At home with… Amina Elshafei

Former MasterChef favourite and new team memeber at Plunge No. 46 restaurant in Summer Hill chats to Ciao

MasterChef favourite, Amina Elshafei, has joined the team at Plunge No. 46 restaurant in Summer Hill. Here she chats to Ciao about cooking, her favourite ingredients and what the future may hold…

How did you first learn your way around the kitchen?
As a child, I used to sit at the kitchen bench and watch mum and dad cook. I guess this was my initiation to cooking and the kitchen. My parents used to get my sister, Eman, and I involved in the creation of meals, even if it was peeling onions and garlic! As I got older and was introduced to different foods, I would try to replicate them at home – some great and some disastrous – however, my parents didn’t mind me cooking up a storm in the kitchen. My parents were full time workers when I was growing up so I guess it gave me the opportunity to cook a meal for the family every now and then as part of helping around the household, but to also have some fun and try something different.

What international cuisines inspire your cooking style?
I am very blessed to have a father who is Egyptian and a mother who is South Korean. The two cuisines are far apart in flavours and textures but in our household we have had both on the dinner table quite often. So I guess Korean and Middle Eastern cuisine are my absolute favourites and my inspiration for cooking styles as I am most familiar them and love the flavours. I do however, enjoy a great Italian, Japanese or South East Asian feast!

What are your favourite ingredients?
In my kitchen I always have garlic, olive oil, yoghurt, soy sauce and Korean chilli powder. These ingredients are the basics of my cooking needs and without them I am a little lost for meals. Garlic perhaps is my favourite as it is common in both Middle Eastern and Korean cuisines, but I do enjoy a good thick yoghurt – especially with honey.

If you could invite anyone over for dinner, whom would you invite?
I have been asked this several times and I admit that my answer has changed depending on my mood! I would love to have Rick Stein over for dinner because he is my culinary idol and I think he would love a warm home-cooked meal. I would love to have Claudia Roden too, as I also idolise her cooking style, but also because her recipes are so close to that of my grandmother’s and she would be a wonderful dining companion.

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re doing at Plunge No. 46 restaurant?
At the moment I work with the staff at Plunge No.46 for dinners in particular and am usually there one to two nights a week (dinner is between Thursday and Saturday nights). I have been given the opportunity to work with the wonderful young chef, James, and owner, Hesham. We have changed around the menu using seasonal produce to create a funky, modern Middle Eastern and Mediterranean mezze/tapas style menu. Working at Plunge No.46 has certainly given me the vibe and inspiration to keep developing new ideas to create delicious food. As for the future, it’s a hard one to predict; let’s just say food is definitely a priority.

Chickpea Salad with Spiced Yoghurt

400g of cooked whole chickpeas (if using canned, wash numerous times and drain liquid)
1 green onion/shallot, sliced into thin rings
1 punnet of cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 small cucumber, deseeded and chopped into small cubes
1 small bunch of parsley leaves only, chopped coarsely
2 baby pink radish, cut into small cubes
2 tbs pomegranate seeds
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs lemon juice
½ tsp salt
Spiced yoghurt:
½ cup thick Greek style yoghurt
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp minced garlic
½ tsp salt
½ tbs olive oil

Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl and mix well to ensure olive oil and lemon juice have coated the vegetables.

In a separate bowl, combine ingredients of the spiced yoghurt dressing and mix well.

Assemble salad on a large platter and spoon yoghurt over salad.