Straight-up quick, easy and healthy plant-based eats with a side of travel
Author: Straight-up Bananas
Hi, I’m Ahlam! Lover of all things food and self-diagnosed food-recycling addict.
I started Straight-up Bananas about 3 years ago as a place to store and share my recipes with friends and family, focusing on straight-up simple, wholesome and clean eats. My Palestinian and Puerto Rican background means I get to create foods that have a Latino-Arabic feel—but always with a clean twist.
This week, Sophie from Vergingonvegan and I teamed up for a mystery ingredient challenge. We each asked our audience to recommend 4-5 ingredients that they’d like us to use, and we’ll come up with two separate vegan recipes. And I’ll tell you right now, it was actually a lot more challenging than I thought it would be.
The ingredients that were chosen, were: chickpea flour, almond meal, nutritional yeast, and lentils.
Sounds simple enough, but trying to think a little bit out of the box, and fighting off that urge that you have to just go for the recipes that are tried and tested is harder than you would think.
Finally, I settled on a recipe that I hope would do my Puerto Rican family proud. Empanadillas also known as empanadas. Which literally translates to wrapped stuffing in bread or dough. It’s a dish that almost every Latin-American country has a variation of, and Puerto Rico is no different.
It’s a dish I grew up helping my mother and grandmother cook, and a dish I loved to eat. Traditionally, it’s made either with a meat and onion filling, or stuffed with a potato mixture and deep fried in oil. I decided to find a way to utilize the ingredients given to me, but also make it a little cleaner.
And because in my house, empanadas are usually always eaten with Tobasco sauce, I decided to make a spicy version of my mother’s sofrito. Sofrito is basically the base flavor that’s used in all Puerto Rico dishes. I have distinct memories of my mother in the kitchen, whipping up a quick batch of her sofrito–a medley of green peppers, cilantro, lemon, onions, and garlic blitzed up to make a paste. Then, when you’re cooking (literally anything), you add some oil to the pan, cook off some sofrito till the house smells like heaven, and then add whatever it is you’re cooking.
So here’s how I made it:
1 cup of chickpea flour
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1/4 cup of melted coconut oil
1/4 cup of nut milk/water
A pinch of sea salt
2 medium-sized sweet potatoes
1 cup of red lentils
5 cloves of garlic
1 spring onion
3 tablespoons of smoked paprika
1 tablespoon of sweet paprika
1/4 cup of nutritional yeast (this is totally optional)
1/4 cup of almond meal
Sea salt to taste
Chopped yellow bell pepper (half a bell pepper)
1 spring onion
Half a green bell pepper
The juice of 1 lime/lemon
2 teaspoons of tahini sauce
Half an avocado
1/2 clove of garlic
2 teaspoons of water
Here’s how to make it:
Start by making the dough. Mix all the dough ingredients together and knead until it becomes well incorporated and a tacky to the tough (not too dry or too wet). If you feel the mixture is still too dry, add more milk or water (A LITTE BIT AT A TIME). Then, cover with beeswax paper/cling film and set aside at room temperature and start with the filling.
For the filling, I started off by peeling the sweet potatoes, dicing them relatively small, and boiling them in water until they were soft enough to mash with a fork.
In a separate pot, I boiled the red lentils until they too were tender enough to mash up.
In a large bowl, I added the sweet potatoes, lentils, almond meal, sea salt, nutritional yeast, and paprika and mashed the mixture with the back of my fork until they became a nice, smooth mixture.
Then, in a pan, I fried the garlic, cilantro, and onion and added them to the filling mixture.
Set the filling aside and let it cool off a bit, while you work on the dough again.
Set your oven to 200C and allow it to preheat while you make the dough.
On a clean surface, roll out the dough as thin and uniform as possible — always making sure to flour the surface and your rolling pin so that it doesn’t stick.
Then, with a small plate, place the plate on your dough and cut a circle around it, saving all the scraps.
Grab all the scraps left, knead them a bit again and roll them out to make another empanada.
Put about 3 large spoons of the filling inside the circle of dough, fold to one side and shut using the back of a fork.
Place the empanada on a baking sheet, brush with coconut oil and bake for 20-25 minutes, until they get nice and golden brown.
While the empanadas are baking, it’s time to make the sauce.
In a container, add all the sauce ingredients and using a hand blender, blitz them all together till nice and creamy.
Allow the empanadas to cool a bit before you eat them, and dust some paprika on top.
The recipe sure does sound more complicated than it actually is. And it sure did take me a lot of trial and error to get the dough right. But it’s worth it to be able to see a plant-based, cleaner version of one of your childhood favorite flavors.
Here’s why I love Instagram, you follow people for months, years or even a day or two and one day all the stars line up perfectly so that you meet and it’s like you’re old friends catching up over a cup of coffee. Or at least that’s how it was when a couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting one half of the dynamic duo that is SweetPillar.
They were in Dubai for a few days, and Deana reached out. We met up for what was supposed to be a morning cup of coffee at Mirzam the chocolate factory, and it ended up turning into a coffee, chocolate, lunch, dessert, coffee, beach, and art gallery roaming day. It was like meeting up with cousins that I hadn’t seen in a while – so natural, so organic, and so friggin hilarious, man. And I really do feel that if I ever find myself in New York or California, I’ve genuinely got people to visit.
But since we only got to meet for a day, we promised ourselves that we’d have a little cyber get-together to try each other’s recipes and boy am I glad I came across their Cinco De Mayo Middle Eastern Falafel Tacos recipe.
Here’s why this recipe appealed to me so much. After watching the episode where Phil is in Mexico eating a shawarma-like ‘pastor’ in Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil, I vaguely learned about the culinary history shared between Syrian and Lebanese immigrants to Mexico, resulting in a fusion and new take on the traditional recipes that people have grown to know and love.
Because Deana, Nadia and I are all third (fourth) culture kids, bringing our own history and culture to the table when it comes to coming up with new recipes, a falafel taco recipe feels just right.
A warm, crunchy-at-the-sides wholewheat pita bread, topped with a smoked-pepper hummus, crunchy falafel, pickled onions, creamy avocado and a nice cilantro tahini dressing, I mean…come onnnn.
A can of organic chickpeas, drained
2 cloves of garlic
Cilantro to taste
1 medium-sized red onion
1 tablespoon of cumin powder
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
2-3 tablespoons of oat flour (depending on how wet the mixture is)
*based on the recipe from Minimalist Baker
1 can of organic chickpeas, drained
3 tablespoons of tahini sauce
The juice of a lemon
Half a clove of garlic
1 smoked red pepper (canned works fine)
Toppings (everything here is optional, and based on your falafel sandwich preferences):
Pickled red onions (pickle the onions by slicing them, and leaving them in some apple cider vinegar and sea salt for a few minutes)
Sliced cherry tomatoes
Wholewheat pita bread
Tahini Side Sauce:
3 tablespoons of tahini sauce
A handful of chopped cilantro
The juice of half a lime/lemon
And a littttttle bit of water to dilute it.
How to Make it:
I know the ingredients may seem like a bit much, but once you get the hang of the flavors and what goes with what, it’s a lot simpler than it seems. The beauty of dishes like this is, there are no rules — just build up, or build down the flavors whichever way you like and practically anything goes.
First, make the falafels by sticking all the ingredients in a food processor except for the olive oil. Make sure to gradually add the oat flour, depending on how wet or dry your mixture is. The falafel mixture should be dry enough for you to form a ball without the mixture sticking to your hand. If it sticks too much, then it’s too wet, add more flour.
Once the falafel mixture is ready, form it into balls and heat a non stick (preferably cast iron skillet) with enough olive oil to coat the pan and fry the falafel balls on medium-high heat, making sure to turn them only once, or they will crumble (since they’re not being deep fried).
In your food processor, mix all the hummus ingredients and blitz until nice and creamy.
With your hand blender or food processor, add the tahini sauce ingredients and blitz together, adding enough water to make the sauce runny and not too dry.
Heat up your pita bread, and start layering the flavors. First, start with some hummus, then pile on the falafel, pickled onions, and all the other toppings you want. I even added some alfalfa sprouts for some extra crunch and nutrients.
There it is, crunchy, healthy and absolutely friggin delicious. This Mexican inspired take on the humble falafel sandwich from the lovely Sweet Pillar Food has everything you’ll ever need.
I know there are a few falafel sandwich puritans out there that aren’t really digging the whole smoked peppers/avocado ensemble, put those rolling eyes aside and give this recipe a try. As Nadia and Deana say in their article:
“As a wannabe food historian, I can’t help but read about the history of food but also pay attention to the present. With the largest refugee crisis in our lifetime happening before our eyes, I cannot help but wonder what will happen to the culinary world in decades to come. As Middle Eastern refugees begin to settle in Germany, Sweden, Greece, the US, Canada and beyond they will bring their culture and their food and merge it together with the local flavors. Call it looking at the glass half full, but I am excited to see what culinary creations are going to happen for the years.”
So I’ve been dabbling with the idea of trying to make my own healthier version of falafels for a while. I’ve been craving a legit falafel sandwich (like they make back home) and I low-key perpetually crave hot crunchy falafels. But what’s a girl to do when your nearest hummus and falafel fix is a good 15-minute drive away? Although I initially started making this dish with the intention of making it sort of a falafel sandwich in a bowl kind of dish, I quickly realized, falafel needed more time to make than I was willing to invest yesterday evening.
And so the hummus sandwich bowl was born. Spiced couscous, pickled onions and red cabbage, crunchy spicy chickpeas with a tahini and parsley dressing — I mean….commmmeeee onnnnn.
This dish is completely plant-based, needs no more than 20 minutes to put together, tastes amazeballs the next day for lunch and tastes really really good…like really good.
I’m going to divide all the different ingredients needed for each part of this dish so that you can add on, or remove whatever you’re not necessarily fond of. Once you learn how to make the dressing, couscous and chickpea parts you can add them to any dish that you like. I make one of them at least once every few days. The dressing is good on any salad, the chickpeas are a perfect plant protein addition to any dish and the couscous is the perfect base for anything.
3 tablespoons of tahini
The juice of half a lemon
A splash of water
Sea salt to taste
For Crispy Chickpeas:
1 can of chickpeas, drained well
2 cloves of garlic
Any Middle-eastern spices you like (I like to use: cumin, cinnamon, paprika, zaatar, dukkah)
The juice of half a lemon
1 cup of wholewheat couscous
Any Middle-eastern spices you like (I like to use: cumin, cinnamon, paprika, zaatar, dukkah)
1 teaspoon of pomegranate molasses
Finely sliced red onion (1 small one, or half a medium-sized one)
Organic apple cider vinegar
Finely sliced red cabbage
How to make it happen:
First things first. Let’s start by pickling the red cabbage and red onion. The reason I liked to pickle raw onions when adding them to salads and sandwiches, is that I feel like the vinegar kind of kills the potent oniony smell. It’s totally your call though.
In a bowl, add the onion and add about 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of sea salt. Toss the onion around to make sure it’s coated and let it sit for about 10 minutes (or as long as it takes you to put together everything else)
In another bowl, do the same thing to the sliced red cabbage. *
Then, on to the couscous. In a container with a lid, add the couscous, olive oil, spices and pomegranate molasses and mix well. Then, add just enough boiling water to cover the surface of the couscous, mix again and close the container with a lid. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and close again till ready to serve.
And now for the chickpeas. In a nonstick skillet (I love my cast iron), heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil (or enough to coat your pan) and add the drained (and dried) chickpeas. Be careful because they will pop around like popcorn while you’re waiting for them to get nice and crispy. In a pestle and mortar, crush the garlic cloves and chili until it forms a paste. Once the chickpeas have started to get some color on them, lower the heat and squeeze some lemon on them, add some sea salt, and whatever spices you like. Then add the garlic/chili mash and cook for about 2 minutes till the garlic gets nice and golden. (I am salivating just typing this)
For the dressing, in your pestle and mortar, bash some parsley until it turns sort of like a paste, add about 3 tablespoons of tahini sauce, add some water to dilute it a bit, some lemon juice and some sea salt. Keep mixing till the dressing gets nice and creamy.
Now it’s time to assemble. You can either mix everything all together, or place the couscous in a bowl, and the rest of the ingredients around it — your call.
*The pickled red cabbage and onions could last in the fridge in an airtight container for a good 3-4 days. They’re delicious in salads and sandwiches and really good for your gut.
It may seem like quite a few steps, but I promise it’s a lot easier than it sounds. It’s tangy, creamy, crunchy, spicy and absolutely friggin delicious. Completely plant based, and takes less than 20 minutes to put all together. You neeeeed to try this recipe (paleez?)
Sometimes, you’ve just got to come to terms with the fact that some dishes won’t look good no matter how much you try to play with the dish. But I just had two bowls, and I am here to tell you that looks are irrelevant, any day of the week.
I recently had this AH-MAZING vegan dhal that my good friend @Verging_on_Vegan made and I haven’t been able to get the taste out of my head. I’m yet to try her dhal recipe at home, but I’ve come up with my own little rendition using everything in my pantry and fridge (grocery day is coming up and it’s time to clean out the fridge).
This dish is a one-pot dish (yay no dishes), it’s vegan, it’s jam-packed with flavor and it takes 20 minutes to have ready and in and around your mouth.
The coconut milk and eggplant make it nice and creamy. The lentils add depth and the chickpeas add that ‘meaty’ flavor that just makes the entire dish.
Lazy Thursday dinners – here I come.
1 large eggplant (or 2 medium sized), chopped into large chunks
1 can of organic coconut milk (I like to use Organic Planet – it costs 7.50dhs at the Farmer’s Market)
2 handfuls of dry red lentils
1 can of organic chickpeas
1 can of tinned tomatoes
3 spring onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic
1 thumb of grated ginger
The juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons of curry powder
2 teaspoons of paprika
1/3 teaspoon of cumin powder
How to make it:
First, put your pot to heat (I’ve used a cast-iron pot I got from IKEA for 130dhs (best purchase ever)).
Add the eggplant and enough coconut oil to coat the pot and let them get some nice color on them. While the eggplant is cooking, chop your onions and garlic, and grate the ginger then add to the half-cooked eggplant chunks. Cook together for about 3 minutes.
Add all the spices except for the sea salt and cook the spices with the veggies for another minute.
Drain the can of chickpeas and add them to the mixture. Mix well.
Then, add the can of tomatoes and the dry lentils and cover the pot letting them simmer together for about 10 minutes on medium-low heat.*
Lastly, add the coconut milk (you be the judge of how much is needed depending on how dry the lentils and eggplants have made the dish).
Add the juice of the lemon, mix well and see if salt is needed. If you’d like an extra kick, add some chilis, chili flakes, or chili sauce.
*Keep an eye on your pot, making sure nothing burns to the bottom of the pot. I find that eggplants and lentils dry up the water in the dish and could potentially get burnt if not watched properly. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
That is it. As simple as can be and unbelievably delicious, hearty and versatile. You could add any veg you think would go well with it…spinach, roasted peppers…etc. This 20-minute vegan eggplant and lentil coconut chickpea curry is perfect for a lazy Thursday in, or even after a long-ass day at work.
Give it a try and tell me what you think. Also, arrrrrreeeee you following StraightupBananas on Instagram yet? Me thinks you should be.
Throughout all this craziness of falling in and out of love with Straight-upBananas for the past 4 months, one thing has remained constant. I still love to cook, and I still looooove to eat — it’s just somewhere in the middle, the whole sharing bit that has me feeling a bit confused.
Yesterday’s easy, quick lunch was one of my favorite go-tos when I don’t know what to have, or my fridge is starting to run on low…pasta!
This pasta dish is garlicky, creamy and oh-so slurping good!
Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan or a full-on omnivore, this recipe could be tweaked for any kind of quick lunch, dinner or even breakfast (who are you kidding, we all know at some point we’ve had something not very breakfast-y for breakfast — don’t lie).
Any type of whole-wheat pasta (I like OrganicLarder)
4 cloves of garlic, diced
1 medium-sized eggplant, sliced
2 chopped tomatoes
A splash of apple cider vinegar (or a squeeze of lemon)
Sea salt and pepper
1/4 cup of olive oil
Chopped dill, basil, or thyme (whichever you like best, or have in your fridge)
A sprinkle of good-quality crumbled feta cheese (if not vegan)
Here’s how to make it
First, make sure you put about 2 liters of water with a nice amount of sea salt to boil for every two portions of pasta (the equation for the correct ratio per person still eludes me. That photo up there was enough for about 3 people, but I ate all of it…alone.)
Second, in a large pan, dry fry* (no oil) your eggplant till it gets nice and nearly charred.
Then, add your olive oil to the eggplant, and fry up the garlic till nice and golden. Then, add the tomatoes and vinegar or lemon and let the tomatoes stew up nicely and medium-high heat.
To the boiling water, add the pasta and cook as the instructions direct (usually about 7-9 minutes).
Add some of the starchy pasta water to the sauce in your saucepan and cook for a few more minutes with the sauce till it get’s nice and creamy and reduces. Add the dill to the sauce.
Drain the cooked pasta, and add it to the sauce and mix well.
Then, serve the pasta with its sauce, and taste it. Add salt and pepper (keeping in mind that your feta cheese will add a dimension of salt to the dish. So do not overdo the salt).
Serve in a plate and crumble some feta on top. If you’re feeling extra frisky and have the time, you could even add some chopped up Greek Kalamata olives to the sauce (again, watch the salt).
*The reason I like to ‘dry’ fry my eggplants is that eggplants tend to act like a sponge when it comes to absorbing oil or water. When you sort of toast them in the pan, they cook through without absorbing the olive oil–making the sauce a lot lighter and less greasy.
I love this recipe. The flavor is so mousakka-ish, but minus the fried eggplants, and the time-consuming assembly. Plus there’s slurpy pasta there, so that’s a win if I ever did see one — no?
Give this recipe a shot, and give me a little shout out. Did you like it? Did you friggin hate it? Either way, I’d love to hear from you.
And since you’re here…why not follow me on Instagram, too?
Something really strange has been going on with my Instagram lately — it seems the algorithms have changed (again) and smaller pages such as mine are lagging behind (again) unless they pay to have their posts boosted — sucks for me and my numbers, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop posting my recipes and photos; even if it’s only little ol’ me looking at them.
Ladies and gents, I give to you this beautiful plant-based chocolate tart with fresh figs on top. With no added processed sugar, this decadent beauty is the perfect chocolate fix and the best thing is…you could even have it breakfast if you felt like it.
It takes about 30 minutes to put together and about 2 hours to set in the fridge/freezer.
Here’s how I made it:
1 cup of date paste (alternatively, you could soak about 20 dates in warm water, pit them and make into a paste in your food processor)
1 teaspoon of organic coconut oil
1 cup of rolled oats
1 cup of salted pecans (you use any kind of nut you like)
1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon of vanilla pods
1 teaspoon of ginger powder
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of almond butter
2 ripe bananas
1 ripe avocado
1/3 cup of tahini paste
1/4 cup of date syrup
2 tablespoons of honey
1 teaspoon of vanilla paste
1/3 cup of organic cacao powder
A pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
Any fresh fruit you’d like.
Cashew cream (optional)**
The method to my madness:
First things, first. In your food processor, process the oats, cinnamon, ginger, and pecans into a fine flour.
Then, add the dates, honey, almond butter and vanilla and process all together until it forms a dough-like ball.
Take out the crust dough and with your hands knead it until it becomes nice and sticks together.
In a serving plate lined with wax paper, form the ball into a circular crust (or whatever shape you’d like) using your fingers and pressing down firmly. I created a little pool-like dough so the chocolate doesn’t pour out.
Place the dough in the freezer to firm up as you make the filling.
In a food processor (sorry, you’re going to have to clean it:)), throw together all the filling ingredients and blitz until it’s nice and creamy — taste it and see if you need to add anything (more honey, more cinnamon…)
Pour the filling mixture into the dough and put back in freezer to set (for two hours), or overnight in the fridge.
To top, you could make a simple cashew cream by placing 1 cup of raw cashews into a bowl with boiling hot water on top and let sit for two hours. Then blitz all together with a hand blender. I like to add two tablespoons of honey, vanilla paste and a little squirt of lime.
That’s it. Super simple. Super healthy. Super beautiful. No nasty processed additives that’ll have you feeling terrible after, this plant-based chocolate tart is just what I needed this hectic Sunday!
About 4 years ago, I caught the travel bug and boy did I catch it bad. As I planned my honeymoon to the Greek islands, with little to no experience booking a trip, I pleaded for help on a Facebook page. Random strangers came to my aid and quite a few of them recommended I reach out to the lovely ladies of Pomalo Travel – the designers of custom-made travel itineraries specifically based on your preferences.
Fast forward 4 years, the best honeymoon anyone could ever ask for, and 20 countries later, I found out that I was actually their first client to make a booking through their website. And because life is funny like that, they wanted me to also be with them on their first ever female-only hosted trip to one of my favorite countries on the face of this planet, Nepal.
Having been there once before and having absolutely fallen in love with the beautiful nature (think views of rolling mountains, spectacular sunsets, and out-of-this-world sunrises), warm people, interesting history, and food that you won’t mind packing on some kilos for. I was super curious to see how Rana and Mona would be able to transform the beautiful, yet humble Nepal I had come to know, with an action-packed, yet luxe trip that I had come to expect from Pomalo Travel.
Although this was a hosted trip, I am by no means coaxed, or paid to give a good account of the experience. This is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Ready?
The kind folks at FlyDubai and Lawrence Travel PR hooked me up with some Business class tickets straight to Kathmandu. So a good nap, movie, and 3-course breakfast later and we were getting to know our guide Mr. Mahish and heading straight to our first hotel.
A short drive later and we were rolling right into our very own piece of heaven in the bustling streets of Kathmandu.
The staff at Dwarika’s Hotel greeted us with some sindoor powder said to give us good luck and happiness and to welcome us into their home and their country.
We were welcomed by our gracious hosts at Dwarika’s Hotel, shown around the estate, and promptly taken to our room to recharge and get ready to hit the streets of Kathmandu.
I was taken up to my suite and was instantly gob-smacked. I could already tell this was going to be a totally new experience of Nepal. The suite was so luxurious, I could’ve spent the entire holiday just lounging in the sandalwood-smelling sheets, taking in the skies of Nepal from my window.
But then again, how could I rest when there was so much to see, explore and, most importantly, EAT. Equipped with my camera, rain gear, and curiosity, I was ready to explore Kathmandu Durbar Square with Mona, Rana and our group.
Having visited Kathmandu Durbar Sq. in late 2014, I was almost moved to tears to see just how much of the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage site was destroyed by the infamous earthquakes of 2015.
Built in the 10th century, the medieval ruins of the palaces (Durbar means palace in Nepalese), leave you in awe as you see the past unfold right before your eyes. I was stepping into the unknown with sights of palace ruins, live goddesses, and people flocking for prayers and religious rituals.
After Durbar Sq. we made our way to the crematorium area, where we were able to witness a funeral and cremation procession taking place. A truly unique and very intimate look into the local culture. From afar (as tourists aren’t allowed on the other side of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu Valley), we tried to discreetly and respectfully feed our curiosity.
Then we made our way throughout the temple grounds while Mr. Mahish explained the historical and religious significance of the place. We even got to meet a few Sadhus that offered us their blessings in exchange for alms.
Day 2. Kathmandu
Next morning, it was time for an early wake-up call and a delicious Nepalese/international breakfast Dwarika style before we began our first adventure.
Pomalo Travel had planned a morning plane ride above the Himalayan mountain range and I was giddy with excitement at the prospect of maybe seeing Mt. Everest in all her grandeur.
A sight so beautiful it’ll almost bring you to tears. The cotton-like clouds, the snow-capped mountain range, the giggles throughout the plane as someone sees the peak of Mt. Everest — truly a sight that should be on the top of your bucket list.
Unfortunately, the weather was a bit too cloudy to capture the magnificent mountain range or even Mt. Everest on camera, but I’ve got a few mental images that won’t be leaving me during this lifetime, I assure you.
We were even lucky enough to get a sneak peek of the view from the captain’s cockpit. A beautiful panoramic vista, that kind of leaves you feeling a tinge of jealousy that the staff from Buddha Air get to see these views all the time.
After the sensational views, we were off to a local house to learn how to cook Nepalese food. We got to learn the rituals and eating habits with the chef, his wife and their teenage son — a truly wonderful experience. Spicy potatoes and buffalo meat for starters, a Nepalese Thali dish, and sweet momos for dessert were all on the menu and I was on Cloud 9 the entire time.
Day 3. Pokhara
On the morning of the third day, we jumped on an hour-long flight to beautiful Pokhara – personally, my favorite city in Nepal.
After arriving at the airport, we took a jeep and drove upwards for about 45 minutes till we reached the summit of Tiger Mountain and were greeted with a view that will leave you at loss for words. The highlight of my trip was staying at Tiger Mountain Lodge – Pokhara.
An all-inclusive, secluded estate with the best views all day long and the best Nepali food I think I’ll ever have (I’m salivating just thinking about it now).
After settling in, we then headed to a local school for the Pack for a Purpose initiative that Tiger Mountain Lodge is part of. We packed school supplies, books and other essentials in Dubai and brought them to a local school. We got to meet the students, talk to the teachers and enjoy the walk through the village from Tiger Mountain Lodge to Sri Shiva Shakti School.
Then we headed back to the lodge for a Nepali dinner with views fit for queens.
Day 4. Pokhara
The next morning we woke up just before sunrise to a cup of ginger tea and a sunrise view of the Himalayas. Groggy, still in my pajamas and with a warm blanket wrapped around me like a burrito to protect me from the crisp dawn mountain breeze, I was blown away by the view.
Then we headed to Pokhara town to take a look at the famous Fewa Lake and Peace Pagoda and to take part in a meditation session with our guide and guru.
We took a row boat to the steps of the mountain with a meditation guru and trekked to the top of the mountain to partake in a private meditation session in one of the rooms of the pagoda.
After an adventurous trek to the top, we took our yoga mats and headed to the meditation rooms near the pagoda to learn about our chakras and how to meditate.
Unfortunately, cameras aren’t allowed near the prayer rooms, but I left feeling 10 times lighter than when I arrived.
After our meditation session, we headed to Sarangkot summit for a paragliding experience, soaring above Pokhara Valley and taking in the views from the top that only paragliding could offer.
After our paraglide, we hit the streets of Pokhara for some well-deserved plates of momos and went to explore the fairtrade market filled with pashminas, meditation singing bowls, and handmade ayurvedic beauty products.
Day 5. Dhulikhel
A short hour flight back to Kathmandu and we were on our way to Dwarika’s Resort in Dhulikhel. A holistic retreat perched on the beautiful mountain tops of Dhulikhel. Perfect for chakra balancing, yoga, meditation and spa treatments.
But before reaching Dhulikhel, we stopped on the way at Bhaktapur City (the city of devotees) a UNESCO World Heritage site. A city well-known for pottery, the grand Malla dynasty remnants and the Dhulikhel Durbar Sq.
Little did I know that the ladies from Pomalo Travel had yet another experience in store. They had arranged a pottery class with one of the local pottery masters — an experience I’ve honestly always wanted to try ever since the movie Ghost (Don’t pretend you don’t get the reference, you totally do).We rolled up our sleeves and took a shot at a pottery class.
With Unchained Melody in my heart, it was time to roll up my sleeves (figuratively) and get those wheels spinning (literally).
After the oddly soothing pottery class, we had a few hours to have lunch (more momos, yes!) and purchase some local goods, roam the ancient streets, strike up conversations with locals and just take in the beautiful durbar square.
There is no greater testament to the patience, resilience, and pride the Nepalese people have for their country. All around the country, 2 years later, and the people are still working together to revive their heritage. A medley of beautiful memories of what once was, and the possibility and strength the future holds for the people of Nepal.
After exploring, we headed back to Dhulikhel to unwind.
Dwarika’s Resort is a wellness retreat that has different activities included in the price (and others paid separately).
There’s an organic farm on the estate and you can take a cooking class with the in-house chefs — starting from picking the fresh produce and ending in enjoying a delicious meal.
There’s a meditation area with 7 rooms, each signifying one chakra. You start at the first room, meditating into the first chakra and slowly make your way up to the 7th with the meditation guru.
There’s a Himalayan sea salt room filled from top to bottom with salt, buddhist chants, drinking water and dim lighting — all perfectly set up to ease your breathing, and help you meditate and unwind.
A fully-equipped spa is available on the estate with professionally-trained ayurvedic messeuses.
And if you’re lucky, you could even catch a glimpse of the some of the wildlife surrounding the resort.
The perfect season for Nepal is right around the corner this October, and I wouldn’t have any one else help plan the trip.
The ladies from Pomalo have gone from being the driving force behind making my honeymoon the most wonderful experience of my life, to becoming friends I hope I can keep in touch with for years to come.
They are thorough, thoughtful and leave no detail to chance — always resulting in a trip that is nothing less than perfection.
In Croation/Dalmatian, the word Pomalo means to ‘go with the flow’ or ‘not to worry’, and there is no name better for these two — they do all the worrying for you, so that you’re always able to ‘go with the flow’.
Rana, Mona, Fly Dubai, and Lawrence Travel PR, thank you for making my trip to Nepal a truly unforgettable one.