It is quite difficult to be a vegetarian in Egypt. But even if you get food without meat, it is often extremely heavy which is not the type of food vegetarians prefer.

Mai Ahmed (مي أحمد) had often been annoyed about not getting vegetarian food in Cairo – and therefore decided to solve the problem herself: by writing a cook book for vegetarians.

It is called 20 Shades of Salad and features 20 vegetarian recipes – based on the delicious everyday Egyptian cuisine.

Mai is thirty years old and lives in Cairo. She works as a professional data analyst and runs her own baking start-up. She literally “designs” cakes. Mai loves cooking and baking. During Ramadan, she is known for cooking meals for the needy so that they can also have Iftar (إفطار رمضان) with their family and loved ones.

How do you call a vegetarian in Arabic?

Many native Arabic speakers just use the English terms vegetarian and vegan. In Arabic newspapers, you may come across the following two terms:

vegetarianنَباتِيّ
vegan (lit.: absolute, mere vegetarian)نَباتِيّ صِرْف

Interview with Mai Ahmed

I have conducted the following short interview with Mai. She tells more about her recipes and the daily struggle of being a vegetarian in Egypt.

Mai, when and how did you discover that you are a vegetarian?

Mai: My favorite dish was Rokak (رقاق) which basically are filo layers stuffed with minced meat. Later I was trying different diet plans to see what suits me and when I tried vegetarian food I simply loved it. I found it easy to prepare and it was perfect for my digestion system. I suddenly felt light and happy.

Is life easy for vegetarians in Egypt?

Mai: Well, it is quite challenging. The most difficult thing is having dinner outside! I mean, okay, in every restaurant there’s salad and you can order it but it is hard to get a “real” vegetarian dish. Only few restaurants offer a menu for vegetarians and vegans. It is usually expensive.

What about the vegan trend? Is it common in Egypt?

Mai: Yes it’s very common especially among young people.

Why did you decide to write a book?

Mai: I have always wanted to share my recipes. I love cooking. You know, cooking is much more than mixing ingredients. It is an act of love, care and indulgence.

I wanted to make it easy for everybody. Everybody should see how enjoyable, stress relieving and fun it is to cook. Many people have a very hectic schedule. I only created recipes for meals that don’t take more than 20 minutes.

Regarding the ingredients: Is it difficult to cook vegetarian food in Egypt?

Mai: No, not at all! Unlike in some countries, in Egypt, there are many types of vegetables in every season.

Would you call your recipes “Egyptian”?

Mai: Yes, and that is why I made this book. I want to introduce Egyptian cuisine to my readers and show them how tangy and zesty dishes could be! And I wanted to show vegan and vegetarians new flavors: our Egyptian flavor. I noticed that many foreigners are tired from the stereotypes.

What are typical Egyptian ingredients?

Mai: I mean we eat a lot of garlic and onions. When it comes to spices we always add pepper and cumin. And we add white vinegar and salt generously.

picture credit: Mai Ahmed

Can I cook your dishes in Europe or in the USA?

Mai: Yes, I guess all ingredients are easy to find. I only assume that in some countries it might be hard to find Tahini (sesame paste) so I showed how to prepare it.

Mai Ahmed’s book: 20 Shades of Salad

Mai’s book was born during a busy time in her life. She had a full-time job, house responsibilities, and was running a baking startup

In her book you will find 20 recipes. Mai says that you can create any meal in less than 20 minutes.

You find recipes and ideas for any taste. Some are for hungry people – others are a suggestion for a quick and light snack.

Recipe from 20 Shades of Salads

Where can you buy it?

You can order the e-book directly at Mai’s website:

  • The book costs 15 US-Dollars.
  • Payment by PayPal or credit card is accepted.
  • Language: English.

The 20 most important verbs for cooking in Egyptian Arabic

Mai’s book is written in English. However, it is good to know some verbs in Egyptian Arabic that deal with cooking – just in case you like watching cooking shows on Egyptian television.

Here are the twenty most important verbs in Egyptian Arabic you’ll need when reading a recipe in Arabic:

VERBARABICPRONUNCIATON
toaddيضيفyodef
tobakeيخبزyakhbz
tobeat (eggs, cream)يضربydrab
toboilيغليyghly
tocaramelizeيكرملykrmel
tocarveيحفرyohfr
tochopيقطعyktaa
tocookيطبخyotbkh
tofryيقليykly
tograteيبشرyobshor
togreaseيدهنydhen
togrillيشويyshwy
tomashيهرسyhres
tomixيخلطykhlet
topeelيقشرykshar
tosprinkleيرشyrosh
tosteamيطبخ على البخارyotbkh ala elbokhar
tostirيقلبykaleb
tostir-fryمقلي على السريعmakly ala el sarea
towhiskيضربydrab

Have you ever tried to order vegetarian food in Egypt? What was your experience? What is the situation in other Arab countries? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences and use the comment section!


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