Fida Milki for years had been a health-conscious home chef and enjoyed cooking for friends and family at her Palo Alto house. But until recently, the most she'd showcased her culinary skills had been to donate meals to school fundraisers at the former International School of the Peninsula, now the Silicon Valley International School, where her children attended.
Her daughter encouraged her to start an Instagram page at the onset of the pandemic to showcase her cooking, but Milki was resistant at first. Eventually, with encouragement from her daughter and from a niece who lives overseas and helps women build businesses, she agreed to try it out, launching the Instagram account Fertayket Fida.
Her recipes and beautifully presented food photos were a hit on the social media platform. She drew inspiration for her plating from long walks around Palo Alto, picking up locally grown and seasonal flowers to decorate her dishes.
Last year, she released her first cookbook, called "Recipes for Every Day," and just released an e-cookbook of recipes for the new year themed around detoxing from the holidays. The cookbook, "Detox for Every Meal," is available for purchase online and includes smoothies, soups, main courses and desserts.
"All these recipes are like my babies," she says.
Growing up in Lebanon, her mom did most of the cooking. When Milki got married and came to the U.S., she didn't know how to cook anything, she says.
As a newlywed, she recalls making a special trip to the Sharon Heights Safeway in Menlo Park, near where she lived at the time, to make one of her husband's favorite dishes, a white bean stew with chicken. But by the time she'd followed the recipe, she found the beans had more or less melted, losing their shape and leaving only chicken chunks behind. It took time and experimentation to become a better chef, but her skills slowly grew.
Today, she's an avid cookbook collector and regularly finds inspiration from books by Yotam Ottolenghi and the Barefoot Contessa's Ina Garten, looking for ways to take their recipes and twist them to be more health conscious, she says.
Milki also draws upon her multicultural background in her cooking. She studied language and translation in college and met her husband, a local doctor, in Lebanon through mutual friends. She still visits there most summers and uses Lebanese and French influences to inspire her dishes, which place an emphasis on nutrition and healthy eating.
Two years into building up Fertayket Fida, she has no plans to slow down, she says. With her latest e-cookbook now published, she's dreaming of writing a cookbook that draws on her mom's recipes from Lebanon.
"Don't be afraid to attempt to cook," she says when asked how home chefs can build on their skills. "It's not scary. A few times you will fail, and then you will be cooking over and over, and it will become a pleasure."
"You can always find some time to cook," she adds. "Home-cooked (meals) are better quality and healthier ... you know you are eating something healthy."
Coconut quinoa salad
1 cup rinsed quinoa
2 cups coconut milk
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves
1 cup greens, your choice
Crumbled feta or goat cheese to taste
2 tablespoons toasted chickpeas*
Salt and pepper to taste
In a small pot, mix the rinsed quinoa with the coconut milk and 2/3 cup of water. Add salt and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat and let simmer covered for 20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
Transfer to a serving bowl and top with the cucumber, pomegranate, avocado, mint, basil, goat cheese and chickpeas. Toss together and enjoy.
*To toast the chickpeas, heat the oven to 400 F. Spread the chickpeas on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with avocado oil, paprika and zaatar to taste. Roast for 20 minutes until crispy.
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