Ahmad Alzahabi Finds “The Golden Balance”

Ahmad Alzahabi Finds “The Golden Balance”

With over three million followers on Instagram and nearly seven million on TikTok, you’ve likely swiped past Ahmad Alzahabi, better known as The Golden Balance, at least a few times. Or maybe you’ve found his website while searching for a homemade shawarma recipe that doesn’t require a spit—because who has one at home?

You’ll know you’ve landed on one of Alzahabi’s videos when, just before he takes a bite of the recipe he’s prepared, you hear, “Now, Bismillah!” an Islamic blessing made before eating.

Although his recipes span many cuisines, from beef Wellington to butter chicken, Alzahabi has created a consequential platform to showcase Middle Eastern home cooking. And that means going beyond well-known staples like hummus.

Growing up a child of Syrian immigrants in Flint, Michigan, the 27-year-old Alzahabi beautifully translates Middle Eastern cooking for the masses, such as street-style kebab sandwiches or mansaf, a dish with Bedouin roots.

Raised in the U.S., he straddles a dual identity, like many children of immigrants. “When I was eating my school lunch, it was a za’atar sandwich, and people would make fun of it,” he says, “but at the same time, my favorite food was a hamburger because I’m American.”

While many Middle Eastern ingredients are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, Alzahabi provides more background and the context that is often lacking in the viral recipes featuring the ingredients. He also expands the definition of the Middle Eastern pantry beyond popular items like harissa. Take his video for mansaf, where he explains its key ingredients: jameed.

“Jameed is an ancient way of dehydrating yogurt so they can preserve it for years in the desert,” he says.

Jameed is a salty and tangy dehydrated yogurt product designed to last long periods in the desert. When rehydrated with water, it becomes the base of mansaf, a braised lamb dish popular in Jordan, Palestine, and other Arab countries. Jameed can be hard to find stateside, so he suggests sourcing jameed soup starter and dives into making the dish.

Although Alzahabi isn’t classically trained to cook, he grew up with perhaps a better teacher than any cooking school—his mother. “My mom always invited me into the kitchen and told me to do this or do that. Even if I was making a mess, she didn’t mind,” he says.

Aside from a short stint in the kitchen of a hotel in Dubai, Alzahabi learned to cook like most of us, by simply trying recipes. He realized early on that professional kitchens aren’t for everyone. “My Dubai experience taught me that I don’t enjoy being in the kitchen for that long. I like cooking, but I didn’t like this,” he says.

He wants to find human connection through food and to interact with the people he feeds, which is hard to do from behind the line. Although it might be through a phone screen, he does that today via YouTube, TikTok, and other social media channels—he connects and interacts with his millions of followers.

And about that name, The Golden Balance? Alzahabi means “the golden” in Arabic, and “balance” is a nod to his interest in fitness and healthy eating. Much like balance in a recipe, everything in life is about proportion, and with his loyal following, it seems Alzahabi has struck a happy medium. Now, Bismillah!

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