It’s not everyday you meet someone who has a story like Mirna’s. Born in a small village in Syria, Mirna grew up surrounded by friends and family with a seemingly normal childhood; playing soccer after school with her school mates, praying every Sunday at the local Church with her family of six, and visiting the river with her parents who taught her and her siblings to swim. At the age of 15, Mirna moved to the city to pursue her studies to become a teacher. Completing her university degree, Mirna started work as a teacher and later married her husband and had children.
But in 2013, Mirna faced the unimaginable. Her home as she knew it was no longer the same, Syria was facing war. Despite the conflict, Mirna continued on her life path, working as a teacher to support her family. However, things went downhill when Mirna and her husband lost their jobs, there was a shortage in electricity and water, and they became too scared to leave their home. After a bomb was thrown at a friend’s house they were visiting and Mirna almost lost her daughters, she knew it was time to make a change.
After the tough but necessary decision to leave her home in Syria, Mirna made her way to Australia alongside her neighbours, family and the millions of people who are seeking asylum from war-torn countries every year.
Mirna is incredibly grateful for her new life in Australia, especially that she has been able to experience multiculturalism, having lived her whole life in Syria where there is only one predominant culture, this has been especially eye opening for Mirna and her family. Yet Mirna acknowledges assimilation hasn’t always been easy. “Newly arrived to Australia, I faced many challenges. One of them was the language barrier as we spoke Arabic in my country, therefore I couldn’t feel a sense of belonging, I wasn’t able to participate in the community,” Mirna shared.
This is where Free to Feed came into play - a Melbourne-based non-for-profit social enterprise providing cooking classes, Brave home meals & corporate catering run by refugees and people seeking asylum. More than just your everyday cooking class, Free to Feed breaks down barriers and champions their unique skills and stories, empowering refugees and asylum seekers through food to share their incredible stories and inspiring life philosophy with the community.
Today, Mirna is a Free to Feed cooking instructor, passionate about feeding people and sharing her Syrian culture. When we asked Mirna about what she has gained from her involvement in Free to Feed, amongst having the opportunity to share and preserve her culture through storytelling and food, she listed the following very rewarding skills: presenting, time management, language, communication and leadership - having learnt how to lead each class in an interesting way.
Her signature dish she teaches through the Free to Feed program? The Fatoush Salad. Inherited from her mother and grandmother growing up in Syria, Mirna has very kindly shared the recipe with us to make from our own homes. We hope you all enjoy it as much as Mirna enjoys sharing this with her classrooms.
How to make the Fatoush Salad:
½ Bunch parsley
1 bunch mint
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ white onion
4 Lebanese cucumber
1 small green capsicum
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 lemons
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried mint
3 tablespoons light olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 piece of pita bread
Vegetable oil for frying
Cut pita bread into 2 cm squares
Heat 2 cm oil in pan until hot
Quickly fry bread until golden brown
Drain & set aside to cool
Pick parsley & mint leaves and place in bowl. Cover with cold water, add ½ teaspoon salt & vinegar. Let sit for 10 mins
Rinse and drain well
Wash all of the vegetables
Cut cucumbers in half lengthwise and slice into 4mm thick slices. Place in large bowl
Core tomatoes and cut tomatoes into 1cm dice, add to bowl
Thinly slice onion, add to bowl
Cut capsicum into thin slices add to bowl
Grate lemon zest into bowl
Juice lemons and add to vegetables
Grate carrot – reserve 2/3 for garnish, add rest to the other vegetables
Toss through paprika, dried mint salt, olive oil and pomegranate molasses until salad is coated – check seasoning and adjust accordingly