Anissa Helou is a world-renowned chef, food writer, journalist, broadcaster, consultant and blogger focusing on the cuisines and culinary heritage of the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa. Ms. Helou is the author of numerous award-winning cookbooks with her first being “Lebanese Cuisine,” capturing her roots as the daughter of a Syrian father and Lebanese mother.
In 2013, Anissa was featured in the Arabian Business Magazine’s list of “100 Most Powerful Arab Women” and on the “500 Most Influential Arabs.
In this interview, Anissa discusses how she entered the world of gastronomy, the influences on her work, her views on cuisine, and much more.
Qatari prawn risotto or “Machboos” (pictured above)
Prep 30 min
Cook 30 min
400g basmati rice, soaked in 2 litres water with 1 tbsp salt for 30 minutes
60g unsalted butter
1kg sustainably sourced* raw king or tiger prawns, peeled and rinsed
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium onions (about 450g in total), peeled and finely chopped
3 curry leaves
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp b’zar (Arabian spice mixture – see below)
1 tbsp ground dried limes
3-4 whole cloves
2 medium tomatoes (about 200g in total), diced into small cubes
3 tbsp tomato paste
A few sprigs flat-leaf parsley, most of the stems discarded, then finely chopped
A few sprigs coriander, most of the stems discarded, then finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed to a fine paste
For the Arabian spice mixture (b’zar, makes about 200g)
75g black peppercorns
50g cumin seeds
25g coriander seeds
2 tbsp whole cloves
2 tbsp cinnamon sticks
2 tbsp green cardamom pods
2 tbsp small dried red chillies
2 whole nutmegs
2 heaped tbsp ground ginger
2 tbsp ground turmeric
Soak the rice and set aside. Meanwhile, saute the prawns in the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat for two minutes, then set aside.
Saute the onions in the olive oil in a large pot over a medium heat for about five minutes, until golden, then add the rest of the ingredients and stir for a minute or so.
Add 500ml water and bring to a boil. Drain the rice, add to the pan, salt to taste, then turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes. Arrange the prawns over the rice, wrap the lid with a clean kitchen towel and replace over the pot. Steam the rice and prawns for 10 more minutes.
Stir the prawns into the rice and fluff with a fork, transfer to a serving plate and serve hot.
For the bzar: Put the whole spices into a food processor or spice grinder and blitz until finely ground.
Transfer to a large bowl and add the ground ginger and turmeric. Mix well. Store in an airtight glass jar in a cool, dark place