March 16, 2014

The Magic of Cooking. ~ Hiba Giacoletto

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I find there is a certain ‘magic’ involved in the act of combining seemingly disparate ingredients and creating something completely new.

That’s why I love cooking. Not necessarily fancy things that take hours, but the simplest of dishes. What’s more, I find that being fully present for the act of preparing meals can actually bring a tiny bit of this ‘magic’ into my life.

Here’s how to turn an activity you might otherwise consider a chore, into a magical experience:

First, no matter how much time you have and regardless of what is happening around you, try to simply focus on the cooking by telling yourself, “Right now, all I have to do is prepare this food.”

Then, focus on the multi-sensorial experience of the preparation.

Cooking is actually one of the most multi-sensorial experiences we can haveif we pay attention. Allow yourself to get into the flow by focusing on your senses:

Smell. Inhale the odor of your ingredients as you use them; take in the smell of spices when you unscrew the jar; enjoy the smell of butter as it melts or notice the fragrance of herbs as you chop them.

Touch. Feel the skin of your vegetables and simply notice – is it rough or smooth? Is your tomato firm or does it feel juicy? Play around with your ingredients to really get to know them. Don’t just use spatulas—whenever you can, get in there and mix with your hands. I find this creates more of a connexion with your food, giving you a more intimate knowledge of it.

Taste. As you prepare your meal, taste the different stages of the process. Get to know your ingredients separately and taste them again as you prepare your dish. Notice how they interact with other ingredients to create something much more complex and exciting than any of their individual tastes.

Hearing. Pay attention to the sound of your food preparation: The deep melody of water boiling, the wooden clonk of a rolling pin, the pouring of uncooked rice into a bowl, the tempo of your knife as you chop…there is always something happening when you listen.

Sight. And of course, there’s that most dominant sense of sight and cooking gives us plenty of occasions to admire what we are preparing. Notice the beautiful pattern of a cabbage when you cut it in half, the vibrant green of a broccoli or how what you are preparing transforms in front of your very eyes as you heat it, blend it or cut it.

My favorite childhood author, Roald Dahl, wrote,

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

Choose to believe in magic and I am sure you will also discover it when cooking.

Here is one of my magical recipes to help you get started:



This Egyptian spice blend is a feast for all your senses. You can make a large quantity and keep it in a jar in the fridge to sprinkle over pretty much any food such as roasted or steamed vegetables, salads, eggs, and also just with bread dipped in olive oil, then in dukkah (the traditional way). You could also try encrusting fish or meat with dukkah instead of bread crumbs.

  •  1 cup unsalted nuts or a mix of nuts such as pistachio, hazelnuts or almonds
  •  3/4 cup sesame seeds
  •  1/2 cup cumin seeds
  •  1/4 cup coriander seeds
  •  1 teaspoon sea salt
  •  Freshly ground black pepper


Start by toasting the nuts—put them on a try in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius/350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 5-10 minutes—keep an eye on them and stir constantly so they don’t burn. You can tell when they are ready from the wonderful smell, and they also become a little darker.

Take them out and leave them to cool completely.

Toast the sesame seeds in the same way—they should take only a few minutes. Once again, the smell and slightly toasted appearance will let you know when they are ready.

Take them out and leave them to cool completely.

Dry roast the coriander and cumin seeds in a pan over low to medium heat. Keep tossing them so they don’t burn. They should be ready in a few minutes—once again the smell will let you know!

Once all the ingredients have cooled, combine them in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is crumbly and as fine or coarse as you would like it to be. Be careful not to overdo the food processing as the Dukkah can easily turn into a paste.


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Photos: elephant archives; author’s own

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Hiba Giacoletto