It’s easy to fall in love with Amina El Shafei – her affable and warm personality, infectious and bubbly laughter, and of course, her diverse culinary repertoire will definitely warm the cockles of your heart.

We caught the MasterChef Australia (Season 4) fans’ favourite before she heads off to Indonesia, and boy, were we glad she came here! Her endearing self instantly spread warmth throughout the room; having the chance to watch her cook and savour her food was indeed the perfect midweek pick-me-up.

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Blessed with an Egyptian dad and South Korean mum – and currently living in Sydney, the culinary melting pot of cultures, flavours and fusion cuisine – Amira deftly combines Middle Eastern and Asian influences to produce wholesome and hearty food with a touch of tradition. She says there is no one culture that dominates her cooking; rather her unique parentage has given her the opportunity to draw inspiration from both heritages.

She got us chuckling along with her easily during the interactive session, where she whipped up two Amina Original dishes. Her Sun Dried Tomato, Mushroom and Cream Cheese Pasta was a quick-and-easy dinner that could be done in under 10 minutes, a comforting and rich meal that was good, though slightly lacking in dimension. The Walnut, Vanilla Bean and Cream Cheese Wontons with Oranges and Orange Syrup was a nice sweet and savoury surprise, marrying Eastern and Western influences for an interesting dessert.

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And what’s a MasterChef session without some cooking tips? The lovely Amina gave us a step-by-step rundown of the recipes, during which she shared a couple of culinary quick tips:

  • Pasta – The pasta you choose should reflect the sauce, e.g. for thick sauces, opt for the penne as it is hollow in the middle and able to ‘catch’ more sauce
  • Olive oil– Use EVOO for salads so you can savour the fragrance and fruitiness; go for normal olive oil if you’re cooking as the flavour profile of the oil is not as vital
  • Mushrooms – Mushrooms have a lot of moisture, so cooking them in a wide skillet is best as the moisture then can escape easily and allow the mushrooms to caramelise

Interestingly, she also mentioned that cooked al dente pasta does not have to undergo a cold water bath – unlike what we normally do. Cold water though stops the cooking process will also remove the starch in the pasta, which is necessary to help thicken up the sauce. If the pasta is not cooked in a sauce after, drizzle it with olive oil to stop the starch and gluten from combining and causing the pasta to become stodgy.

At only 28 years of age, Amina has certainly won us over with her positive energy, culinary knowledge and epicurean delights. So with all her gastronomic adventures, what’re her favourite ingredients? Olive oil, garlic… and yogurt! She’s a unique mélange indeed.

Craving for more?

Catch MasterChef Australia (Season 5) on Lifetime (StarHub Channel 514), weekdays at 7pm and 11pm now.