Ramadan is the ninth and most special month of the Muslim calendar.
It is a time of spiritual reflection, prayer and doing good deeds. The lunar holiday lasts for 30 days, with 10 nights of special blessings and prayers called Laylat al-Qadr toward the end of the month.
Ramadan happens in all seasons because each year the holiday falls 10 days earlier than the last. This year it begins Aug. 1.
The most notable part about Ramadan is the practice of fasting, or sawm, from dawn to dusk by all Muslims who are of age and healthy enough to participate.
“The main reason for fasting is to control our inner-self. Allah wants us to have discipline and stay away from a lot of sleep, food and things that aren’t good for us,” said West Springfield resident Meher Yousuf Imam. “We reverse our schedule to change bad habits. It’s like a training month to ready us for the rest of our year.”
During Ramadan, offices, markets, schools and shops close early so that families can be together for Iftar, or the fast-breaking meal at sunset. Special prayers called Tarawih and reading the entire Koran are encouraged during the festival month.
Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of the Muslim holiday and breaks the month-long fast with a day full of celebrations, socializing, meals and small gifts for children.
During Ramadan special traditional dishes are served. Each Muslim country has a different culture but many of the foods are alike.
An interfaith iftar, or breaking-the-fast celebration during Ramadan, will be held on Aug. 11 at the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts, 377 Amostown Road, beginning at 6 p.m. and concluding with dinner at 8 p.m. The celebration is open to all with RSVPs appreciated to [email protected].
Imam, born in Karachi, Pakistan, shared her favorite family dishes of the fasting holiday for this story.
“We eat less but try to eat nutritious food instead of junk food. We fill up our tummies with good food like dates, lentils and meat dishes,” said Imam, a self-learned cook who learned her culinary skills from both her mother and father.
“My mom wanted to teach me to cook so she could rest a bit. Once when I was 10, I double-salted a kabob dish to the point where it became inedible. After that, Mom sent me outside to play a lot more,” Imam recalled with a laugh.
Staples on Imam’s family Ramadan dinner table are dates, fruit salad, black chana dal, daleem, pakoras and samosas. Dates are the most important item for a meal during Ramadan. Not only are they nutritious but also eating them allows a Muslim person to follow the Sunnah, or manners, of the Prophet Mohammed since it is said he would begin each meal with dates.
SARAH PLATANITISBlack Chana Dal with eggplant and potato Pakoras
Imam enjoys dates cut down the middle with almonds “pits” and a special fruit salad drizzled with mango and lemon juice plus sugar, salt, pepper, and honey for a sweet and tangy dish. Rooh Afza, a Pakistani summer drink made from flowers and fruit juice, is a favorite drink during Ramadan.
“Families chose what to highlight on their Ramadan dinner table depending on their likes and dislikes,” said Imam. “There are really no appetizers or entrees, all dishes are main dishes!”
Satisfying and spicy, Black Chana Dal is a dry black chickpea curry with a distinct flavor that comes from the hours it takes to make.
Daleem, sometimes called “haleem”, is a tasty porridge of lentils, wheat and beef.
Pakoras, a favorite of Imam’s oldest son, are savory fritters, deep-fried and similar to tempura that are just as mouthwatering as their traditional yet filling stuffed pastries samosa cousins.
“Once all the food is out, my family sits together and we watch the clock until it is time to say our prayers.
We ask Allah for blessings, health, and success…and for my son to pass his 9th grade exams,” said Imam with a smile. “We eat a little, pray a lot and be together. It’s a wonderful time.”
Note: Prepared mixes can be purchased at international grocery stories to help make the basics of the recipes below:
Black chana dal
2 cups raw black chickpeas 1 medium onion 2 tablespoons vegetable oil Salt, to taste 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder 1 tablespoon ground cumin 1 tablespoon coriander seeds 1 tablespoon tamarind paste
Soak chickpeas overnight for 6 to 8 hours. Drain half water. Slice onion and brown in oil. Add softened chickpeas with water plus spices. Mix well. Bring to a boil, add tamarind paste and simmer on low until thick.
Sometimes called “haleem,” this flavorful porridge of lentils, wheat and beef is delicious no matter how you spell it.
3 pounds beef, chuck 1/2 cup raw lentils, any kind 1 cup raw bulgur wheat 1/4 cup fried onions Salt, to taste 2 tablespoon cayenne pepper 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder 1 tablespoon ground cumin 1 tablespoon coriander seeds 2 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
Soak lentils overnight for 6 to 8 hours. Braise meat in separate pan with spices and ginger garlic paste. Add meat to lentils and simmer for 4 hours. Add 1/4 cup fried onions and continue cooking two more hours or until meat is very tender and falls apart. Before serving, sprinkle with lemon juice, fried onion or green peppers.
SARAH PLATANITISDry ingredients for Pakoras.
Savory fritters, similar to tempura, that are deep-fried and sure to please all ages. 2 cups chickpea flour
1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper 1 tablespoon turmeric powder 1 tablespoon coriander 1 tablespoon cumin seeds 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1 large potato 1 small eggplant 1 medium onion 1/4 cup cilantro Oil for deep-frying
Combine chickpea flour, salt, spices and baking powder. Add enough water, a little at a time, to create a medium consistency batter. Set aside for 30 minutes. Cut vegetables into 1/4 inch rounds. Heat 1 to 2 inches of oil in a heavy skillet or deep pot over medium-high flame to 365 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Dip vegetables into batter and deep fry until lightly brown. Place on paper towel-lined plate and keep warm until serving. Add onion and cilantro to remaining batter and drop spoonfuls into oil.
Optional: Add small bits of beef, chicken or fish to the batter mix.
SARAH PLATANITISDetail of sealing the Samosas closed.
A modern spin on a very traditional and filling stuffed pastry dish.
Flour tortillas 1 egg, scrambled 1 pound beef, minced 2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste Salt, to taste 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped 1 medium onion, chopped
Boil beef mince in water; add ginger garlic paste, salt and cayenne pepper. Drain and set aside. Once cool, add chopped cilantro and onions. Cut flour tortilla in half and brush half of cut side with egg. Fold into cone-like shape and press firmly. Fill pocket with beef mix until half full. Brush egg along open edges and close together, pressing firmly. Fry or freeze. SOURCE