Ahlam Altaamare on her blog, foodie favourites and hidden talents

We caught up with the founder of Straight-up Bananas for a chat and some fun in the sun

Back in 2013, Ahlam Altaamare started her blog Straight-up Bananas. Ever since, her site has been getting more and more colourful – think Buddha bowl and rainbow couscous recipes that are just as delicious the next day – all driven by her passion for fruit and vegetables. We sat down to talk about her food inspirations (and left her with a few ideas of our own):

What made you want to start your blog?

Well, I love cooking and eating more than anything on the face of this planet, so it just kind of made sense. My husband actually had to explain what a blog was! At the beginning I didn’t think anyone would be interested but three years later here we are.

What do you love most about blogging?

My favourite part about this whole thing, honestly, is when people talk to me, and ask questions like “I’m at the grocery shop, I don’t know what kind of quinoa to get, what would you recommend?”. That’s why I love Snapchat and Instagram Stories because everything is in real time; I live for that stuff – it’s nice to be social. The whole point is that link between brands and the consumer, so it’s nice to be reachable.

What’s the story behind the name?

A lot of people ask me that question. I’d like to say if you get to know me a little bit better you’d understand!

What do you love about living in Dubai?

Oh, a lot of things. I love the fact that every two days there’s a new restaurant so I get to try all these cool new places. I love the fact that we have such international flavours; I’ve tried cuisines here that I’ve never tried before. This city has given me the opportunity to do what I love. The UAE is wonderful in that aspect – I’m a teacher, why am I cooking and doing photoshoots?

If you’re having a cheat meal what would you usually go for?

A really cheesy burrito. I’m salivating just thinking about it. My favourite thing to do is – as sad as this might sound – to go to Kite Beach, go to Taqado, get a burrito and walk on the sand eating it.

Where in the world have you had the most memorable food?

That’s a tough one. Off the top of my head I would say Morocco, Sri Lanka and Goha. In Goha I had this coconut prawn curry that was amazing. In Morocco literally everything tastes good. They’ve got this tagine with lamb, almonds and prunes that’s just incredible.

What is your biggest cooking disaster?

My most recent had to do with the turkey Spinneys sent me for Thanksgiving (it was totally my fault though). After I picked it up I marinated it for three days and it was perfect and beautiful. I then realised my oven wasn’t big enough for the turkey! I had to cut it and smoosh it down so I ended up having to make a turkey chilli. It didn’t even occur to me to check if it was too big in the first place.

What is your signature dish?

Without sounding too narcissistic I’ve got two. One of them is a mushroom risotto that uses bulgar wheat and freekeh (a really healthy Arabian grain). The other is a rainbow couscous bowl.

What is a fun fact that people might not necessarily know about you?

I love to sing jazz – not that I sing anywhere in public, but when I was a teenager I used to sing at school.

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A big believer that food should be quick and easy to make (‘Life’s way too short to spend hours slaving over the stove’), Ahlam came to us for advice on recipes designed for the annual arrival of her young nieces, who stay with her in Dubai during winter break.

The criteria for our food editor Amy was this: the recipes needed to be fresh, fuss-free to prepare and give the gang maximum family time. The results? Gorgeous little lime-ginger chicken lettuce wraps that take just 10 minutes to make, a no-cook recipe for sweet chilli prawn and mango skewers and mini marbled meringues that can be made ahead of a family picnic outdoors.