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.

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.

Sehri day 1 and day 2

Asalam alaykum

Alhamdulilah the first fast has been and gone.

I have to admit I found it really difficult to wake up the first morning. The fact that I tried to eat porridge with a fork kind of says it all really!

In true Ramadan Dinners style allow me to share this Ramadan’s first sehri with you. I had: 2 x mini sehri omelette cups made with pepper and feta cheese ( 2 mini cups amounts to 1 egg), porridge cooked and cooled (I am very slow at eating sehri and find it easier to grab porridge from the fridge), fruit salad made with flat white peaches, kiwis, blackberries and chopped dates, Greek yoghurt and of course water. I worry that we won’t drink enough so gave us each our own jug of water to drink. It is easier to see how much a person has drunk. You could easily do this with litre bottles of water.

This morning saw me have pretty much the same as yesterday. The only difference being I really struggled to drink water. I only drank half the amount and hope I won’t be too thirsty by this evening.

Omelettes
The mini omelettes are fantastic as they contain protein and water containing vegetables, better still no oil/fat is used to cook them at all. One egg creates two mini omelettes. This recipe easily sizes up and is easily useable if you are alone. Just mix the eggs in a bowl, throw in some juicy looking vegetables, a little cheese, some herbs, be sure to omit salt as this will dehydrate you and make you thirsty.
6 Omelettes
3 eggs
1/2 pepper chopped
Feta cheese to taste
First mix the eggs in a bowl. Then place individual silicone muffins moulds (easier to take the omelette out) into a metal muffin tray (these hold the shape). To distribute the vegetables evenly I place them directly into the moulds and then put the mixed eggs on top. Bake until cooked. Normally it takes about 7 – 10 minutes in a 250 degree oven but you could easily put them in while something else is cooking. Once cooked take them out of the mould and when cool store them in the fridge.

Inshallah I pray our fasts will be accepted.

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.

Back to Basics

I’ve been a little slow of late and have not managed to post at all this Ramadan, so insh’Allah you will forgive me. It has been a very hard 5 days.

Many things have happened in the past year, however the strangest has been the discovery that a couple of people I know have moved away from Islam. No one has come out and said “this isn’t the path for me”, or perhaps they have but I haven’t digested the information correctly. Either way the only thing that I know is the way that way they spent Ramadan last year is very different to the way that they are spending Ramadan this year. I’m not judging them, if anything I don’t know what to do. There have been points in my life where, on reflection, I have done the wrong thing. It was the friends who didn’t lecture me who helped me come back to the right path. They were the ones who showed me the way, but did not force me to change my direction which helped enormously. They showed me love and included me in things. I guess I would like to emulate those people but in truth I don’t know how. I don’t know for certain that what helped me would help someone else. I don’t know what to say when someone says that Ramadan means nothing to them. I just know that I feel desperately sad for them, want to help them but simply don’t know how.

For many people Ramadan is about going above and beyond, they will pray long taraweehs, they’ll decide that they no longer want to watch television or listen to music, maybe they’ll spend the whole night praying…I don’t know but for someone who may have lost their way this might seem like too much. So what could one possibly say to the person is lost? To the person who is no longer sure of their Eman? I think I would suggest that my friends start by the little things in their life. If prayers no longer play a role in the persons life they could start with those, if they are drinking or taking drugs maybe abstain for the month, if they are partying maybe come home a little earlier. Step by step. Insh’Allah that will help bring them closer to Allah(swt) and be close enough to feel the benefit of Ramadan and fasting.

I’ll leave you with a pearl of wisdom from a friend of a friend “those that enter the the deen fast, leave the deen fast”, insh’Allah take things slowly. Step by step. Insh’Allah try, you are in our duas.

“o you who believe, enter Islam completely, and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Surely, he is an open enemy for you;” Surah Al Baqara 208

Gluten Free Roti

This is one of those things that took me ages to perfect. This recipe is very simple and quite an accomplishment because not only does it taste good, but it puffs up in places. In addition you can adapt this to make parathas, because there is always someone in Ramadan who wants one!

You need:
1 part isapghal with the husk removed (this can be purchased with the husk removed from Asian shops)
5 parts doves farm gf flour
salt to taste
water

Mix the flour together with the isapghal and add a little water and leave it for about a minute (this helps the isapghal gel up) then add a bit more water until the flour comes together to form a ball. Don’t knead it. Just let the dough come together to form a ball.
Shape the dough into slightly larger than golf ball sized balls. Then in a gf floured plate flatten slightly and then using a rolling pin, roll out into circles. Heat up a cast iron flat pan (tavva) or frying pan until it is very hot. Then put the roti on to the pan and allow to cook for 1-2 mins on each side before holding it with tongs on a gas flame on each side allowing it to puff up.

Serve with butter or as a side to a main meal.