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
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.

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.


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

Malaysia: Deconstructed Mee Goreng

On Saturday night we opted to have a Malaysian inspired dinner: Mee Goreng. The Mee refers to noodles and it is normal to use egg noodles, as I have coeliac disease I can’t eat them so we used flat rice noodles but to be fair any noodle would work. Similarly if you don’t have noodles to hand make this with rice and suddenly you have Nasi Goreng! Everything is adaptable!

Traditionally the noodles are fried in oil, but after a very long hot day fasting, fried food is very unappealing to me. I find I want the flavour of different food but I don’t want anything too heavy which is going to feel stodgy or make me sleepier than I already am. Made this way, this is light on the stomach but also filling.

Normally Mee Goreng is served with the noodles mixed into the sauce. In our house we are at extremes in terms of how hot and spicy we like our food. Often it is easier to serve something separately to allow those who like things mild to add more noodles and for those who like things spicy can add more heat. We served ours with a spicy chilli mellange on the side for the people who like heat.

3 Peppers
1 Big Tomato
1 Courgette
Sesame Oil
Sunflower Seeds
Sesame Seeds
2 Spring Onions
3 Chillis
200g rice Noodles
Handful baby spinach
Five Spice seasoning
1 bulb garlic
½ Onion
Slices of ginger

Finely chop onion and garlic and put in a wok or pan of sesame oil. Allow to brown, adding ginger and sesame seeds. (be careful, the pan might spit!)
Add small amount of water then slowly add sliced tomatoes, and allow to the mixture to simmer for 15 minutes approximately until the texture resembles a thick soup.
Empty the mixture into another bowl.
Stir fry the vegetables all together in a wok until cooked.
Boil Noodles for 5 minutes.
Plate and serve.
Serves 4

Iftari: With Bosnia On My Mind

Yesterday marked the 18 year anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre that took place during the Bosnian war. Hundreds and thousands of Bosnian men, women and children were in killed in a targeted campaign by the Serbs who had previously been their neighbours, friends and perhaps even family.

What stands out in the massacre is the way that the Serbs targeted the muslim population, they separated men and women. They separated military age men from old men and boys. They raped and sexually tortured women and young girls as a weapon of war. All the while the world watched. The UN observers were observed just watching as atrocities took place. Perhaps this testimony of Zumra Šehomerovic: says it all:

“The Serbs began at a certain point to take girls and young women out of the group of refugees. They were raped. The rapes often took place under the eyes of others and sometimes even under the eyes of the children of the mother. A Dutch soldier stood by and he simply looked around with a walkman on his head. He did not react at all to what was happening. It did not happen just before my eyes, for I saw that personally, but also before the eyes of us all. The Dutch soldiers walked around everywhere. It is impossible that they did not see it.

There was a woman with a small baby a few months old. A Chetnik told the mother that the child must stop crying. When the child did not stop crying, he snatched the child away and cut its throat. Then he laughed. There was a Dutch soldier there who was watching. He did not react at all.”

It was a genocide.

What stood out in memory of the news was the way the news needed to make the Bosnians sound more European with phrases like “they eat a little pork”, “they like to have a drink” but what seemed apparent to me was that they were muslims.
May Allah (SWT) grant those who were killed jannah, may he grant those who were abused and tortured the strength to move forward with their lives and give them happiness and may he ease the pain of those left behind. Ameen.

Last night saw us eat a very simple main course which was very easy and effortless to make. This is inspired by the Bosnian side dish, or dip, called Ajvar. Popular throughout the region Ajvar is normally made in autumn when these vegetables are in abundance. Traditionally made from red peppers and aubergines which are roasted on an open fire. The cooking on an open fire helps to add a smokey taste to the final dish. Once cooked the peppers are skinned they are ground to a mush. Salt, pepper and oil are added to help preserve and concentrate the end product. Having neither Ajvar to hand I decided to do what I could.

Ajvar style Pasta

Red peppers – 2 parts
Courgettes – 1 part
Red onions – 1 part
Tomatoes – 2 parts
1 bulb of garlic
Olive oil to drizzle
Salt, Pepper, Chilli flakes
Feta cheese

Wash and chop all the vegetables into bite size pieces (peel the onions) and place them in a high sided baking tray. Peel and lightly crush the garlic and place into the baking tray. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and a pinch of chilli flakes. Drizzle with olive oil until the vegetables are lightly coated. Place in 250 degree oven for about 20 – 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked and are very slightly smokey. Pour a quarter of the vegetables and some of the juices in to a food processor and blitz until you have a smooth paste. Add a little water into the processor if needed to help the processor. Remove from the processor and place into a pan large enough to hold both the vegetables and the pasta. Add the remaining vegetables and juices to the pan and processed vegetables. If the sauce seems a bit tight add a little water and heat up to bring the sauce together.
Cook the pasta according to the instructions. Drain and add to the vegetables. Crumble feta cheese into the pasta and serve.

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

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

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

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.

Lemon and Mint Cooler

I made a batch of this drink up yesterday evening while cooking something else and have to say it tastes really good. It is easy to do and makes a change. This isn’t an intensely sweet syrup, instead it is delicate and refreshing. Sterilise a jam jar with a lid and keep this in the fridge for up to a week.

1 and 1/2 jam jars of water
100 grams of sugar
½ a lemon (juice and skin)
5 sprigs of mint

Wash the lemon and mint. Place the water and sugar in a pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the juice of half a lemon. Switch the heat off. Cut the skin off the lemon making sure not to include the pith (the white bit this is bitter). Put the skin in the pan and bring to boil once. Then add the mint while the heat is on and bring to boil once more. Switch off and allow the temperature to come down with the mint and the lemon skin still in the water. Once it is warm, strain into the sterilised jam jar and place the lid on the jar. Place the jam jar in another container of cooler water to help bring the temperature down.

Fill a glass with ice, or not (I didn’t have any), add mint sprigs and lemon wedges. Use 1 part cooler to 10 parts cold water.

Cooking up a Storm

I’m not exactly sure why, but last night I decided to cook a few things rather than just one or main plus carbohydrate. We’ve still been working our way through various countries but some iftaris weren’t really worth blogging about eg the night we had England as our theme, we had fish shop fish and chips…well the gluten eaters did. I had supermarket gluten free fish fingers with chips and baked beans. The following night with the US as our theme it had to be burgers. Last night we hit Spain.

Our menu was:

Lamb Paella with peppers and green beans
Prawns and mussels in garlic and chilli
Patatas Bravas
Tomato and goats cheese salad

Lamb Paella with peppers and green beans

1 onion
1/3rd of a shoulder of lamb (meat and bones)
Olive oil
2 ripe tomatoes or 2 tomatoes from a tin of tomatoes
230g of cooked Butter beans
100g green beans
1 red pepper chopped into large cubes
1 cup long grain rice
Approximately 2.5 cups* of Water
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons of sweet paprika (adjust to taste)
1 pinch of saffron diluted in hot water

* Cup = any mug you have just make sure to use the same for both the measures.

1. Wash the rice and set aside in some water.
2. Dice an onion
3. Put enough olive oil to cover the base of the pan, then fry the onions on a low heat until they are golden.
4. When the onions are done add the lamb shoulder, browning the meat.
5. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic to the lamb and continue to brown.
6. Add the salt and paprika, stir and coat the lamb with them.
7. Finely chop the tomatoes then add to the pan.
8. Now add enough water to cover the meat entirely, bring to boil and then leave to simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes with a lid on. The water should have reduced slightly but there should be enough covering the meat.
9. Wash the butter beans until the water runs clear then add the beans to the pan. Stir to adjust the placement of the meat and beans in the pan.
10. Finally add the drained rice to the pan. Level out the rice so that it is evenly distributed in the pan. Do not stir the rice at all.
11. Heat the pan till the liquid till it boils, then reduce and leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes with the lid on.
12. Switch the heat off, and place the green beans and red pepper on top of the rice. Place the lid back on to the pan and leave standing for 10 minutes. Do not open until the 10 minutes are up.

Patatas Bravas

4 medium potatoes
Spray oil

Cube the potatoes into approximately ½ inch cubes, put in a pan of water and boil for approximately 5 minutes. Drain and place on an ovenproof tray and spray with spray oil and place in the oven at 200 degrees for an hour and a half or until golden brown. Serve hot with the bravas sauce and allioli.

Bravas Sauce
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 onion
1 red chilli
½ tin tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon smoked chipotle

Slice the onion and fry in the olive oil until golden, add the chilli, tomatoes, salt and smoked chipotle. Gently stir on a medium heat until the sauce is thick.

1 egg
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil + extra for pouring
1 crushed garlic clove
A pinch of salt to taste

Combine the egg, garlic, teaspoon of vinegar, teaspoon of olive oil in a food processor and blitz until they take on an emulsified consistency. Gradually pour in a little olive oil until you reach a thin mayonnaise consistency. I find doing this bit slowly helps.

Prawns and mussels in garlic and chilli

Allow approximately:
200g of mussels per person (ensure they are cleaned with beards removed)
5-7 raw grey prawns per person (ensure that all intestines are removed)
1 crushed clove of garlic
1 chilli finely chopped
3 tablespoons water
Olive oil

Put approximately 1cm of olive oil in a pan with the crushed garlic and heat on a very low heat for approximately 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and then add the chilli, prawns, mussels and the water. Place a lid on the pan and cook for 7 minutes or until the prawns and mussels are cooked all the way through. Serve with sliced limes.

Tomato and goats cheese salad

Slice tomatoes, goats cheese. Arrange the goats cheese on the tomatoes and sprinkle cracked black pepper and coarse sea salt on top.