The Food Blogger & Influencer Talks to AM

Gill Sherry

The holy month of Ramadan is a special time for Muslims all over the world. It’s a time when families come together to pray, to practice self-discipline and to show kindness and consideration to others. Fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset and, as a result, the pre-dawn meal (suhoor) and post-sunset meal (iftar) are of particular importance.

So why was there a distinct lack of Ramadan cookbooks?

Thankfully, there are now two such books written specifically with Ramadan in mind: The Ramadan Cookbook (2023) and The Ramadan Family Cookbook (2024) both penned by food blogger and influencer, Anisa Karolia.

Although born and raised in the UK, Anisa can boast both Indian and African influences.

“When I was nine or ten years of age, I used to get involved in the kitchen with my grandmother and my mother. I would ask lots of questions and help with the spices. Indian food is full of flavour and colour… but my grandmother was from Malawi so I learned a lot from her as well.”

Anisa had always loved cooking and baking but it was after having her third child that she began taking it a little more seriously.

“I started baking from home and taking small orders… and also teaching cooking and baking at home. Then one of my friends said: ‘Why don’t you share your recipes on YouTube?’ I wasn’t very confident but I spoke to my husband, Adam, and he thought it would be really good.”

Anisa describes her first few videos as “cringey” but her confidence gradually grew and she continued to share her recipes with a growing number of followers.

“I started sharing mainly Ramadan recipes… savouries like samosas, spring rolls, pastries; things to make life easier in Ramadan to prepare and freeze. And that’s what I became known for.”

She went on to work with brands such as Co-op and Tesco and was soon approached by Penguin who asked if she would be interested in writing a cookbook.

“I wasn’t quite sure whether it was a legitimate email,” she admits, “but my agent said it was and that they wanted me to do a Ramadan cookbook. They had never come across one and when I googled it, I couldn’t find one. So I thought, yes, why not?”

The Ramadan Cookbook was launched in March 2023 and included 80 recipes with the holy month in mind.

“It was a dream come true,” says Anisa, who now has a community of over 240,000 followers. “I’d always wanted to write a book so I took the opportunity and it was amazing from start to finish. It was obviously hard work but it was worth it.”

As a result of the positive feedback and how well the book was received, Penguin asked if she’d like to do a second one. Her reply? “Hell, yes!”

The Ramadan Family Cookbook was released on 18th January this year and includes another 80 recipes ‘for enjoying with loved ones’. The recipes fall within eight categories: Crowd-Pleasing Bites, Make it Healthier, One Pot Wonders, Filling Family Feasts, 15-Minute Snacks, Bake it Easy, Desserts in 5, and Drinks.

For this health-themed issue of Ayrshire Magazine, I ask how important it was to include a healthy eating section in the new book.

“I know people are more health conscious. I’ve seen a shift in the newer generations of cooks and they’re opting for healthier alternatives rather than using heavy oil for 30 days, which isn’t good for anyone. I’ve given people the option to cook savouries using less oil and to make healthier choices without compromising on flavours. Instead of frying, use the air fryer.”

Anisa describes her air fryer as “the best gadget in the kitchen” and says she uses it every single day.

This prompts me to ask if she has a favourite recipe in the new book.

“All of them! But if I was to choose… there is a Lamb Nihari which I absolutely love. It’s rich, it’s full of flavour, it’s really tender meat, and it’s really comforting. It’s soul food.”

And is there one ingredient that she simply could not be without?

“Onions. Without onions I don’t think I could make very much. Most Indian food has lots of onions.”

Although The Ramadan Family Cookbook is heavily influenced by Indian flavours, Anisa insists there is something for everyone. I must admit, I was surprised to find recipes for Classic Smashburgers, Use-It-Up Pasta, Beef Mince Cottage Pie, and Mediterranean Chicken & Vegetables.

“There’s some sweet, some savoury, some healthy, some old-school recipes, some vegetarian dishes, some soups. There is 100% something for everyone… children, students, newly-weds, anyone who wants to give it a go. I’ve had lots of feedback… and lots of messages. It’s really nice, it’s heart-warming.”

Anisa is known for her simple, easy to follow recipes and tries to ensure that people don’t feel intimated when they see a recipe. This is evident in her latest book which includes diagrams showing how to fold samosas and spring rolls. She also adds handy tips such as substituting the dates for blueberries in the Breakfast Banana & Date Muffins, and using white cabbage instead of red in the Creamy Cabbage Corn Slaw.

With recipes such as these, it’s easy to understand why, despite the title, the book isn’t just for Ramadan.

“Both of the books are for lots of celebrations. They are for every day. If you feel like making something, you don’t have to wait for Ramadan or for Eid. In Ramadan, food is just a small part because of everything else like praying, getting close to God, charity… all of that comes along with it, but food does play a part.”

I have no doubt that Anisa’s second book will be just as popular as her first which, incidentally, won the Gourmand Awards 2023 Best Influencer Cookbook of the Year.

Her passion for cooking and baking is clear, not just from our conversation, but from the introduction and the messages in her book. These personal touches are not just inspiring but really bring home the link between food and family.

“Food just gets everyone together!” she concludes.

Instagram: @anisagrams
Facebook: Anisgrams
YouTube: Cook with Anisa