Hi, welcome! I’m Lidija. If you’ve stumbled upon this blog, you’ll soon find out that it’s all about food and the pleasure it brings to life. I’m always on the hunt for inspiration, and in the process, I hope to offer some in return.
How do you feel when you hear the word mischief? For me, it denotes a youthful energy, a glimmer in the eyes that hints at a touch of naughtiness – harmless of course – that shines within. Put simply, mischief is a playful state of mind.
In fact, this is the very definition of the word MASTI. After spending some slightly mischievous time behind the bar, I can assure you that nothing is closer to the truth.
Located off the shores of La Mer, a chic, urban beach destination in Dubai, MASTI sits in a class by itself. Built across two floors with a wrap around terrace on each level, the space is sprawling, colorful, and merges a hint of old world India with contemporary cool. The cuisine is global and inspired by flavors of India, with a multi-faceted dimension that remains unseen in most traditional restaurants. It’s almost impossible to deny MASTI’s Indian influence, as eclectic flavors pepper the menu. With food as playful as it’s namesake, (think edamame chaat and burrata with chili jam), I would soon find out, its cocktails are too.
I venture up the staircase to the second floor.
I’m met with the lounge, a vast bar area that’s complete with a Gin Room – a hideaway where guests are privy to an extensive collection of gin from around the world.
Vintage crystal bottles sparkle from a distance, while floor to ceiling windows extend the space onto the terrace.
The bar, curved and carved of wood, is cozy enough to have a conversation amongst friends, yet as open and as welcoming as MASTI’s bar and service team.
Striking interiors aside, what intrigues me the most about MASTI is quite literally, the elephant in the room. Epic in stature and made of artisanal stained glass, the elephant sits behind the bar, overlooking the rest of us. With vibrant hues of orange, red, yellow, and green, there was something I found comforting by her presence. Perhaps it was because it was my first time working behind the bar that took me to the fringes of my comfort zone. As my nerves got the best of me, I clearly needed lady luck, in the form of an elephant, on my side.
Upon meeting Tauland and Jeet, MASTI’s wildly creative resident barmen, I asked if they should be referred to as bartenders or mixologists. As I discovered, the latter was a term that was hotly debated between the two, and so I steered clear of conflict and stuck with bartender. Both would show me the cocktail ropes as they set off to teach me a lot more than the difference between a jigger and a shaker. I was more than ready to start my apprenticeship.
Our first cocktail, So-olong Ceylon is an elegant and..
Welcome to the first of my Treasure Chest of Chef Recipes. I have been generously entrusted with these coveted recipes by some of the finest chefs in Dubai, and have adapted each dish in the series to flow well in the home kitchen. Whether you are a novice or a pro, I hope you love these dishes as much as I do, and that you have a great time putting your own spin on them!
I had the pleasure of watching chef Benjamin Wan create this octopus dish during my Coya Spotlight cooking session. The octopus tentacle is tender, and the potatoes are rich, creamy, and a bit on the decadent side. Feel free to chargrill the octopus instead of deep frying – I find that using a grill pan or a barbecue adds depth and a great smokey flavor without compromising the original recipe.
1 to 2 large cooked octopus tentacles, recipe below
300g cooked Huayro (Peruvian potato), peeled and cubed (you can substitute any firm boiling potato of your choice)
2 teaspoons aji amarillo purée (susbstitute chilli of your choice, boiled, drained and puréed)
Dried botija olives (optional)
A pinch of bottarga (optional), shaved on a microplane grater
Directions for the Octopus:
Simple method to cook the octopus tentacle: place cleaned octopus tentacles in a pot covered with water and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to medium low – to a simmering boil. Let the octopus simmer for approximately 1 hour (depending on the size, this could take longer) or until very tender. Set aside to cool in its liquid, a couple of hours.
Note – the octopus should be made in advance, even be made the night before, refrigerate the octopus in its liquid until ready to fry or grill.
Directions for the Potato:
Combine the milk, cream, salt, butter, aji amarillo in a pan and bring to boil.
Add to a blender with the potato and blitz until smooth. (If you are a chef with an espuma gun available, then transfer to the espuma gun and charge with 2 gas cartridges. If not, then keep the potato blitzed as it is)
Remove the octopus from it’s cooking liquid and dry well. In a pot filled with cooking oil heated to 190 degrees Celsius, deep fry the cooked octopus tentacle until crispy (about thirty seconds). Alternatively, you can grill it on a hot grill or frying pan – approximately 4 minutes.
Cut the octopus tentacle into 6 pieces.
Add the puréed potato (or potato foam if using an espuma gun) to the center of a bowl, place the octopus on top.
With a microplane, shave the bottarga over the dish, and season with chopped dried botija olives and smoked paprika.
One of the things I love about Ramadan is the stillness that takes over the city, when you can literally feel the energy shifting from a fast paced business hub to an almost zen-like retreat. While daily life goes on as normal, the significance of this important month is deeply rooted within the people that live here. No matter what your faith is, Ramadan is a time that connects us within our communities, and as a result, deepens the bonds that link us together. In fact, this is the perfect opportunity to reset, realign, and reflect.
The flavors of tradition are something I look forward to long before Ramadan begins. Fasting individuals often break their fast at Iftar at sunset with dates and water before eating something more substantial. Tables are set in abundance to accommodate large gatherings while family and friends share meals.
This is also a time of year that lends itself to the culinary delicacies of the region as nuts, dates, and other seasonal fruit often take center stage in both sweet and savory cooking (I’ll write a separate post on dates soon). My apricot pistachio tart is inspired by these flavors, as well as a similar dessert I had the pleasure of devouring years ago at the Limetree Café in Dubai. Since I absolutely love this vibrant green nut and luscious orange fruit, I’ve found that combining them in a sweet buttery crust results in a sublime tart!
In order to save on last minute prep time, your tart shell can be prepared a few days in advance. I promise you, this pistachio filling couldn’t be any easier to put together. Feel free to use fresh ripe apricots for this dessert if you like, however, I find that canned or preserved work better. Be sure to drain the preserved apricots of their liquid, and pat them dry with a paper towel before placing on your filling.
Apricot Pistachio TartFor the pastryIngredients:
250 grams all-purpose flour
1/8th teaspoon salt
110 grams unsalted butter (about 1 stick), cubed and at room temperature
70 grams icing sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon water
Apricot Pistachio Tart – makes one 8-inch tart (can be made into 6 individual 3-inch tarts, baking time may vary)
First, put your flour in a large bowl and combine with salt. Lightly combine all the dry ingredients together. Set aside.
Meanwhile, put your butter, sugar, and salt in another bowl and mix the ingredients until just combined using an electric mixer. Add the eggs and mix until just combined. Do not overmix. Gradually add half the flour mixture, and pulse to combine. Add the water with the remaining flour. Pulse until the mixture holds together.
Wrap your dough tightly with plastic wrap. Let it rest for thirty minutes, and up to one hour.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celcius (350 Fahrenheit).
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let sit until it is pliable, and roll until approximately 1/8th of an inch thick on a lightly-floured surface.
Carefully place the rolled dough on top of your mould and push the pastry onto the bottom and sides of the moulds. You can use your rolling pin or a blunt knife to cut off the excess pastry on the rim.
Carefully prick the bottom of the dough several times with a fork and line the tarts with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Line the foil with baking beans or rice and bake for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the foil or paper and the beans. Bake the shell for an additional 5 minutes until it is dry. *Remember that your crust will bake again so you do not want to brown it at this stage.
Allow the tart shell to cool completely before filling with the pistachio mixture and apricots.
For the fillingIngredients:
½ cup of ground pistachios, plus a little extra to garnish
A few drops of vanilla extract (optional
½ cup icing (confectioners) sugar
¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 egg yolks
500 grams canned apricots, drained and patted dry; OR 300 grams fresh apricots, seeds removed, and cut in half
2 tablespoons apricot jam to glaze (optional), strained and slightly warm
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celcius (350 Fahrenheit). In a large bowl, beat your butter, icing sugar and pistachios until creamy. Add the vanilla, egg yolks, and salt. Mix until all your ingredients have been incorporated.
Spread the pistachio mixture evenly into your tart shell and gently place apricots on top of the tart. *Make a circular pattern if using a round pan, or place in rows if your pan is square or rectangular.
Bake your tart in the middle rack of your oven for approximately 30 to 40 minutes. Your pistachio filling should be set, lightly browned, and the crust should be golden. Glaze with warm apricot jam, if desired, and sprinkle with chopped pistachios to garnish.
Serve the apricot pistachio tart warm, at room temperature, or even cold!
Behind-the-scenes at BB: Where fashion meets food & design
It was almost the crack of dawn when I arrived at BB. The mood was quiet and still – quite the contrast to BB’s usual vibrant atmosphere. On my way to shoot a culinary spotlight, I soaked up my surroundings as beautiful rays of morning light trickled in through the windows. A serene moment indeed.
This spotlight was rather different from my previous work due to the size of production. It was no longer just the chef, the photographer, and myself. This time, we added a film crew, a hair stylist, and a makeup artist – it was a full-blown dream team!
On BB’s top floor, there stood a rail filled with magnificent clothing just waiting to be slipped on, and of course, swooned over. With exquisite pieces from designers such as Alexander McQueen, Jonathan Simkhai, and Badgley Mischka, it would have been almost criminal to choose only one outfit!
My first piece was a deep burgundy dress by Jonathan Simkhai. I tried it on and set it aside to wear in the kitchen – which left me with two more outfits to play with.
The bar served stilettos in lieu of bubbles, while a full range of sky-high Louboutins took over the counter surface. This was definitely my kind of bar takeover, and I must confess that it made my shoe-loving-heart skip many, many beats!
Every tier of BB reflects a rather unique mood, so it made perfect sense that my outfits did the same.
McQueen’s slick, pencil skirt in the brightest shade of red certainly added a breath of color in contrast to the monochrome tiles. The vibe was almost a cross between ladies who lunch meets CEO – soft and feminine, yet bold and edgy.
One of my most treasured memories as a child was watching my mother make cabbage rolls in our kitchen. I remember how she worked in an assembly line fashion, laying out each cabbage leaf, before stuffing it with a mixture of rice, meat and spices. After rolling the leaves in parcels that were roughly the size of my little-girl-hand, she would add them to a heavy stockpot and let them simmer in fragrant tomato sauce for hours.
Born out of a traditional Serbian recipe called ” sarma” that was passed down from her grandmother, my mother’s cabbage rolls were among my favorite things to eat as a child. They were the epitome of rustic comfort food, and symbolized a culinary ritual that tied me to my heritage. If I have one regret, it’s that I never learned how to make them. Still, the way they tasted and smelled will be forever written in my memory.
Several years later, I had the privilege of meeting someone who knew a thing or two about comfort food. Her name was Umm Mohammed, a lovely Palestinian lady who often prepared traditional Arabic dishes for my husband and his family’s restaurant in Montreal. Umm Mohammed’s cabbage rolls – called “malfouf” in Arabic – took me right back to my childhood. I remember how hers were a lot smaller than my mother’s, more like a cigarillo than a parcel. They were always neat, tight, and filled with aromatic herbs and spices.
While my mother’s cabbage rolls had a distinct Serbian influence, and Umm Mohammed’s were infused with flavors of Arabia, both versions shared the same comfort food factor. Although Umm Mohamed has since passed away, she left behind a legacy of Arabic comfort food within her community, and to those who knew and loved her.
Fast forward nearly a decade to the first time I met a beautiful Indonesian woman named Eti. When our firstborn son was just a few days old, Eti learned that I had been looking for a part-time housekeeper. She knocked on my door, eagerly introduced herself and proclaimed, “you look tired, can I make you some chicken soup?” With a newborn baby nestled tightly in my arms, I was more than happy to accept! Twelve years later, Eti has become part of our family and a person we all cherish. With a heart made of gold, it’s hard not to love her!
Prior to working with us, Eti spent time in Saudi Arabia as a nanny, before working with a lovely Lebanese family in Dubai. It was there that she learned how to prepare authentic Arabic dishes. As my culinary luck would have it, her delicious malfouf stole the show when it came to her cooking. Eti graciously taught me the ins and outs of making the perfect cabbage roll, evoking memories of my mother and how she cooked. Now a staple in my kitchen, I hope that someday, my children will share similar memories of this dish. With Eti’s permission, it’s my pleasure to share the recipe with you.
Tight and aromatic like Umm Mohammed’s, and steeped in a fragrant tomato sauce like my mother’s, these cabbage rolls represent exactly what comfort food is all about. Serve hot or at room temperature, and always, alwaysserve with a lot of love.
Cabbage Rolls – Malfouf Recipe (makes 36 rolls. This can vary depending on the size of your leaves)Ingredients:For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ a small onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic minced
Two large tomatoes, (about 400 grams) grated, or the canned equivalent
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 liter hot water
For the cabbage rolls:
* You will need a large pot filled with very hot water to blanch the cabbage leaves.
½ kg (500 grams) cabbage, leaves removed and roughly cut into 6 inch by 5 inch pieces
½ kg (500 grams) medium fat ground beef
1 cup Egyptian or medium grain rice, washed and drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ small onion, finely chopped
1 small tomato, chopped
1½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons dried mint
1 teaspoon all spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1½ teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 large potato, washed, unpeeled, and cut into thick slices (make sure you have enough slices to line the base of your pan)
Directions:Make your sauce:
Sauté the onion in a tablespoon of olive oil for two minutes until soft. Throw in the garlic, and stir for an additional minute. Add the grated tomato and tomato paste and let simmer for ten minutes. Pour in the boiling water, remove from heat, and keep covered. While the sauce is simmering, start rolling your cabbage.
Blanch your leaves:
In a large stockpot filled with about two liters of barely simmering water, blanch your cabbage for approximately three minutes or just enough time to wilt the leaves (this makes them pliable and easy to roll). You will need to do this in two batches. Remove leaves from water.
Line your pan:
Line a large, heavy bottom stockpot with a tablespoon of olive oil and the potato slices. Set aside. The potatoes are not really not part of the actual recipe, they are there to make sure the cabbage rolls do not stick to the bottom of the pan. If the potatoes happen to be tender and delicious when the cabbage rolls are cooked, go ahead and eat them!
Roll your cabbage:
Mix the ground beef, rice, tomatoes, garlic, onion, nutmeg, dried mint, allspice, cumin, cinnamon, and salt together in a bowl. Lay a cabbage leaf on a flat surface. Spread approximately 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture at the base of the leaf. Roll tightly from the base all the way up to the top of the leaf, making sure the meat doesn’t leak out from the sides. Repeat with the remaining cabbage. *If you come across leaves that are torn or broken, simply take a bit of another leaf and use it as a “patch” to cover the tear and continue to roll. You should also remove any large “veins” that might make rolling more difficult.
It was early January when my husband called to share the news of a new restaurant that had recently opened its doors in the DIFC. There was excitement in his voice, and when I asked what the latest addition to Dubai’s dining scene was like, all he said was “Just walk in and see for yourself.” His tone more than piqued my curiosity – little did I know that a massive breath of fresh air was awaiting my arrival.
With its main entrance hidden behind a cluster Benjamin Ficus trees, BB is a jewel nestled within the DIFC’s concrete jungle. Sky-high ceilings, monochrome tiled floors, and antique mirrors echo refined elegance, while long glass windows dressed in pristine white linen add a feminine edge.
There’s a touch of urban rawness as cascading potted plants sweep against the cobalt blue brick walls. If you were to go to a party at BB, you could easily be sitting with characters from the Great Gatsby to your left and Sheikh Hamdan to your right. Yes, it’s got that vibe.
Visit during the day, you’ll be met with the simple sophistication of the Hampton’s as an infinite supply of light streams in through the windows. Come in during evening hours, and its cool, candlelit discretion reminiscent of a New York loft. Women love it because it is chic, cozy, and oozes finesse. Men love it because it epitomizes cool.