13 May 2024  |   06:39am IST

Halima Soudagar’s Middle-Eastern desserts leave a lasting impression

Halima Soudagar’s Middle-Eastern  desserts leave a lasting impression


VASCO: In 2019, when Halima Soudagar returned to Goa after living in Saudi Arabia for around six months, she brought with her a new skill set that took her family by surprise – she could whip up elaborate Middle Eastern desserts that were not available anywhere in Goa.

She was content with treating her friends and cousins to her delectable kanafeh and baklava and would happily spend hours preparing the labour-intensive sweets from scratch for family celebrations and get-togethers. Little did she know that she would be flooded with orders for these exotic goodies during the Covid-19 lockdown, pushing her into entrepreneurship and helping her achieve personal growth that she did not believe possible after motherhood.

“When I lived in Saudi, I developed a fondness for the desserts there – they were all so beautifully subtle and aromatic, not too sweet, and full of different textures. I had nothing much to do at home when my husband was at work, so I started learning these recipes and watching tutorials to perfect them,” recalls 28-year-old Halima.

Buoyed by the response she received for her vibrant and crispy kanafeh - a dessert made of spun pastry that encloses a filling of cheese and cream, drizzled with fragrant sugar syrup, topped with chopped pistachios, almonds and cashews and crisped up on a special heavy duty tava - Halima was determined to offer something new and different to the Goan community. “I love baking, but decided not to offer conventional desserts like cakes and brownies available everywhere. I really wanted to introduce some new flavours,” she says.

Her other speciality is baklava – another crispy dessert made of pistachios enclosed within multiple buttery, paper-thin layers of phyllo pastry that takes Halima hours to roll out and assemble. “Yes, frozen pastry is available in the market, but nothing compares to fresh ingredients and hand made pastry,” she quips, sheepishly adding that she does all the prep and execution of her desserts alone because she’s a stickler for quality and technique. Same goes for her other goodies – doughnuts filled with fresh custard, banoffee pies and chocolate babka, a braided bread that originated in Poland and found its way to the Middle East in the 1940’s.

Her brand ‘Relish by Halima’ grew solely by word-of-mouth and she began receiving orders on Instagram, even from wedding caterers and restaurants that wanted to stock her desserts, ensuring a steady and reliable stream of customers. “The largest order I have managed to 

pull off on my own was one for 50 kanafehs (each serves 6 people) and a 400-piece order of baklava; they took me all day and all night to prepare,” she laughs, not one to shy away from hard work. She also makes savoury and healthy snacks like chicken pull-apart 

buns and hummus. “I now take orders for restaurants, weddings and party caterers and ensure that nothing is kept beyond 48 hours, as 

they are dairy-based and do not contain any preservatives,” she adds.

Halima’s mother-in-law Dildaar Shaikh played a pivotal role in her entrepreneurial journey, imparting business skills and encouraging her to pursue her passion wholeheartedly. “I’m so lucky that my family is so supportive. I was unable to complete my graduation before my wedding, but my in-laws and my husband pushed me to pursue a B.Com degree during my pregnancy,” she says. “I wasn’t very good at math and when I first started accepting orders, I only used to charge Rs 20 to 30 over the cost of ingredients, and feel very happy with my earnings. My mother-in-law showed me how to properly calculate costing, track profits and made me understand that I should be compensated fairly for all my labour,” says Halima. Her mother-in-law also helped assuage her ‘mom guilt’, stepping in to take care of her baby boy, (now four years old) when she was racing to complete her dessert orders.

“Often as women, we do not prioritise ourselves after marriage – we put our children’s and families’ needs first and neglect our own personal growth. All women must be keen to make something of themselves, to constantly learn new things and better themselves to lead a fulfilling life. And this is only possible with support from family,” quips the successful young home chef.


Idhar Udhar