It’s that time of year again. When the Masjids’ begin to fill and there is a Ramadan spirit in the air. Ladies are dawning their hijabs whilst the age old Qurans’ laying dormant on top of selves gathering dust, are lifted off the selves and people begin to recite the Quran for the next 30 days or so. It is the most holy time of the year for Muslims across the globe, and the atmosphere is literally buzzing with anticipation and the excitement of Ramadan. Muslims show their love to Allah, through personal sacrifice and self discipline. Its the ninth month of the Islamic year, and all Muslims fast for the entire month from dawn to dusk.
It was during Ramadan that the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). According to legend, he was sitting alone in the wilderness when suddenly the angel Gabriel came to him with a golden tablet in his hands. The angel told Muhammad to read what was written on the tablet. What was on this golden tablet is said to be the essence of the Koran, just as the Tablets of the Law that Moses received on Mt. Sinai were the basis of the bible’s Old Testament.
Ramadan, a month-long period of austerity that sees devout Muslims keep themselves away during the entire daytime, offering prayers and abstaining from almost every kind of enjoyment including drinking and abstaining from sex. For Muslims all over, it is a very special time – of introspection, meditation, self control, compassion, charitable activities, spirituality and of course, devotion to God. The fast provides many benefits and is full of wisdom. It purifies and strengthens your heart. It rids you of your baser tendencies like exuberance, arrogance, and stinginess. It reinforces good traits like fortitude, clemency, and generosity. You are supposed to be a better human being, be kind, don’t lie, cheat, steal, be more generous, and be a better person overall. It supports in your inner struggle to please Allah and attain nearness to Him. It shows how much Allah has blessed us. We are reminded of our brethren those who are less fortunate and are inspired to treat them well.
Having said all this, Ramadan is also a great month to enjoy all the delectable treats prepared for Iftar (breaking of fast). Be it home cooked meals – prepared with great care and love or slip smacking and tantalizing treats on the streets outside the mosque. Platters of fruits – fresh and dry, juices, hearty and nutritious soups, fried savoury snacks, curries, biryanis’, salaans’, rotis, tikka’s, kebabs, and desserts … the spread is unbelievable and never ending. Family and friends get together to eat, and spend time with each other. Every culture has its own specialties and localized dishes, and its wonderful to try what each one has to offer. One of my most favourite dish is Harira. Its very nutritious and wholesome; not to mention absolutely tasty. A one pot dish, which comprises of meat, pulses, veggies and rice, serves as a meal in itself. It’s the perfect thing to have after fasting the whole day. I came across this recipe in 2005, when I was in Ethiopia. One afternoon they showed it on BBC Food network and I’ve been making it ever since.
Harira is Morocco’s famous soup. It’s fragrantly seasoned with ginger, pepper, and cinnamon, and also boasts a robust quantity of fresh herbs: cilantro, parsley, celery and onion. Although made throughout the year, harira is best-loved by Moroccans during the month of Ramadan when it’s frequently served to break the fast at sunset. Some families also enjoy eating harira at suhoor, the meal taken in the early morning hours before a day’s fasting officially begins. Recipes vary greatly from one family to another. Some make the soup light in texture; others prefer a filling version with chick peas and rice or broken vermicelli. One Moroccan cook may favor more tomato; another more lentils; still another may add paprika. So there are no rules, feel free to change ingredients and proportions.
Wishing you all a blessed month of fasting.
100g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
100g Masoor dal (Puy Lentils)
450g Boneless lamb, cut into 1 cm cubes
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp each ground ginger, saffron strands and paprika
100g long grain rice
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
4 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
4 large ripe tomatoes , skinned, seeded and chopped
lemon quarters, to serve
Tip the chickpeas and lentils into a large saucepan or flameproof casserole. Add the lamb, onion, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, saffron strands and paprika, then pour in 1.5 litres/21?2 pints water. Season. Bring to the boil, skimming all the froth from the surface as the water begins to bubble, then stir in half the butter. Turn down the heat and simmer the soup, covered, for 11?2 -2 hours until the chickpeas are tender, adding a little more water from time to time as necessary. Towards the end of the cooking time, prepare the rice. Bring 850ml/ 11?2 pints water to the boil in a saucepan, shower in the rice, the rest of the butter and salt to taste. Cook until the rice is very tender. Drain, reserving 3tbsp of the liquid. To finish, put the reserved rice liquid in a small saucepan. Stir in the coriander, parsley (hold a little back for a garnish if you like) and tomatoes, then simmer for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add to the soup with the rice, and then taste for seasoning. Simmer for 5-10 minutes to thicken slightly. Serve hot, with a lemon quarter for each serving so guests can squeeze over lemon juice to taste.