The Iftars* i have been invited to have been interesting experiences. People sitting around a table filled with food and drink of all kinds…families, friends, guests, just people… hi and lo all sharing their meals and cajoling each other to have just a bit more. The homes are pregnant of the scent of saffron, cinnamon and spice, flavourful biryani’s, ouzi’s infused with cardamom and rose sherbets, all mingled and mixed together with the delicate wafts of the Oud from some corner of the house. Their hospitality is just so, with every member including children, offering you moist plump dates stuffed with nuts or handing out small delicate cups of Arabic tea. It is an intoxicating experience, overwhelming to a degree, to sit here amidst these families, being a part of a bonding ritual, exchanging of love and compassion and being a witness to their generosity. All in all some of the most delicious evenings of my life!
NOTE: A big THANKS to a wonderful friend and an awesome photographer, Santosh Telkhede for allowing me access to his images. Check out more of Santosh’s work on http://www.arabicstockimages.com.
Some great stuff there!
Arabic Mint Tea
4 cups water sugar to your taste, 3 black tea bags but any tea bag will do. (For a fresh unique taste use Earl grey), 5-8 fresh mint leaves ( the leaves being fresh is of utmost importance)
Pour water and sugar into a teapot or saucepan to boil on the stove. Heat on high until water is boiling and sugar has dissolved. While water is boiling, add the tea bags and mint leaves and boil rapidly for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the tea bags and mint. The tea should be served piping hot and possibly with a plate of sticky Baklava!
PISTACHIO WALNUT BAKLAVA
(A tried and tested Baklava recipe originally by Chef Silvena Rowe)
35 fresh filo sheets (2 packets) ,500g new season walnuts, chopped roughly 200g caster sugar 400g melted clarified butter ( real good quality helps) 150g ground Pistachios For the syrup: 500g caster sugar 500ml water 5 tbsp rose water Juice and zest of 2 lemons
Have a large roasting tray ready and butter with a little of the melted butter. The tray should be about 30cm by 20cm. Pre heat oven to 180c. To make the syrup, place the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to boil, then to simmer adding the rose water for about 15 minutes or longer until the syrup is of rather thick consistency. Now add the lemon juice and zest and stir in. To make the filling add the walnuts, caster sugar together and mix well. Add the ground pistachios to the melted clarified butter and mix well. Arrange a filo sheet in and then sprinkle with the with the ground walnuts and butter mixture, then cover with another filo sheet and again sprinkle with the almond and butter mixture, keeping going until you have 8 sheets of filo. Now add a generous layer, about half of the chopped walnut and sugar mixture. Cover with 8 more layers of filo, again sprinkling in between each of them with ground pistachios and butter mixture. Follow with the second and final layer of chopped walnuts and sugar, pressing down gently. Finish with 8 more filo sheets sprinkled in between with ground pistachios and butter mixture. Butter the top layer and using a sharp knife, cut into small diamond shapes. Spray with water and place in the oven for 30 minutes. Now reduce the temperature of the oven to 140c and cook the baklava for another 2 hours. Cool completely and spoon the sugar and rose water syrup making sure that you cover all of the pastry with the hot syrup. Cover loosely and allow to settle for 48 hours in a dry place
- Line a large pot with celery ribs and loose cabbage leaves.
- Rinse off grape leaves and place on a plate.
- In a large bowl, combine ground meat, rice, the juice of 1 lemon, garlic, salt and pepper.
- One grape leave at a time, place the leaf flat on a plate and add 1 tbs. of meat mixture near stem.
- Form meat into long cigar shape then roll the grape leave starting at the stem all the way to the top. No need to fold in sides.
- Line rolls in pot, alternating direction with each layer, until the pot is filled ¾ of the way or you’ve used all your leaves.
- Cover grapes leaves with a small plate turned upside down to keep them from moving and to weigh it down.
- Add chicken broth to the edge of where the leaves end and add juice of second lemon and dried mint.
- Cover pot with lid and bring to a simmer.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer an additional 20-30 minutes or until rice is fully cooked. Excellent with pita bread and plain yogurt.
The Best Hummus You Will Ever Eat 1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste available nowadays in all supermarkets) 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice 3 tbsp olive oil 2 cloves of garlic (minced) 1/2 tsp ground cumin or i sometimes use whole black peppers ( but it tastes great without, so its ok if you don’t use it either) 1/2 tsp sea salt 1/4 tsp hot sauce/ thai chilli sauce 1 1/2 cups of canned chick peas, drained and rinsed
Directions: 1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree. Place in bowl, sprinkle with paprika, drizzle with virgin olive oil and serve with pita wedges and thickly diced cucumbers. Is an excellent partner with kibbeh or falafel.
NOTES: Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is when the Prophet Mohammed was given the Qur’an. The word Ramadan is derived from rmd, which is an Arabic word for heat. The same root is used to refer to burnt earth, a hot climate or a lack of food. This relates to the daytime fasting that Muslims are expected to perform during Ramadan. Lasting for the entire month, Muslims fast during the daylight hours and in the evening eat small meals and visit with friends and family. It is a time of worship and contemplation. A time to strengthen family and community ties. A time for spirituality and introspection. *Iftar The food eaten immediately after sunset to break fast. Here are some healthy foods to eat during the Iftar. Dates, 3 to 5, Juice, 1 serving (4 oz.), Vegetable soup with some pasta or graham crackers, 1 cupThe body’s immediate need at the time of Iftar is to get an easily available energy source in the form of glucose for every living cell, particularly the brain and nerve cells. Dates and juices are good sources of sugars. Dates and juice in the above quantity are sufficient to bring low blood glucose levels to normal levels. Juice and soup help maintain water and mineral balance in the body. An unbalanced diet and too many servings of sherbets and sweets with added sugar have been found to be unhealthy. *Sahur (pre-dawn meal) First of all, there is no need to consume excess food at dinner or sahur (the light meal generally eaten about half an hour to one hour before dawn). The body has regulatory mechanisms that activate during fasting. There is efficient utilization of body fat. Basal metabolism slows down during Ramadan fasting. A diet that is less than a normal amount of food intake but balanced is sufficient enough to keep a person healthy and active during the month of Ramadan. Here are some healthy foods to eat during Sahur. Consume a light sahur. Eat whole wheat or oat cereal or whole wheat bread, 1-2 servings with a cup of milk. Add 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil or any other monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats in a salad or the cereal. Eat 1-2 servings of fruits, as a last item.
Have a blessed Ramadan and an even better Eid!