JEDDAH: Saudi grandmother Nijat Abdulmajeed from Jeddah is on a mission to pass on the culinary knowledge and skills she has accumulated during a lifetime of preparing authentic Arab food, not only to her own children and grandchildren but to all Saudis and other people around the world.
Her granddaughter, Shahad Nejaim, said that her grandmother’s cooking has always been an important way in which she shows her love for family and friends.
This was confirmed by Abdulmajeed’s daughter and Nejaim’s mother, Basmah Omair, who said: “Her cooking means home and love to me … and meals are the way we express love in this house.”
After deciding that it would be a good idea to pass on the wealth of cooking knowledge and experience she has gained over the years, Abdulmajeed decided to share her recipes, tricks and tips for making some of the most delicious and authentic Arab dishes not only with her family but with the whole world on Instagram, where she goes by the name @annati_1.
“Anna” is something you call a grandmother, the “Ti” at the end of the word shows possession, Nejaim said that as kids, Nejaim and her cousins would argue saying “she is my Anna, no, she is my Anna.” When deciding the name for her Instagram they decided to make her everyone’s grandmother, hence the name “Annati.”
“We wanted to document her cooking for the grandchildren only but my mom thought that we could pass on the knowledge to the whole younger generation,” Omair said.
“She was the force behind the idea of putting videos on Instagram. She told me that it might work or it might not but we have nothing to lose.”
Abdulmajeed and her family invited a team from Arab News into their home to watch her in action in the kitchen and see how food is an integral part of the loving bond she shares with her children and grandchildren.
Immediately, it was obvious that she exudes an aura of warmth and love that envelopes not only her own family but their guests as well. It was also obviously important to her that her visitors were well fed and understood the value she places on family.
For Arab News she made fatteh bazinjan, a dish that includes eggplant, ground meat, fried bread and yogurt, and is topped with pine nuts and pomegranate. One of the key ingredients is pomegranate molasses, which is a favorite of Abdulmajeed. As she prepared the meal, she encouraged her guests to sample the individual ingredients to understand each element before they all came together in the finished dish
Abdulmajeed said that through the years people had often told her that she should write a recipe book or make a cookery show.
“But at that time I was busy with my life and children,” she said. “Only now have I got some time in my life and have begun sharing my recipes on Instagram.”
She said that she most enjoys making savory Arabic dishes but also dabbles in desserts and other cuisines from around the world.
Abdulmajeed revealed that when she moved to the US for the education of her children she was determined to ensure her children remained connected to their roots and culture, including its cuisine.
“So, I started making everything at home, by myself, from scratch,” she added.
Her daughter and granddaughter agreed that many of their most cherished memories of Abdulmajeed revolve around food: The meals their “Anna” cooked for them, or being in the kitchen with her and learning how to cook.
“One of my favorite memories is from when we were living in the US and my father would open our door to anyone who was a student, or was living without their family, to come for futoor (iftar), so it was an open-house invitation,” said Omair.
Nejaim said that she loves Arab cuisine.
“For others, comfort food might be mac and cheese or fries; for me it’s anything with dibs rumman (pomegranate molasses) in it,” she added. “(My grandmother’s) dishes are like when you want to hug someone and you can’t give them a hug, so you go to the kitchen and try and recreate the feeling.”
She said that the experience of learning how to cook from her grandmother involved a process of unlearning what she thought she knew and learning to trust her instincts.
“I was really precise, as I liked to bake, but she just refused to let me use measurements and instead encouraged me go with my gut feeling,” said Nejaim.
“So, it was a learning curve for me. It was a very special experience. It was beyond a culinary experience; I feel like I was getting a piece of her that I will keep with me and hand it down to my own children.”
Abdulmajeed said that Arabic food can take a very long time to cook and many young people don’t like spending that amount of time on preparing food.
“I try to tell them that there are ways in which you can prepare in advance that help cut down the time, and when you come home tired you can make it for yourself,” she said.
Looking to the future, the family plans to organize online classes especially for younger people to teach them how to prepare ingredients in advance and make the cooking process easier.
“I am enjoying sharing (my mother) with the world,” said Omair, her eyes filling with tears. “I think she deserves to be acknowledged for the mother she is and the knowledge she has. When you have the knowledge, you can’t just hold on to it.”
Beyond her cooking tips, Abdulmajeed has some other important advice to pass on to families.
“I gave my whole life to keeping my family close to me and being the best mother and grandmother I could possibly be,” she said. “I became their friend and I have no regrets about devoting my life to my children. I think that family should always be a priority.”
Omair said another important lesson she learned from her mother is that it is never too late to start something new that one is passionate about and that it is important stop being a perfectionist and not be afraid to take risks.
“Being with my mom has allowed me to enjoy what I want to do instead of waiting until I absolutely knew that the outcome would be perfect,” she said.