Nearly a year ago Shaistah Khan (33) was your typical busy South African mom, trying to keep up with the busy schedules and needs of three very different, sprouting bambinos, Eesa (8), Yusuf (5) and Aminah (3).
And then the unspeakable happened. A series of global lockdowns were instated due to the global health crisis Covid-19.
While we understood its necessity in our safety, it did not take away the mundanity of forced quarantine. Especially for a mother of three busy children.
Instead of losing her wits though, the Durban born cooking mom found peace from the noise of lockdown in the kitchen. “Cooking was my stress reliever,” she says.
In 2019 she had started her Instagram page, My Kitchen ZA, using the platform to market meals prepared and sold from her kitchen to clientele in and around Durban.
Like many food businesses battered by the global pandemic, Khan was forced to shut her doors for meal sales. Undeterred in her food passions, she opted to share recipes for the meals her clients loved.
‘Everything I do is obviously for my own family and I make sure that it is full of love.’
“I needed to share my passion; it would have been selfish to keep it to myself.
“I wasn’t providing a food service through deliveries anymore, but when I shared, I was amazed. People really appreciated it. They were happy to make my recipes in the comfort of their own homes, it cost less.”
A career highlight came when cooking luminary Siba Mntongwana reposted a meal Khan prepared. “It was great exposure,” she says.
Cooking is love
While she may never have studied professionally, Khan was only a little girl when she discovered her talent for cooking. She would sit on the countertop while her grandmother, whom she fondly called Ma, rolled roti.
Khan was born to an Irish mother, Nadia, and a Muslim father, and raised in Durban.
“My inspiration comes from the women in my family, I would sit and watch my granny make roti and these big pots of food.
“Green bean curry automatically takes me into (my grandma’s) kitchen and the smell of green beans wafting through the air. She was a busybody, this tiny little woman who was always busy up and down in the kitchen.”
‘Once I am in the kitchen, I am in my element, the juices just flow.’
“My daughter now sits on the countertop and as I’m busy making something I put a little bit of something on the side for her and she’ll mix it,” she says.
Khan was pregnant with her first son, Eesa in 2013 when she first ventured into the food business helping her mother-in-law, Razia Khan, prepare baked goods including naan and garlic bread for her home industry business.
Given the responsibility of being mother to three, she stepped back. “(Razia) has now opened up two shops. I couldn’t step back completely, that’s why I continued in my own kitchen at home on a smaller scale,” she says.
As she grew older, her mother and mother-in-law became the driving forces behind her food inspiration. “Everything I do is obviously for my own family and I make sure that it is full of love. My son always tells me, ‘Mom, the special ingredient is love.’ He has got that one right.”
The cooking mom of three believes the kitchen could never be as strenuous as people make it out to be. She feels truly at home when she is cooking for husband Husain and their three children.
“Once I am in the kitchen, I am in my element, the juices just flow. It is the one place where I am at my happiest, it is the best escape I can have,” she says.
Feeding her family and seeing the joy on their faces is an added bonus. “Seeing the excitement in them trying something they haven’t tried before is well worth the effort.”
Khan does caution home cooks to stay away from the kitchen when they’re upset. “I make sure I am always happy when I’m cooking, I don’t cook when I am upset because my family is not going to enjoy it.”
Keep it kid friendly
Life before lockdown was mostly sticking to the confines of a tight schedule. The lockdown, she admits, brought a sense of reconnection into her home.
“I saw my children in a different light, I was able to see the personalities come through. I was able to see what made them happy, what didn’t make them happy.
“I got to spend a whole lot more time with my husband, he’s the breadwinner in our family. He used to come home late in the evening and be tired. We got to bond as a unit,” she says.
While cooking for kids can be daunting, Khan does advise mothers to always keep it simple for their buzzing bambinos.
‘I try and make everything a one pot meal, or everything just gets dumped into one bowl.’
“My absolute favourite would have to be the brownies. Also, any meal with chicken, you will never go wrong with chicken,” she says the cooking mom.
A self-diagnosed fussy eater she advises home cooks to explore their palate beyond its limitations. “There is a world of flavours at our fingertips. Food is a universal language, we all understand food, we appreciate food. Don’t be afraid to try new things.”
Always be intentional in what you put on the table. “Cooking with love really means something for me, if you are doing it, don’t just see it as a chore. Set your intentions before you step in the kitchen so you know what you serve will be enjoyed by your loved ones.”