This week, I wanted to understand more about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which, this year starts at sunset on Monday 12th April. It follows the lunar calendar and begins and ends with the appearance of the crescent moon. Islamic tradition states that it was during Ramadan that God revealed the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book to the Prophet Mohammad as guidance for his people.
Ramadan in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar marks the beginning of Sawm, the Arabic word for fasting.
Many of us would know that Muslims fast from dawn to sunset for the whole month of Ramadan. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, by which Muslims live their lives, along with faith, prayer (five times a day), charitable deeds and a pilgrimage to Mecca. Fasting and hunger pangs are a stark reminder of our human fragility and how much we depend on food and those who produce it for our energy, vitality and very existence.
It clearly illustrates what it feels like to be hungry and thirsty which helps us to empathise, feel compassion and offer help to the poor and needy.
Muslims, apart from those who are vulnerable or pregnant, fast from food, drink, cigarettes and any sexual activity from dawn til dusk during Ramadan.
Fasting is not easy. At school, children find it particularly difficult while their friends are enjoying lunch and snacks. The last meal they will have eaten was Suhur before dawn and the next after sunset, will be Iftar which means breaking the fast. First with a few dates and water, a concentrated source of energy and easy to digest.
After sunset prayers, many families invite neighbours and friends to join them to break the fast so Ramadan is also a time of sharing and celebration. In non-Covid times, many mosques host community dinner on weekends, a wonderful break from cooking, a feast for students, the poor and everyone in the community. Ramadan ends on the 13th May 2021, Muslims will celebrate Eid al Fitr – the Festival of the Breaking of the fast.
Traditionally, children receive presents from family and friends. There are special prayers followed by the fasting and celebrations.
I was intrigued to know what foods were traditionally enjoyed to break the fast. There are of course, many.
Families around the world have their special favourites. The women cook together to prepare the meal, often with recipes learnt from their mothers, mothers-in-law and sisters…. Virtually every list mentioned Moroccan Chorba, a comforting nutrient dense soup made with chickpeas or lentils, potatoes, root vegetables, lamb and spices like turmeric, ginger and saffron. There were lots of variations, try this delicious version.
Pide – Turkish handmade flat bread was another must have – you’ll love it and so will the kids.
Harira, a hearty soup of lentils is another favourite. One of
the many versions of Kebabs with thick Greek yoghurt, or with a dollop of
tzatziki on flat bread is another versatile irresistible speciality. Poached eggs
with yoghurt and paprika oil is super delicious and really easy to whip up at
home. Don’t forget to wish your Muslim friends Ramadan Kareem –Happy Ramadan.
Moroccan Lentil Chorba
This is a delicious nourishing soup filled with all sorts of good things.
Lots of vegetables to chop, the neater the dice, the better your soup will look and taste. The soup works well with either vegetable stock or chicken stock but chicken stock gives the most robust flavour.
175g (6oz) green lentils
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice
pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne
1 small carrot diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice
1 stick of celery diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice
1 red or yellow pepper diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) dice
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly roasted and ground
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly roasted and ground
pinch of turmeric
1 tablespoon of peeled and grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, crushed
700g (1 1/2 lb) ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 500g (18oz) tinned tomatoes
1.35 litres (48fl oz) vegetable or chicken stock (see recipe)
salt, pepper and sugar to taste
110g (4oz) vermicelli, broken into pieces
4 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
Rinse the lentils in cold water and place in a saucepan. Cover with water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes or so until tender.
While the lentils are cooking, heat the olive oil in another saucepan and add the onions, pinch of salt and cayenne. Cover and cook on a gentle heat until the onions are soft. Add the diced vegetables and the rest of the spices. Cook for 5 minutes, add the ginger and garlic and cook for another minute. Add the chopped tomatoes and stock, taste and correct seasoning and simmer gently for a further 20 minutes. Add the vermicelli and continue to cook for a further 10 minutes or until the diced vegetables are tender.
Strain the cooked
lentils, reserving the cooking water and add the lentils to the broth. If the
soup is too thick, thin out with some of the lentil cooking water. Bring to a
simmer. Taste again and correct seasoning. Serve with lots of chopped
fresh coriander or parsley.
Gilbir – Poached Eggs with Yoghurt, Paprika and Mint
Another favourite Turkish way to serve poached eggs – called Gilbir – you’ll love this combination with toast or flat bread.
4 freshly laid organic eggs
30g (1 1/4oz) butter
2 teaspoons paprika or smoked paprika
1 clove of garlic, crushed
150ml (5fl oz) natural yoghurt
4 – 6 fresh mint leaves
First poach the eggs; bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Reduce the heat, swirl the water, crack the egg into a cup, slip gently into the whirlpool in the centre. This avoids getting the tips of your fingers burned as you drop the egg into the water. The water should not boil again but bubble very gently just below boiling point. Cook for about 3–4 minutes, until the white is set and the yolk is still soft and runny.
Add 1 small crushed
garlic clove to 3 tablespoons of natural yoghurt. Remove the poached egg with a
slotted spoon to a warm bowl, add a good dollop of yoghurt. Melt a little
butter in a small pan, when it begins to foam, add the paprika, stir for 30
seconds, careful it doesn’t burn. Drizzle over the eggs and yoghurt. Shred 2-3
mint leaves and scatter over the top. Serve immediately with some Turkish bread
Spiced Vegetable Pakoras with Mango Relish
Vegetable fritters in a spicy batter, delicious to snack on or as a starter with a relish of your choice.
A selection of vegetables:
1 thin aubergine cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) slices or into chunks at an angle
1 teaspoon salt
2 medium courgettes, cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) slices, if they are very large cut into quarters
12 cauliflower or Romanesco florets (walnut size approx.)
6 large flat mushrooms, cut in half
175g (6oz) chickpea or plain white flour
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander
1 scant teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
175-225ml (6-8fl oz) iced water
vegetable oil for deep frying
lemon wedges and coriander or parsley.
Put the aubergine wedges or slices into a colander, sprinkle with the salt, and let drain while preparing the other vegetables.
Blanch and refresh the cauliflower florets separately in boiling salted water for 2 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold water, and dry well.
Rinse the aubergine slices and pat dry.
Put the flour, coriander, salt and curry powder into a large bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil, lemon juice and water until the batter is the consistency of thick cream.
Heat good quality oil to 180°C/350°F in a deep fry. Lightly whisk the batter and dip the vegetables in batches of 5 or 6. Slip them individually into the hot oil.
Fry the pakoras for 2-3 minutes on each side, turning them with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a moderate oven (uncovered) while you cook the remainder. Allow the oil to come back to 180°C/350°F between batches.
When all the vegetable fritters are ready, garnish with lemon wedges and fresh or deep-fried coriander or parsley. Serve at once alone or with mango relish.
Mangoes are a great source of betacarotene and Vitamin C. They aid digestion, reduce acidity in the system and help cleanse the blood.
50ml (2fl oz) medium sherry
50ml (2fl oz) water
50ml (2fl oz) white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of ground mace
1 mango, peeled and diced
1 small red pepper, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Put the sherry, water, vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, star anise,
salt and mace into a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer
over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the mango, pepper, and lemon juice, lower
the heat and simmer for 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and let cool
completely. Spoon into a screw top jar and refrigerate until required.
Falafel with Tahini
Itamar and Sarit from Honey and Co in London shared their favourite Yemini falafel recipe with us.
Makes 20 approximately (25g/1oz weight)
1/2 onion (approx. 60g/2 1/4oz)
1 clove of garlic (peeled)
250g (9oz) soaked chickpeas (125g (4 1/2oz) dried)
1 green chilli, seeds and all
3 springs of parsley, picked
1 small bunch of coriander (about 15-20g/1/2 – 3/4oz), leaves and top part of stems only
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons garam flour (use plain if needs be)
1 teaspoon baking powder
To make the falafel
In a food processor, start with the onion, garlic, chilli and herbs and pulse them to chop roughly, then add the chickpeas and blitz until everything becomes a thick paste with small, even-sized bits. You may need to scrape the sides down and blitz for another pulse or two to make sure that everything is evenly chopped, but do not overwork. The best way to check whether it is done enough is to scoop up a small amount and squeeze it together in your palm – it should hold its shape. If it falls apart, return it to the processor for another spin. Tip the mixture into a large bowl, add the spices, salt, flour and baking powder and mix until all is combined well.
Preheat the deep fry 170°C/325°F.
Test the oil temperature by placing a small piece of bread or falafel mix in the hot oil – as soon as it starts to bubble up and float, you are ready to go.
You can shape the falafel mix in a few different ways:
Use damp hands and make little balls or torpedo shapes or you can simply drop in spoonfuls of the mixture for free-form falafel. You want to be making them about the size of a walnut, no bigger, so that they cook through and crisp up at the same time.
Carefully place the falafel in the oil – don’t overcrowd the pan and fry until the exterior is browned and crisped (about 2-3 minutes). Remove to a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb the excess oil and repeat the process until you have fried them all.
Serve immediately with tahini (see recipe).
The quality of your tahini depends hugely on the type of tahini paste you use.
We use Al-Yaman from Lebanon which is delicious, but if you are lucky enough to find any of the Palestinian varieties, especially the Prince and Dove brands, you are in for a treat. As a rule, you are looking for something from Lebanon, Palestine or Turkey.
We make our tahini in a food processor, as it gives a smooth, airy, mousse-like texture, but you can achieve good results with a bowl, a spoon and some wrist action.
Makes about 240g (8 3/4oz)
125g (4 1/2oz) tahini paste
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
a pinch of salt, plus more to taste
juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste
about 120ml (4 1/3fl oz) water
Place the tahini, minced garlic, salt and lemon juice in a bowl or food processor, add half the water and mix. It will go thick and pasty but don’t fear – just continue adding water while mixing until it loosens up to a creamy texture. Don’t be tempted to add too much water as the mixture will go runny, but if this happens, you can always bring it back with a little extra tahini paste. Taste and adjust salt and lemon to suit your taste buds.
You can keep tahini in an airtight container in the
fridge for 2-3 days, but it will thicken and the flavour may need adjusting
with a little more salt and/or lemon. As a result we think it’s best to
make it and eat it the same day – fresh is best.
Pide (Turkish Seeded Flat Bread)
Makes 2 breads
2 teaspoons dried yeast
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
300ml (10fl oz) tepid water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
500g (1lb 2oz) strong white flour
1 teaspoon salt
egg wash, whisk 1 egg yolk with a pinch of salt
2 teaspoons nigella seeds
Sprinkle the yeast and sugar into 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of the slightly tepid water in a bowl. Leave for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve, add the olive oil.
Sift the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the liquid.
Add enough of the remaining water to make a firm but softish dough.
Turn out the dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. The dough will be quite stiff initially but it will become more supple as it is kneaded.
Coat the dough evenly with a little olive oil. Allow to rise in a bowl, covered with a tea towel, until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Knock back, then leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into two equal-sized pieces and roll each into a smooth ball. On a lightly floured work surface, roll each piece into a round 25cm (10 inch) across, and 5mm (1/4 inch) thick. Transfer to a baking tray, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for another 20 minutes.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.
Score the top of each round of dough with a criss-cross pattern.
Sprinkle each with nigella seeds, and brush with egg wash.
Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until puffy and lightly coloured. Wrap the breads immediately in a tea towel to keep the crusts soft and to prevent drying out.
Enjoy with soup, kebabs…
Konafa with Orange Blossom Water and Pistachios
A favourite dessert and super delicious. You can buy the soft white vermicelli-like dough frozen in Lebanese, Turkish and Greek stores. In Lebanon, it is called knafe here and issold by its Greek name kataifi in 400g packets; it should be defrosted for 3 hours. The quantities below will make one large pastry to serve 10 but you can also make two, half the size, one to serve fewer people and one to put in the freezer to bake at a later date. It freezes well uncooked. This version is called osmaliyah.
For the syrup
350g (12oz) sugar
250ml (9fl oz) water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
For the filling
500g (18oz) mozzarella cheese, grated
250g (9oz) ricotta
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
For the pastry
400g (14oz) kataifi (knafe) pastry, defrosted
200g (7oz) unsalted butter, melted
100g (3 1/2oz) pistachios, chopped
Make the syrup first. Boil the sugar with the water and the lemon juice over a low heat for 5-10 minutes, until it is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Another way to test it is to pour a drop onto a cold plate and if it does not spread out like water, it is ready. Stir in the orange blossom water and cook a moment more. Let it cool then chill in the refrigerator. (If you have overcooked the syrup and it becomes too thick to pour when it is cold, you can rescue it by adding a little water and bringing it to the boil again.)
For the filling, in a bowl, mix the grated Mozzarella cheese with the ricotta, sugar and orange blossom water.
Put the kataifi pastry in a large bowl. With your fingers, pull out and separate the strands as much as possible. Melt the butter and when it has cooled slightly, pour it over the pastry and work it in very thoroughly with your fingers, pulling out and separating the strands and turning them over so that they do not stick together, and are entirely coated with butter.
Spread half the pastry at the bottom of a large round cake tin or pan, measuring 28-30cm (11-12 inches) in diameter. Spread the filling over it evenly and cover with the rest of the pastry. Press down firmly and flatten it with the palm of your hand. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 for about 45 minutes. Some like to brown the bottom – which comes out on top when the pastry is turned out – by running it over heat on a hob for a brief moment only. Others prefer the pastry to remain pale.
Just before serving, run a sharp knife round the edges of the osmaliyah to loosen the sides, then turn it out onto a large serving dish. Pour the cold syrup all over the hot pastry and sprinkle the top lavishly with the chopped pistachios.
Alternatively, you can pour only half the syrup over the pastry and pass the rest around in a jug for everyone to help themselves to more if they wish. Serve hot.