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.

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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.

Sorry, No Sushi tonight!

Last night for iftari we ate Japanese. Anyone who knows me knows that I love sushi, however in order for my family to eat the meal the remit was that it should be sushi free!!! Obviously being Ramadan we all want and probably need a hot meal at the end of a long day.

I’ve often wandered past Wasabi and looked longingly at the steam escaping their cooked dishes and thought they looked very tempting. Sadly, none being gluten free I’ve never had the pleasure in trying their delights. It was quite challenge trying to firstly find dishes that were hot as a) I didn’t know the names b) the Japanese seem quite secretive about this angle of their cuisine c) there was a lot of fish, and sadly everyone isn’t as pro-fish as I am d) there was tons of pork!

Some of the dishes had to be altered significantly just to create an appropriate taste balance after all when omitting sake (rice brew), mirin (rice wine) etc I feel it is important to put something back into the dish otherwise you aren’t left with much. The end result might not be authentically Japanese but I feel that it tastes good and left me feeling as if I had eaten Japanese.

Our menu consisted of:
Prawn and Vegetable Tempura
Tsukure (minced chicken balls)
Rice Shapes
Ingen No Goma-ae (green beans in sesame dressing)
Beef Teriyaki
Berry Uire cake

Prawn and Vegetable Tempura
Tempura, in the modern world sounds very Japanese and indeed it is. However, looks can be deceptive and this was a coloniser import. The Portugese may have brought Tempura to Japan, however the Japanese have added their own twist to things making the batter lighter and crispier than other battered food that I have ever tried. The trick with Tempura is not to over mix the mix, don’t leave it to stand and only make it as you need it.

Ingredients
1 cup of plain gluten free flour (I used Doves Farm Plain Flour)
1 egg
Very cold or iced water to mix
Oil for frying (I used rapeseed oil)
Thinly sliced vegetables
Whole raw prawns / bite sizes pieces of fish

Place the flour and egg in to a bowl, gradually mix in enough very cold water/iced water to create a thin batter (thick enough to hold on your finger). Mix using a knife or chopsticks, this is so that the batter is not over mixed. If you have occasional small flour lumps in the batter this is ok!

Dip the vegetables and seafood in the batter and deep fry in hot oil until the seafood is cooked and batter is crispy.

Tsukure (minced chicken balls)
1 small chicken breast
1 clove garlic
1 piece of lemon peel (zest only) the size of your thumb

Slice the garlic thinly, slice the lemon peel in to thin slithers, chop the chicken. Place all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz until the chicken is mince. Form into golf ball sized balls. Each chicken breast should produce approximately 4 balls. Grill or deep fry until cooked all the way through.

Rice Shapes
For the rice shapes, I used a ‘toy’ that I bought in Malaysia. It is absolutely fantastic, you place the hot rice in to the moulds, push on the lid and then push out the shaped rice. If you do not have a similar gadget, I would suggest placing the hot rice into a dish with an edge about an inch deep. Pack the rice in and either score squares out and remove or cut out into shapes using a biscuit cutter. Ideally you don’t want to use shapes that are too big, a mouthful size is ideal.

1 cup of rice that has a high starch content eg sushi rice (I used a supermarket ‘basics range’ long grain rice that has a very high starch content). Leave the rice to soak for about an hour in water. Then rinse only once. It is very important that the starch stays in the rice as this is what will hold the shapes together. Cook the rice using a method where the rice soaks in the water, rather than one where you pour the water off. Once the rice has cooked either use a mould or pack into a tray and then shape the rice.

Ingen No Goma-Ae (Green Beans in Sesame Dressing)
For the dressing
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon tamari sauce (naturally gluten free)
2/3 tablespoons of water

1.Toast the sesame seeds without oil in a heavy based pan until they are golden. Then transfer to a pestle and mortar and break down until they resemble breadcrumbs.
2.Blanche the green beans, and then spread the sesame seeds over them.
3.Mix the caster sugar, tamari sauce and water together then pour over the green beans.

Beef Teriyaki
Alhumdulilah we are very lucky that our butcher actually does know his cuts of beef. Most halal butches in London tend to have a slab of beef wrapped in plastic in a corner from which they cut slices upon request. If I ever asked what part of the animal the meat came from they would normally respond with a grunt. If you ask if it is suitable for steak they say yes, if you ask if it for stewing they say yes! How can it be both? If your butcher is like the aforementioned I suggest taking in an illustration of where the sirloin can be found.

Thin Serloin steak slices
Tamari sauce
1 clove garlic sliced
1 inch ginger sliced
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
5 Victoria plums (if you use other plums make sure they are small)
1 onion
1 red chilli

1.Boil the Victoria plums in enough water to cover the plums until they are cooked all the way through and their skins have come off. If the skins do not come off, remove them.
2. Place the sirloin steaks in to a container big enough to hold them.
3. Cover the steaks with enough tamari sauce so that they are covered in the sauce
4. Place the sliced ginger, slice garlic, rice vinegar, sugar and boiled plums into the container along with their juice.
5. Leave to marinate for approximately 3 hours
6. On a hot griddle pan, cook the steaks. Place them straight on to the pan and do not move until you are ready to change sides.
7. While the beef in cooking, put one thickly sliced onion in to a saucepan and place the marinade on top. Cook at a high heat for approximately 10 minutes to cook off any impurities that may have been in the meat. While you are doing this the mush the plums so that they come away from the stone and remove it.
8. Serve the beef teriyaki with the sauce on top of the meat and place the sliced chilli on top.

Berry Uire cake

To call Uire (pronounce ooo-ree) isn’t exactly truthful. Traditionally cakes are not eaten at the end of meal, instead the Japanese had accompaniments to the traditional tea ceremonies and this is one of those accompaniments. Considering the amount of sugar in this, this isn’t very sweet but it is a very tasty end to a meal. If you want a sugar rush I suggest replacing the fresh/frozen fruit with jam.

125g of ground rice
75g raw cane sugar
75g frozen mixed berries
Water

1.Microwave the berries until they become soft and liquid starts to release (approximately 3 minutes)
2. In a separate microwave suitable flat container mix the ground rice and sugar with ½ cup of water. Then microwave for 3 minutes.
3. Remove from the microwave and mix in the berries, their juice and additional ¼ cup of water
4. Pack in firmly into the microwave container and microwave for 5 minutes (5-7 minutes) until it has puffed and cooked.

5. Allow to cool before cutting into squares or cutting with a biscuit cutter.

PS
My apologies regarding the absence of photos for each item…I forgot!

Kaufteh

Kaufteh are meatballs. Most cultures have meatballs and no doubt everyone will say that theirs are the best! To me meatballs are lovely, small enough to shape in the palm of your hand and just a perfect end to a long day.

Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that my favourite food is kaufteh (meatballs from Pakistan). I just adore them. I love the whole process from the making of the meatballs, to peeling the potatoes (and that has to be the only time I love peeling potatoes). Making them gives me so much pleasure that it is abnormal.

I prefer to make the kaufteh in a big batch, then I fry the meatballs, and then freeze them, meaning I can have meatballs without so much work later on.

As always I suggest making your own meatballs and playing around with them until you find a flavour combination which works for you. Kaufteh normally contain finely sliced onion, ginger, garlic, chillies and spices along with herbs mint and coriander. Egg is the only binding agent, there is no need to add flour whatsoever. Kaufteh should be the size of a golf ball. Fry off the meatballs and set aside or freeze and then make the sauce.

Kaufteh sauce
Ingredients – to serve 4
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic ground
2 cm of ginger peeled and chopped and ground
½ a tin of tomatoes
Red chilli flakes to taste
1 green chilli
¼ teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon of ground coriander
¼ teaspoon of tumeric
¼ teaspoon of cumin
1/4teaspoon of black pepper corns
¼ teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon of cinnamon or a small cinnamon stick
1 slightly squashed cardom
Salt to taste

Also required
Approximately 12 meatballs
Approximately ½ the amount of potatoes to meatballs
4 hard boiled eggs – peeled

1. Chop the onion, brown the onions in oil so that they become soft
2. add the ginger and garlic and the tumeric, red chillies flakes, then add the whole spices and add the tomatoes
3. On a medium heat cook the spices off, so that when you move a spoon through the tomatoes the oil is visible as a clear line.
4. Then add the kaufteh, heat them in the paste add enough water to cover the kaufteh and allow to boil.
5. Bring to a simmer and add the potatoes and simmer
6. When a knife goes through the potatoes add the peeled eggs.
7. Allow the eggs to heat through in the sauce for a while so that also absorb the spices add the chopped green chilli.
8. Finally top with coriander and serve with freshly cooked rice.