29th June – 1st of Ramadan

Alhamdulilah Ramadan is here, I must admit my focus was mainly on survivng the day rather than excelling in the extras. If you found it easy, great if you managed loads of extras great. For me I survived and frankly that was quite an achievement for me. I have loads of ‘mileage’ on my Ramadan clock but the truth is I do find it hard. This isn’t a case of ‘woe is me’ but honesty.

Sehri

With the long (wet and warm) days ahead I thought a lot about what types of things would be good for sehri/suhoor. In the end I opted for something that I have become quite fond of quite recently; overnight oats with chia seeds. Simply choose a jar, put in a portion of oats (I use gluten free oats) add in a table spoon of chia seeds, then add in some thing you like, dried fruit, nuts, nut butter, then fill with milk put the lid on and then leave in the fridge. Normally I would make this before. I go to bed but because our ‘nights’ are so short – about 5 hours in the UK – I try and do this first thing in the morning or you could do it when you get home from work. Once you get into the rhythm of doing this it is quite easy. It is also good if you are in a larger family as everyone has a portion sorted and there is no risk of running out of milk at 2:30am. I had mine with a simple fruit salad of watermelon and chopped apple ( a quick dunk in lemon/vinegar water to prevent the apple going brown). In true paranoid Ramadan style I put out a bread roll for myself but was so full I couldn’t bring myself to eat any more.

My husband decided to stick to simple things and had a bowl of cereal with some waffles I had made earlier in the day. We both had the mandatory date, a smoothie and lots of water.

Iftari

I decided to go with an Arab inspired meal for iftari not in the least authentic but everyone loved it and it required very little effort for which it earns bonus brownie points!

For the lamb (serves 4)
1/2 a small leg of lamb chopped into to cubes
1/2 onion sliced
1 aubergine chopped into cubes
1 tablespoon of fresh garlic minced
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger minced
2 teaspoons of Rose flavoured Harissa paste
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
1 tablespoon of a spice mix containing equal quantities of:allspice, white pepper, cinammon, ginger, nutmeg, mahlab, sumac and cardamon
2 tablespoons pomegrenate molasses
2 tablespoon olive oil
4 quarters of sunblush tomatoes chopped up finely
A handful of olives

Place all the ingredients in to an ovenproof dish and mix well.
Leave to marinade for at least 3 hours but not longer than 12 hours.
2 hours before ifari cover the dish with ovenproof foil and put in the oven at 190 degrees centigrade
Check on it from time to time to stir the ingredients.
This should be ready about 10 minutes before hand when the meat is soft and tender.

Haloumi
I did a similar thing with 200g of haloumi leaving out the chilli and aubergine. Bringing the quanties of all the spices/ pastes down to a teaspoon. This went into the oven 30 mins ( also covered) before iftari. Coming out the same time as the lamb.

I served this with shop bought roti, fresh hummus, an undressed salad. I had gluten free shop bought wraps by Be Free Foods.

Today was also a family birthday so dessert was a home made birthday cake.

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Iftari: Mexican

Alhamdulilah we have reached the half-way point of Ramadan. On one hand I feel pleased with the achievements I have made and pray inshallah that I am able to continue with them. On the other hand a sense of sadness that this beautiful month’s blessings are set to end. I pray inshallah that our fasts are accepted, that he helps those muslims stuck in refugee camps or are displaced, those that do not have enough food or water, those whose families have been torn from them, that those who are in the process of leaving this world are able to do so easily, that most of all Allah(swt) rains his mercy on us and finally that he guides our non-muslim families to the right path. Ameen.

The funny thing about this iftari was that I really was unable to think that day. I couldn’t decide what to make for dinner. My husband’s contribution was South America which was great but I really didn’t want to go to the shops and yet this meal came together really well.

For our Mexican Ifari this was our menu plan:
Stuffed red chillies
Brazil nut and cheese balls
Empanadas
Guacamole
Meat balls with vegetables
Re-fried dhal

Arroz Rojo
Normally arroz rojo is spicy. I decided not to make mine spicy as everything else was spicy and we also have a spicy v non spicy conflict in our house. So it is always nice to make something which works for both sets of people.

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 large beef tomato
1 onion
1 cup of basmati rice

Wash and leave the rice to soak for at least 20 minutes.
Use a pan large enough to hold the cooked rice. Slice the onion and allow to brown in the oil, then add the clove of garlic, then add the cumin seeds. Chop the tomato quite finely, add the tomato, it’s juice and seeds in to the pan and allow to cook slightly with the onions.

25 minutes before iftari, drain off the rice and place into the pan with the tomatoes, heat up on a moderate heat to allow the rice to be mixed in with the tomatoes. Then add enough water to cover the rice so that when your finger is on top of the rice the water should reach the first line on your index finger. Bring to boil, then turn down to a low heat and put a lid on the pan. Allow to cook gently. Check the rice at 20 minutes it should be soft and fluffy.

Stuffed Red Chillies
I used long red chillies for this, but any that are large enough to handle would work well. Just try and beware of the heat of the chillies so that you don’t make the stuffing too hot.
Wash and deseed the chillies, cut a slit along the side and take out the white bits and the seeds. You can keep some seeds aside and put them in to the stuffing.

I used the percentage of 50:50 brazil nuts to mature cheddar cheese, I put these in a food processor and then blitzed till they were fine. Finally add in some of the chilli seeds. There is no need to add salt as the cheese is quite salty.
Put the cheese mix into the chillies. Put into a 250 degree oven for 10 – 15 minutes or until the chilies are cooked and the cheese is melting.

Brazil nut and cheese balls
These were literally thrown together as an after-thought and everyone loved them.
I made these using the left over stuffing mix from above, simply by adding freshly chopped coriander, egg and some gluten free flour to the mix until it formed a wet dough. I shaped into balls (making sure to wet my hands so that the dough did not stick to it) and then cooked into the oven for about 15 minutes at 250 degrees.

Meatballs with vegetables
One of the things that I do every year before Ramadan is to make up huge batches of spiced meatballs, cook them and then place then (in a box) in the freezer. I find they are very easy to use in different recipes and are excellent as a fall back for when you have unexpected guests.

If you don’t have spiced meat balls already in your freezer you could make some up fresh simply by mixing minced beef or lamb with onions, garlic, ginger, green chilli, egg and dry spices to taste. Alternatively use less spices and make them milder. Form golf ball sized balls then shallow fry on all sides, then allow to cool before freezing or going on to use them in this recipe.

Ingredients
1 onion finely sliced
1 aubergine finely cubed
1 courgette finely cubed
10 beef meatballs – cooked
2 cloves garlic minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 tablespoon rapeseed oil

Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion and cook gently until browned, raise the heat and then add the cumin and coriander seeds, aubergine and courgette and garlic. Turn the vegetables in the onions until they are heated then add the chipotle powder and stir through again. Then add enough water to cover the vegetables and then simmer for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through and are soft. Add in the meatballs and add in enough water to cover the vegetables and meatballs and allow to simmer gently for about 20 minutes.

Re-fried dhal
Instead of having re-fried beans I opted for making re-fried dhal. I had ready cooked dhal in the freezer which I just defrosted and just fried off in cumin seeds and sliced green chilli. You could literally do this with any cooked lentil or pulse.

Palestinian Maqluba

As muslims (not of Palestinian origin) we say that Palestine is constantly on our mind. Indeed our duas frequently mention the plight of the Palestinian people. With this in mind I thought I would try and recreate a dish with a thousand recipes and for which I have no doubt that at least a few people will email me to tell me that this is not how their mother prepares this. As I am not Palestinian please forgive me Inshallah. This is my version of the dish, with a few of my influences thrown in!

So let us start at the beginning, what is Maqluba? Maqluba is a dish made of rice, meat and vegetables. The general rules seem to be these: if you are making it with lamb you must include aubergine and if you are making it with chicken you must include cauliflower. Finally once the rice is cooked you must flip the rice out of the pan on to a plate as Maqluba means upside down. As with all things that are served upside down you must try and make the top look pretty.

This dish is vegetable rich and so while there is meat in here, I have scaled it down slightly as I didn’t think it needed so much in it. Normal Maqulba tends to be dry (ie no residual juices left behind) however I wanted this to be a dish within itself and after fasting I knew we would all want something with sauce.

Ingredients

For the stock
4 (allow 1-2 per person) lamb chops with bones
1 onion
10 x Black pepper corns
10 x Clove corns
3 pints of water
Put all the ingredients into a pan and bring to the boil, then simmer until the lamb is soft and tender. Then take off the heat. If you want to make this in advance, you can do. This can also be frozen at this stage.

For the rice
1 cup of basmati rice (allow a ¼ cup of rice per person)
1 large tomato
4 new potatoes (allow 1 person)
1 aubergine
2 carrots
1 onion
2 bay leaves
All spice powder
Cinnamon powder
Salt and Pepper
Half a bulb of garlic
Rapeseed oil to fry
Baking paper
30g Pine nuts
25g butter
Yoghurt to serve

Wash and soak the rice in cold water. Leave it for at least 20 mins.

Slice the aubergine thinly into rounds, then drizzle with oil and place in a 250 degree oven for 20 minutes or until cooked.

Slice the tomato, carrot, aubergine and onion and keep each item separately ie not mixed in with each other.

Place the meat and the meat stock through a sieve and reserve in a pan. Place the meat to one side then fry the sliced onion in 1 tablespoon of oil, once the onions have browned slightly add the lamb chops and increase the heat to high to help render down the fat of the lamb and brown the lamb. Then take off the heat.

Dry fry the pine nuts and then add the butter, before taking off the heat and setting aside.

Take a large pan – ideally with handles on the side, large enough to hold the rice when cooked and all the ingredients, and cut the circumference of the pan out of the baking paper. Place the baking paper into the pan. This will save on washing up time!
Spread a thin layer of the oil on to the baking paper, in the pan.

Now layer the meat on to the baking paper.

Followed by a layer of aubergine, then a layer of tomato and then a layer of cooked onions. Now it is time to season with salt, pepper, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of allspice. Followed by a layer of potatoes, then a layer of carrots. Then another layer of seasoning, omitting the salt.

Drain the rice. Place the rice of top of all the layers. Try and arrange it as flat as possible. Add two bay leaves.

Pour the stock into a jug or a glass. Hold a plate above the rice pot and pour the stock into the rice. As the objective is to keep the layers as still as possible, pouring it on to plate will ensure that no holes will appear in the rice.

Once the stock is in the rice, put your index finger into the water and sit it above the rice. The water/stock should reach the second line on your finger. If the water does not reach here, top it off with some tap water.

Bring the rice to the boil. Do NOT STIR THE RICE. Once the water has bubbled, turn the heat down to the lowest heat put a folded clean tea towel on top and put the lid on top of it and leave to cook for 30 minutes. As this is for iftari I would put this on to cook 45 minutes before iftari.

After 30 minutes of cooking, check the rice. Be careful as the tea towel will be boiling hot. The rice should be soft and tender to touch.

If very top layer of rice has not cooked, DO NOT STIR THE RICE, use a spoon to push the rice down in to the water. Hold the rice down with the spoon if needs be. Cover with the tea towel and the lid again and leave for 10 minutes or until cooked.

To serve, find a plate or a platter at least 3 cm larger than your pan. Remove the tea towel and the lid. Place the plate on top of the pan, and place a length wise folded tea towel (2 folds) on to the plate, and use this to grip the pan handles. Then very quickly flip the pan on to the plate. Allow the pan to sit on to the plate for a couple of minutes before removing the pan. Carefully remove the paper. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top of the Maqluba. Serve with plain yoghurt.

Serves 4

Iftari: Go Greek!

Ifari: Go Greek

When it comes to it we are a household of international tastes and different backgrounds. What started one year as doing something different has kind of stuck. We like eating world food and we like trying new things. The more we do ‘this’ -> eat food from a different country through Ramadan, the more it reminds me that muslims come from everywhere. No nation ‘owns’ Islam. There is no right way to eat and no wrong way to eat. Yes there are traditional foods to eat during Ramadan but when it comes to it no tradition beats the Prophet’s (PBUH) tradition of opening his fast with dates and water:

Anas Bin Malik narrates:
“The Prophet (PBUH) performed iftar with fresh dates, if there weren’t any dried dates and if there weren’t any water”

To an extent we all follow in his footsteps. To say, however, that my culture’s food is better than your culture’s food when it comes to Ramadan is just silly. There is no nation in Islam. We are just muslims.

For last night’s iftari, we went with a Greek inspired menu – note, not authentically Greek but inspired – our menu went like this:

Azan: Dates, water, gazpacho (I know it is not Greek at all)

Post Magrib: spinach and feta mini gluten free pies, spinach, tomato and cheddar pastry wedges, home made beef sausages/ovals, gluten free flat breads, Greek salad, tzatziki, aubergine dip, washed down with the Lemon Mint Cooler I made a few days ago.

Beef sausages – makes approximately 7 sausages

Ingredients
1/3 kilo of beef mince
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
The zest of ½ a lemon
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 handfuls of finely chopped mint
5 cloves of garlic
1 egg white
½ an onion chopped very finely
Mix everything together in bowl. Then make the sausages out of the mince. They should be about 2 -3 inches in length and about an inch in thickness. Shallow fry the meat gently until cooked. Serve.
Alternatively if you want to cook these in advance, do as above and leave to cool and store in a sealed container in the fridge. About 20 minutes before iftari place an inch of water in a saucepan and then place the sausages into the pan. Cover with a lid and put on a low heat checking from time to ensure they do not burn. From time to time baste the meat with the meat/ water juices.
You could heat them up in a microwave if you are space short. I find the meat goes stiff and loses some of its moisture.

Aubergine Dip

Ingredients
Aubergine
1 clove garlic
Olive oil
Salt to taste
Prick an aubergine with a fork.
Put it in the oven and allow to cook for about 15 – 20 minutes until it starts to look collapsed. Scoop the flesh out. Put the flesh into a food processor and add a clove of garlic, olive oil and salt. Whizz up until smooth.

Spinach and Feta Mini Pies

Ingredients
Frozen cooked spinach
Feta cheese
Mint leaves
1 egg/ milk for brushing on top of the pastry
Coarse sea salt for decoration
Pastry – I used gluten free pastry but any would do

For this I used this ratio: 4 parts cooked frozen spinach to 2 parts feta cheese and 0.5 parts mint leaves.

Defrost the spinach
Squeeze all the water the defrosted spinach. Chop the mint leaves and mix into the spinach. Cream the feta into the spinach.
Use a pastry cutter to cut the pastry, then layer a flat on to the pastry leaving room by the edges, get another cut piece of pastry and brush with water on one side and place on top of the filling and press down gently along the edges. Brush with milk/egg wash. Top each pie with a little coarse sea salt. Cook in a 250 degree oven for 20 mins or until puffed and lightly golden on top.

I hope that your first fast went well. Please remember to make dua for those who are less fortunate than ourselves, who are plagued by war, who are abandoned, who are sick and those without families. Ameen.