She may not have won MasterChef, but she has certainly been winning hearts.
Leicester based Madeeha Qureshi managed to make it as a finalist on recently aired MasterChef, after impressing judges and critics with her South Asian and Middle Eastern inspired food.
Madeeha didn’t win the MasterChef title, but she won over many fans with her relatable personality.
The mother of three was born in Pakistan however, moved to Saudi Arabia when she was three months old. She moved back to Pakistan at the age of 18, but then came to the UK to study Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and ended up making the UK her permanent home.
We caught up with the high-spirited 39-year-old on her MasterChef experience and what she enjoys cooking during the month of Ramadan.
Fatima Patel: Congratulations on making it as a finalist on MasterChef. What was the highlight or your best moment on the show?
Madeeha: My best moment was when the critics said this is one of the best things they have eaten so far (in the year). I would say that was one of my shining moments in the MasterChef competition.
One of the highlights for me was when you were making the aloo tikki starters and you got a little emotional, despite emotions you cooked a stunning dish. Have you had a chance to watch that episode back, and if you have how do you look back on that moment?
People don’t really know this, but we were given a brief to prepare a five course tasting menu for the Covid lockdown heroes. We had to prepare five dishes and it was down to the judges and the team to choose which one they want to go for. I was the only one who did a vegetarian starter and yes there were lots of emotions attached because they were in memory of 30 odd years of when I was in Saudi Arabia, during the Gulf war. I have seen war, seen peace, the great Arab Spring and the great unrest. For a 39-year-old I would say I have seen more than what my life is.
So, yes, I have tasted all sorts of bittersweet moments in life.
I can understand your emotions, as naturally cooking for Covid lockdown heroes, must have reminded you about being in lockdown as a child living in Saudi Arabia through the Gulf war. Is this why you invest in cooking to see these bitter moments of life through?
The way I see cooking, is a source of meditation for me. It always revolves around memories. Once Greg asked me ‘you’re an emotional cook?’ I said yes! For me food without emotion is just ingredients on a plate. If you don’t pour your love into it, you can’t bring it to life.
I have to relate myself to whatever I cook. Even if I cook daal I have to relate myself to it. Cooking runs in my blood, in my family. Even though I was an only child, I have been brought up in a joint family system, with grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins, and everyone had their own taste. Add to that my dad working in Saudi Arabia, so we had a huge multi-cultural hotch pot and so there was a lot of influence from people all over the world on my cooking and now I want to feed the world.
That clearly showed in the MasterChef episode where you cooked the Hakka Chicken. You took the phrase ‘feed the world’ literally it seems as it was the largest serving ever cooked on MasterChef. It’s a very desi thing to do, to make extra.
(Laughs) Exactly, they didn’t tell me why are you using extra ingredients, they let me do it. It was only when I cooked it, I realised I am just going to be serving two people. We are so used to cooking in a big pot, big meals that reducing it down to two portions is a bit of a mare for me. It’s not easy.
Any plans to open your own restaurant?
I need an investor. If anyone is interested get in touch.
You have had the best of Saudi Arabian street food and also Pakistani street food due to your upbringing, but which for you is the best?
I would say both of the cultures and cuisines have got their own best items. I equally love a pakora or a samosa as much as I love my Saudi street food – any barbecue that they do I really enjoy.
I can’t really pick either one of them because it could be injustice if I picked one.
For me street food, not matter where it belongs is the index of the nations soul. This is how I see it and this is not quoted from anywhere, these are my own words, this is what I think.
They [street food] truly represent the country’s vibrancy and their flavour because street food is something which is readily available. That’ why I am very much into it. It’s easy, it’s fast and kids love it..I love it.
As we are in the month of Ramadan, what’s a typical Ramadan feast in your house?
Generally, I try to serve healthy Iftar’s (meal when you open your fast). As tempting as the oily foods are, it’s not good for you. So, I do Saudi shorba, which is a soup made out of oats and lamb, which goes back all the way to the prophet (peace be upon him). It was one of his favourite dishes as well. It’s very nourishing and tasty. Apart from that I make some mocktails, which are really refreshing.
I do have samosas and pakoras, but small amounts. Suhoor (meal before closing fast) time we normally do oats, fruits and yoghurts. Sometimes we do date molasses – date syrup. It is authentically an Iraqi, Jewish thing. Particularly in Iraq they have the best date syrup in the world, which is very nutritious and absolute joy to eat. Try it with yoghurt and make a sauce out of it, or on ice cream. It’s delicious.
If you want to get more cooking tips from Madeeha then follow her on Instagram @madeehaqureshi_maddieg