausage and vegetables
Time of preparation- 15 minutes
Time of cooking – 30 minutes
1 ½ cup basmati rice
1 kg oriental sausage, slices
1 cup red beans
1 red pepper, small cubes
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 garlic cloves
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 chili rd pepper, chopped (optional)
½ tsp olive oil
Coriander for garnish
Salt and pepper
- In large non- stick skillet, heat oil add pepper, celery, garlic and chili pepper. Stir over medium heat for 3 minutes until soften.
- Add sausage and stir for 4-5 minutes or until brown. Add tomato paste, red beans and ½ cup water leave to boil. Reduce heat and leave to simmer for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, wash rice well with water and drain. In medium non-stick pan, heat oil over medium heat; add rice and stir for a minute and 2 cups water season with salt cover pan and leave until the rice absorbs the water. Reduce heat and leave to cook for 15-20 minutes.
- In serving plate, put rice then add sausage mix on top and serve.