Worldwise: Mediterranean Cooking Expert Suzy Karadsheh’s Favorite Things

Hailing from the bustling coastal Egyptian city of Port Said, just a boat ride away from Italy, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and elsewhere,
Suzy Karadsheh
is a daughter of the Mediterranean.

Karadsheh’s journey led her to the Atlanta area, where she oversees The Mediterranean Dish, a popular food blog that receives millions of monthly visits. 

“Growing up on the Mediterranean, coupled with my parents’ love for hospitality, instilled in me a passion for cooking and sharing. I grew up visiting the local markets with my father, where I spent a lot of time meandering the busy narrow streets talking to merchants and smelling, touching, and learning about what was in season and the best fish to buy,” Karadsheh says. 

Karadsheh brought her love of Mediterranean cuisine with her when she moved to the U.S. at age 17. After completing her education, she embarked on a career in corporate marketing and fundraising which took her around the globe.

“The food I cook today carries a lot of influence from the Mediterranean kitchens I spent time in, but also from my own travels, and from experimenting as a busy home cook,” Karadsheh says. “The food I cook has big, bold flavors with simple, wholesome ingredients. Some of my favorites are still the Middle Eastern street foods of my childhood, like
falafel,
pita, and shawarma.”

Everything came full circle after Karadsheh’s daughters were born and in late 2014, she launched The Mediterranean Dish to showcase modern Mediterranean recipes and eating habits—just don’t call it a diet, says Karadsheh. 

“I personally prefer to call it ‘the Mediterranean way of eating,’ because the word ‘diet’ comes with certain expectations and a list of do’s and don’ts. We’re not talking about a diet that has you following a rigid set of rules, counting calories, and depriving your body of certain food groups and much-needed nutrition,” Karadsheh says. “The Mediterranean diet is a well-balanced eating pattern that focuses on wholesome ingredients.”

Karadsheh, 43, lives in the Atlanta area with her husband and two daughters. She recently spoke with Penta about her favorite things.

My favorite things to cook and drink right now are… I’ve been cooking more vegetarian dishes lately. I’m making quick breakfasts-for-dinner items like shakshuka, menemen, or putting together a Mediterranean board of favorite things like falafel, hummus (or avocado hummus for a fun twist), tabouli, baked feta…I just love raiding my fridge for veggies, dips, and small bites to serve with warm pita bread.

The one thing in my kitchen or fridge that I can’t live without is… my cast iron skillet. It gives me the best results for searing meat, chicken, and fish, and cooks things evenly. It’s not a high maintenance item and mine is very durable, I’ve had it for 15 years.

My favorite restaurant in the world is… 
El Borg,
on the shores of the Mediterranean in my birthplace of Port Said, Egypt. It was a casual local restaurant that my family frequented, and at the time it was located just a few feet from the shore (it has since been relocated). I remember vividly they had a section in the back by the kitchen where the cooks kept bins upon bins of freshly caught fish and seafood. We got to select what fish we wanted to eat, and we also got to select the preparation method—grilled, fried, breaded, in a saucy tagine…whatever we wanted, they prepared it to order and brought it out sizzling hot, accompanied by a number of fresh salads and lime tahini sauce.

The best book I’ve read in the last year is… I’ve been bingeing
Ruth Reichel’s
books. The last one I read was Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table. She is just an amazing writer, and vividly describes food and her stories.

The one trip I’ve taken that I would love to do again… I’d love to go back on the trip we took to Turkey and Greece. I loved how the two cultures really revolved around family and food, and I was especially excited about the mom and pop shops that have a way of surprising you with meals so humble and flavorful. I’d also love to go back to Upper Egypt (Luxor) on the Nile. I took this trip as a child. It really focused on ancient Egypt and its rich history, but now, I’d love to go back and spend more time with the lovely people of Upper Egypt.

The thing that gets me up in the morning is… coffee for sure! But, I do truly wake up every morning happy that I have a job where I am able to create. Whether it’s a new recipe, working on my forthcoming cookbook, or filming a video, I live to create resources that will be helpful to other people.

My favorite pandemic-era binge watch was… I watched Samin
Nosrat’s
Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix probably a dozen times. I loved it and was mesmerized by her, and it was so refreshing to see her approach to food and the different destinations she visited. Some parts were very relevant to my work, like her trip to Italy. She made this focaccia, the whole process and all of the [extra virgin olive oil] is insane but so good!

The most unusual food I’ve tried was… the oddest thing I remember eating is Kebda Iskandarani, or Alexandrian liver sandwiches. They are stir-fried liver sandwiches prepared Alexandria-style with a tangy marinade and shatta (hot peppers) and finished with tahini sauce. They are served either in pita or soft bread rolls. I’m not a liver gal, but Alexandria liver sandwiches are a unique, hyper local experience that the majority of Egyptians are familiar with and enjoy.

The chef I most admire is…. 
Samin Nosrat
! We all know her, but she is probably the best food teacher you’ll come across if you’re trying to learn techniques and learn to cook without a recipe. I love her unassuming approach and she’s super authentic and refreshing.

At my fantasy dinner party, the guests would include… Samin Nosrat,
Yotam Ottolenghi,
and
Michelle Obama.

My idea of a perfect meal is… mezze! Lots of small different dishes that are vibrant and full of color. Ideally there are a dozen people at the table gathering and sharing.

A person who inspired me to do what I do is… my dad, although he is no longer with us. My initial love for food comes from him, he took me on trips to the
souk
and we would pick the best produce, and he taught me how to tell if fish is fresh. He would take such joy in seeing me pick the produce and ask for his opinion. He got me excited about ingredients.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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