School children flocked eagerly to the Cookery Corner at the 42nd Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), as the fresh aroma of Mussel Saganaki with feta and fennel by Greek chef Marianna Leivaditaki wafted through the halls of the fair.
Curiously asking if mussels were “living things” the crowd of youngsters, mostly from Grade 7 pulled their chairs closer to the demonstration kitchen as Chef Marianna began mixing the fennel and peppers to prepare the traditional Greek dish, native to the Island of Crete.
Preparing the popular recipe she grew up eating, Leivaditaki, author of Agean: Recipes from the Mountains to the Sea, said the dish, usually served as a starter, is considered unique by traditional standards as most chefs prefer not to combine seafood with cheese.
“I wanted to cook Saganaki at the fair because I know people in this region eat a lot of fish, and they also use a lot of white cheese. In this recipe, you can substitute aged labneh with feta and use fresh fish or prawns instead of mussels. Use whatever you can find. Use your sumac, use zaatar, change my recipe using whatever you have in your kitchen”.
Creating recipes that are mostly a fusion between Middle Eastern and Greek food, the London based Chef said she spent three hours walking through the souqs buying a variety of interesting local spices and nuts, as this is her first time in the UAE.
“I love food for what it does to you, what it does to your family, getting togethers, sitting around a table, talking, laughing and gossiping. Cooking is always about people, not the food”.
As the Chef starts crumbling feta into the aromatic mix, the captive audience of children excitedly ask, “Is it good.” Giving the pot a final stir-through, before plating up the creamy mixture, Chef Marianna smiles and says, “It is very good.” Savouring their first taste of Greek food at the Sharjah International Book Fair, the children chat and ask if she is on social media, as they dip a slice of bread into the mouthwatering Saganaki.
Held under the theme ‘We Speak Books, the latest edition of the world-renowned Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) is playing host to 2,033 publishers and exhibitors from 109 nations from around the world, for 12 fun-filled days at Expo Centre Sharjah from 1-12 November 2023.