Meet Nerissa, one of three foodstylists behind the Makkelijk Midden-Oosters cookbook


We believe that food has the power to create a sense of belonging for people. Food unites, as everyone can resonate with that feeling of eating their favourite meal and sharing it with ones they love. But what remains a reality, is that many people – especially those on the move on the Greek islands – don’t have the means or capacity to access good food which remains imperative for the communities we work with and for.

Our friend Erin Groot Hermsen was inspired by the Kara Tepe campUs' residents after having volunteered with us on Lesvos. Makkelijk Midden-Oosters cookbook was the fruit of that inspiration! 

Today, as we continue to do our best to help enable our communities to access adequate food in a more dignified way, we wanted to to catch up with Nerissa, one of the three foodstylists behind the book, and learn more about her inspiration when it comes to food.

Nerissa knew from an early age that she wanted to be working with food. She has worked as a chef in restaurants for many years and has taken a different path through studying food design and innovation. Nowadays, she earns her living as a freelance food stylist, recipe and food concept developer. In addition, she has become more acquainted with photography and makes table-top photos under the name of her company Whisk Food Studio.

Don't miss the recipes recommended by Nerissa at the end of this interview. All of them are from the Makkelijk Midden-Oosters cookbook, and you can grab a copy by clicking here. All profits from the book will go directly to our mission towards dignity on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Samos and Chios.

MOTG: What does food mean to you? 

Nerissa: Food means comfort and relaxation to me. Both in my profession as a chef and in daily life I love to cook good food, ideally for others. Cooking at home helps me to relax. After a difficult day, it truly helps to take my mind off things. But it also really makes me happy to serve the food and share it with friends.

MOTG: Why have you chosen to pursue a career in food? 

Nerissa: I have been intrigued by food since I was a child, my father loves cooking so it’s probably because of him. From an early age, I loved to bake and make breakfast for the whole family on Sunday morning. And I clearly remember different friends of my family teaching me all sorts of cooking techniques. How to make a good bechamel sauce, or how to cut supremed citrus. Later in my life, there wasn’t a question about it, I had to go to chefs school and learn how to cook professionally. That wasn’t enough, I wanted to learn more about food and started studying Food Design & Innovation. Especially nowadays it’s very important to have other views on how to grow food and how we can change things for the better. It’s crucial for businesses in the food industry to work together with (food) designers because they think differently from farmers or technicians.

Food is super interesting, I have been working professionally with food over 15 years in various fields and I’m still learning something new every week. About spices I never heard of, new flavour combinations, how people view certain recipes or ingredients in different cultures, and lately more about textures and colors of ingredients through food photography.

MOTG: How do you believe food unites?

Nerissa: We can learn a lot from each other, there are actually so many similarities in different cultures. We think we differentiate from each other while I think the opposite is more true. Even if you don’t speak the same language as your neighbour, having a meal together helps understanding one another a little bit better. 

MOTG: What motivated you to work on the Makkelijk Midden-Oosters cookbook?

Nerissa: I wanted to work on this project because I think it’s a beautiful way to raise awareness and much-needed donations for the refugee crisis. I’m interested in different cultures, especially food cultures. I’m very fond of the Middle Eastern kitchen because of the broad range of spice combinations, and also because of the interesting cooking techniques. Loads of people are afraid of using spices, I think because they don’t know the flavours. It’s interesting to see if we can seduce Dutch people to eat Middle Eastern food with simple recipes and show them it’s possible to combine the two food cultures by adding for example new herbs and spices to traditional dishes.

MOTG: Do you have a favourite recipe in the book? If so, what and why?

Nerissa: The Maghli tea is one of my favorites. It’s a tea with different spices and walnuts, surprisingly tasty! In Syria, this tea is served after the birth of a child. The tea has anise seeds in it, and funnily enough, we serve ‘beschuit met muisjes’ here in The Netherlands after a child is born. Which are basically sugar-coated anise seeds. This is also seen as a very Dutch thing, but if you do a bit of research you’ll find that candied anise seeds are popular in India as well. This shows that different cultures are more related than what it looks like on the surface.

The salad of roasted cauliflower with salted lemon and pistachio dressing is also amazing. Even people that usually don’t like cauliflower love this recipe! This is a good example of how to make a seemingly Dutch vegetable tasty in a Middle Eastern way. 

MOTG: What do you hope this cookbook will bring? What is the ambition of the book?

Nerissa: I hope that people will read the stories of the refugees and understand their stories and backgrounds a little bit better. Most of the time it wasn’t a choice for people to leave the country they grew up in, they are forced because of war. 

It can be very inspiring to drink tea or share a meal with our new neighbours, if only to discover we have a lot in common and often share the same challenges in life.

MOTG: How do you view the refugee crisis? Do you think food can play a role to help change the perception of how people view refugees?

Nerissa: I think the crisis will get worse in the years to come and we simply cannot ignore that. With the changing climate, more people will be searching for safer places to call home, simply because it won’t be possible to live in the places they are living now.

All those people from around the world will bring new dishes and flavour combinations that hold magnificent treasures for all of us. What would the world be without all those flavours we have! Think about how this has already changed substantially in the past 10 to 20 years. Could you imagine a life without hummus, sushi or even pizza?

MOTG: What does the future of food hold for you?

Nerissa: Right now my focus is on my new business Whisk Food Studio. We create photo content for sustainable food and drink brands and work together with social enterprises. In the past 1,5 years, I improved my skills to be a greater food photographer and stylist. We’re researching how we can integrate social projects into our business, because we think it’s important to give back to the community as well, instead of only focussing on profit. This could be a project to empower women from different cultures, involving food. And of course, I hope to keep on learning about new dishes and ingredients myself until I’m old while cooking up festive dinners and memories with long friends.

  • Verwarm de oven voor op 190 graden. 
  • Snijd de bladeren van de bloemkool. Verwijder de droge uiteinden van de bladeren. Snijd de bloemkool in dunne plakken van 1 cm dik. Verdeel de bladeren en de bloemkoolplakken over een bakplaat, zorg dat ze -elkaar niet overlappen. Kwast beide kanten in met olijfolie en besprenkel met een klein beetje gemalen komijn. Rooster in de oven in 20 -minuten. Houd in de gaten, het kan zijn dat de bladeren eerder klaar zijn dan de plakken. Haal de bladeren uit de oven als deze bruin -beginnen te kleuren. 
  • Verhit ondertussen een koekenpan en rooster de pistachenootjes voor zowel de dressing als de salade in 5 minuten rondom goudbruin. -Verwijder uit de pan, laat afkoelen en hak grof. 
  • Snijd voor de dressing het wit van de binnenkant van de ingelegde -citroenschil af en snijd de overgebleven schil in reepjes. Doe de reepjes in een maatbeker met de knoflook, gemalen komijn, het sap van de citroen, de honing, walnootolie en de helft van de pistachenootjes en maal glad met de staafmixer. Voeg eventueel walnootolie en een beetje water toe voor de gewenste dikte. Breng op smaak met wat zout. 
  • Hak de dille grof en de peterselie fijn, snijd de blaadjes van de munt in reepjes. Rasp de schil van de halve citroen. Doe de bloemkool samen met de bladeren, dille, peterselie, munt, citroenrasp en de helft van de dressing in een kom en meng voorzichtig. Garneer met de overige pistache-nootjes en serveer met de resterende dressing. 
  • Snijd de gember in plakken. Doe het water met de specerijen in een pan en breng aan de kook. Zodra het water kookt, draai het vuur omlaag en laat 20 -minuten zachtjes trekken. Voor een sterkere smaak laat je de thee langer koken op laag vuur; hoe langer de thee staat, hoe sterker deze wordt.
  • Breng ondertussen een andere pan met water aan de kook. Doe de walnoten hierin en kook 3 minuten, giet af door een zeef en spoel af met koud water.
  • Doe de walnoten in de kopjes en giet de thee door een theezeefje in de kopjes, zodat de specerijen niet in de kopjes terechtkomen.
  • Maak de thee naar smaak zoet met honing of suiker. 

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