Olive and Chilli Pasta Bake

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The second night of Ramadan and another quick and easy to assemble iftari for us. We decided to have pasta bake, simply because it was sooooo wet that day that the mere thought of something hot from the oven was very appetising. Yup, there is something so wrong with wanting things hot from the oven in July!
This is one of those dishes that I make so frequently with whatever is to hand. Essentially it was a very simple pasta sauce made by frying onions, garlic and a good pinch of chilli flakes followed by a couple of tablespoons of ground black olive paste and bottle of passata. Allow it to simmer then season. Pour in your cooked pasta, toss around and then top with fresh mozzarella cheese and bake in the oven just until the top is crispy. It hit the spot for me on a very soggy day.

 

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Quick Turkish Pizza Lahmajun/Lahmacun

With the days being so long I’ve been trying to make things for Iftar that aren’t so time consuming or require less washing up; anything to save time. One of the things I did before Ramadan was to make up batches of cooked beef mince with spices and then froze it. Hardly rocket science in the land of tips but it does save time. I know it doesn’t take long to cook mince but sometimes its the combination of things in a recipe that makes things more time consuming. I tried to make the mince filled with spice and not heat so that it could be adapted to make things like Bolognaise etc.

So on to last night, I decided to go with Lahmajun (Turkish pizza). I have to be very upfront and say I really don’t like keema pizza and while in some parts of the world the keema pizza has a cult status I am firmly not a fan. To a certain extent while this does sound like keema pizza the end result was nothing like it. Tradionally the raw mince is spiced and then mixed with finely ground peppers. Generally people don’t put cheese on this which is why I think was willing to give it a go. As my objective was to save time I used a shop bought pizza dough and used my pre cooked mince (now defrosted) mixed with finely chopped peppers (done in a food processor) and fresh corriander. You need a ratio of 50:50 for the mince to peppers. The addition of the peppers makes the mince a lot lighter.

Simply roll out your dough, press on your pepper-mince mix and you are good to go! Cook the pizza according to the instructions on the dough then serve up wedges of lemon, a simple salad of onions and tomatoes. Before you eat pile on the salad and squeeze on the lemon juice! All is good!

I also made up a batch of guacamole to serve along with this as I wasn’t sure if the mince would be too dry. While it probably is extreme fusion it was a perfect accompaniment to the meal as there was none left! Enjoy!

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.

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

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.

Ingredients
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

Ingredients
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.