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.

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.

Ramadan Kareem

Assalam alaykum,

Ramadan has been confirmed as starting on Wednesday (the rights and wrongs of virtually the whole world starting on Wednesday is a whole other subject) inshallah – Ramadan Kareem. Inshallah we will be able to make the most of this blessed month, by our actions, our fasts, our prayers and our duas. Inshallah these will all be accepted.

The weather in the UK is getting rather hot surprisingly meaning that we have gone from a fairly cold June to proper full on heat in July. On one hand this is great but with fasting in mind I know I am going to find it really tough.

While not fasting all I am thinking about is cool drinks. A variant on the watermelon ginger drink is 50:50 watermelon and strawberries in a blender, sieved and topped again with chilled sparkling water.

Something that I have become quite fond of over the past couple of years is Gazpacho – a chilled soup from Spain. If you think about it as cold soup there is a mental barrier to climb. However it is much more like a drinkable salad. I think this would fit in really well for iftari, particularly for the time between opening the fast and before pra ying magrib particularly if you follow the: open fast – have something to munch on – pray magrib – eat iftari way of doing things. This is filling as it contains water containing vegetables so it rehydrates which is very important at this time of the year. It is also gentle on the stomach. Importantly, it means that your body has something to process before you start eating properly.

As with many recipes, there are many ways to make this. I choose not to add bread in mine as a) I am gluten free and b)I don’t feel as the bread adds anything to the dish. Don’t add onions and spice to this as this will make it less of a drink and more of a spicy dip. You should be able to taste the olive oil and the vegetables. I, for one, will be looking forward to a cool glass of this tomorrow evening inshallah!

Gazpacho

For a small quantity (4 shot glasses) I used
2 medium ripe and juicy tomatoes – the reddest you can find
3 inches of cucumber
½ a pepper – colour is irrelevant
1 clove of garlic
a squeeze of lemon juice
2 drops of vinegar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For larger quantities I try and keep to the following proportions:

2 parts tomato
1 part cucumber
1 part pepper
Garlic, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste

All whizzed up in a food processor. I like to leave mine so that there are small bits to chew on rather than a fine puré. Keep this chilled in the fridge before serving. Resist the temptation to add ice cubes as this will just water down the taste. I serve mine in shot/small glasses with a teaspoon or when we have more people I place into jugs so that people can help themselves. Enjoy !!

Once again Ramadan Kareem, inshallah our duas will be answered. While fasting this month remember to remember those in our duas who we don’t know and will probably never meet but they are like us, muslims, fasting in extraordinary circumstances throughout the world uncertain as to what the evening will bring. May Allah (swt) ease their pain, give them stability, give them food, give them water, give them safety, give their children a secure future ameen. Finally please remember the orphans or children without families in your duas…their needs are far more greater than ours…ameen.

Ramadan is Around the Corner

With Ramadan just around the corner, one can’t help but feel excited, and if I’m honest a little nervous. For medical reasons I was unable to fast last year during Ramadan so I missed out on fasting in summer. This year in effect is my first season of summer fasting for quite some time. With temperatures in the UK set to rise to 30 degrees (normal in hot countries) it is going to be hard.

Most of us are very aware that during the month of Ramadan it is our golden opportunity to assess our actions of the year before and make the most of the blessed month that is to come. Every moment during Ramadan enables us to get closer to Allah(swt) and stay away from the Shaitan and his agents:

Sahih Bukhari :: Book# 31 :: Hadith# 123
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.

How many of us though are guilty of other wrong doings while fasting? I, myself, at times in my life have had to question my actions while fasting. In the ‘speed’ of my life I was happy that I was fasting and keeping up with Ramadan, it wasn’t until a particular occasion that I suddenly had one of those “Aha” moments where I had to question what I was doing and ask myself was it totally in opposition of the whole ethos of Ramadan. What I was doing is irrelevant, but what is relevant is that I realised and that I was able to assess my actions and make a positive change. Inshallah keep in your mind while going about your ‘normal’ day to day actions that sadly if we are still doing wrong things while fasting, it is as we are not fasting. I don’t intend to sit on a pedestal say I am in a state of perfection more that I am reminding you while I am re-reminding myself to watch what I say, do, think etc.

Sahih Bukhari :: Book# 31 :: Hadith# 127
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting.)”

Watermelon, strawberry, mint and ginger cooler

I made this drink on a hot day and have got to say this is lovely. I think during hot weather Ramadan it is very easy to reach for juice or fizzy drinks immediately at iftari when really we need to replace the lost water and salts needed by our bodies. This drink is quite cooling and at the same time has a bit of a kick from the ginger. If you have never had raw ginger juice before, start by adding half a tablespoon at a time until you find what suits you. This drink contains the roughage of the fruit of both the watermelon and the strawberries while this will result in the drink being thick this is excellent when exiting the fast. It is important to consume natural foods and their pulp, this will help rehydrate as efficiently as possible.
Keep this in the fridge during the day and maybe take out a bit before iftari so that it is not too cold when drunk.

2 tablespoons of ginger juice (ideally done in a juice extractor)
½ a watermelon – skin removed and cubed
250g of hulled strawberries
5 mint leaves – sliced in to thin strips
1 bottle of sparkling spring water

In a food processor place the watermelon, strawberries, mint leaves and blitz until smooth and liquid. Place in to large jug and add the ginger juice. Place in the fridge. When ready to serve fill glasses a third of the way and then top with chilled sparkling water.

Just in case you have not got a Ramadan Timetable here is a link to a London one:
http://www.iccuk.org/images/RamadanTimetable2013.pdf

Inshallah our duas will be answered this Ramadan – amen.

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!

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.

Allioli
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.

An Indian

Monday night, my mother cooked iftari for us so we indulged in true home cooking which made us feel truly loved, Alhumdulilah. She cooked keema aloo (Indian/Pakistani mince meat cooked in spices with potatoes) it is a dish my husband loves and yet one which my father-in-law cannot come to terms with. He repeats the same phrase every time my husband mentions this dish on the phone “ ..but how can you have a mince meat curry?” My husband views this dish as his childhood favourite meal of mince and tatties (now this I cannot get my head around this, plain boiled mince with boiled potatoes!) taken up a level.

My mum made a simple bougia of courgettes to accompany. Its really simple and one of my favourite vegetable dishes and best of all it can be done with any vegetable: a little oil, some whole cumin, whole coriander, whole cloves, whole black pepper then add some ginger, garlic and courgettes. Just add a little water until the courgettes begin to cook down and release their own water.

Finally my mum made a real treat for me, gulab jamon. Gulab jamon are little balls of milk solids which are gently fried until dark and then, like so many arab influenced desserts, are steeped in sugar syrup delicately flavoured with rose water or kerwa water. Surprisingly I have no memories of my mother making these for me when I was little simply because we always bought them from Ambala (an Indian/Pakistani sweet shop) however since becoming coeliac and prompted by Ambala’s refusal to state what their gulab jamon contains my lovely mother decided to make me some herself! If I ever do get to see what she does I promise to reveal all! In the mean time I’ll leave you with some lovely photos!