Celebrating Ramadan

Shakshouka (h)

Believed by Muslims to be the month (the ninth in the Islamic calendar) in which the holy Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad, Ramadan is a time of personal spiritual reflection as well as communal prayer, worship, charity giving and recitation of the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam which Muslims believe to be the divine word of God, or Allah.  

Ramadan is also a month of fasting from food and drink from just before sunrise to sunset, wherever one lives in the world. Of the two billion Muslims around the globe, those who are old enough and healthy enough to fast will set out to practice this every day of Ramadan.

An observant Muslim will, however, break fast at sunset (the Iftar meal), traditionally with a few dates but more likely with a whole selection of favourite dishes. And although it’s OK to eat at any time during the night, most people will only eat at sunset and then again just before sunrise (the Suhoor meal).

Here in Midwest America, fasting makes for a long day as it falls in the middle of summer. When Iftar or Suhoor are served at our home, the table becomes a hodgepodge of all our favorite dishes. I make a conscious effort to serve only healthy, hydrating, light, yet protein-rich meals that are suitable for our shrinking stomachs but which won’t hold us back from our hectic working day schedules.

What I love most about Ramadan is that the rituals surrounding the meals and the prayers really bring families together like no other time of the year does. Everyone seems to make an effort to be on the same schedule because of the timing of the meals, and then people typically remain together – it’s a great time to reconnect with those we care about and focus on what is really important.

Cooking is also simpler during Ramadan, or at least it should be! There is less food to prepare overall (unless there is a large gathering) and although the focus is really not on the food, meal planning can be a lot easier and more fun since everyone seems to enjoy and appreciate the pleasure of eating after a full, long day of fasting. Here are some of my favorite things to serve during non-fasting hours in Ramadan: 

Shakshouka

Shakshouka (h)

This breakfast dish of Middle Eastern-style eggs with peppers and tomatoes is a hearty way to start the day, a smart choice when you have long hours of fasting ahead of you. Serve with fresh warm pita or other bread varieties, olives and sliced cheese.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
175g (6oz) bell peppers, sliced
1 tsp sweet paprika
200g (7oz) tomatoes, sliced
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp garlic, minced
8 eggs
handful freshly chopped parsley
little feta cheese, crumbled (optional)

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the peppers and paprika, and season to taste.

Add the tomatoes and the tomato paste and stir to dissolve the paste. Add the minced garlic and stir.

Carefully crack each of the eggs into the pan, making sure they don’t break. Cover the pan and cook over a low to medium heat for 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat, but keep the pan covered for a few minutes. Just before serving, remove the lid and scatter with the chopped parsley, and the crumbled feta, if you like.

Moroccan briouates 

Moroccan Briouates with Ground Lamb, Almonds and Raisins (h)

Briouates are Moroccan appetizers of filo sheets rolled, stuffed and typically lightly fried in oil. This version uses egg roll wraps, which are sturdy enough to hold a lot of meat and other ingredients, making them particularly filling. Any ground meat such as beef, turkey or chicken will work well.

Ingredients (makes 12-14 briouates)

4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for frying the brioutes
75g (3oz) onion, diced
475g (15oz) lamb mince
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 x 100g pack ground almonds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
200g (7oz) raisins
small bunch fresh mint leaves, chopped
small bunch parsley, finely chopped
small bunch coriander, finely chopped
475g  (15oz) egg roll wraps
1 egg, beaten
lime wedges (optional)

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the lamb and the garlic. Stir and cook until the meat has slightly browned. Add the ground almonds and ground spices, and season to taste.

Add the raisins and stir until they become slightly larger in size. Continue to cook for another 10 minutes. Add the chopped fresh herbs and cover the pan.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking for an additional 10 minutes, adding a little of water if necessary.

Remove the pan lid and drizzle the meat with olive oil. Set aside to cool.

Using one sheet of egg roll wrap, place one heaped tablespoon of meat mixture in the center. Bring each side to the center then roll from the bottom upwards. Close by brushing the end with the beaten egg. Repeat this process with all of the wraps.

Once you have wrapped each one, heat an additional 2-4 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan and fry the briouates. Do not fill the pan – fry only as many as will fit comfortably at one time. Cook until each side is nicely browned. Line a plate with paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Serve warm with a dipping sauce and/or fresh lime wedges. 

Pineapple lemonade

pineapplelemonade (h)

I can’t think of a better way to cool off during the hot summer than with an all-natural homemade fruit drink. Pineapple and lemons go together beautifully and the frozen chunks of pineapple serve as the perfect, all-natural ice cubes.

Ingredients (serves 4)

500g (1Ib) pineapple chunks, plus 200ml (1/3pt) pineapple juice
1 tbsp honey
12 small lemons, juiced
few sprigs fresh mint
few slices fresh lemon

Put one third of the pineapple chunks in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes.

Blend the rest of the pineapple chunks with the juice in a blender. Add 1 cup water and the honey and blend again.

Strain the pulp through a sieve and reserve the juice.

Half fill 4 glasses. Remove the pineapple chunks from the freezer and add a few to each glass. Add a few sprigs of mint and a slice of lemon to each glass just before serving.

Yvonne 150x150Yvonne Maffei is a graduate of Ohio University in the United States. She has lived and traveled abroad throughout Central America, Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa as well as the American foodie cities of San Francisco, Washington, DC and Chicago. Yvonne grew up with a true passion for healthy living, cooking, understanding global culinary traditions and writing about food and travel.  Today she publishes the blog MyHalalKitchen.com, has written a cookbook, Summer Ramadan Cooking, and gives lectures on halal cooking and healthy eating. She also talks to schools on how to source healthy, halal ingredients for school lunches. She lives near Chicago in the US with her husband.

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