Ramadan - Peace, Reflection & Devotion
Ramadan is considered one of the holiest months of the year to Muslims, those who practice the religion of Islam. During the month of Ramadan, millions of Muslims around the world fast from food and water from sunrise to sunset for a period of 29-30 days. During this time, a lot of peace, reflection, devotion to God and prayer occur all for the means of commemorating the revelation of the Holy Qur’an, the sacred text in Islam. It is especially a month for intense spiritual rejuvenation in gaining taqwa, which is a state of constant awareness of God.
The month of Ramadan for me is extremely nostalgic of my childhood/teenage years. I remember during those years, my baba (father), waking me up before the first sight of dawn to eat a breakfast-like meal called suhur. This usually consisted of something light such as dates, fruits, whole-grain cereals, yogurt, or oatmeal, and with some water, as this light meal was to help fuel and sustain the body with energy for a full day of fasting. Suhur is usually followed with morning prayer and depending on circumstances, either you’d go back to bed or you’d prepare for a day of school or work. At sunset, my family would gather around to break the fast together, and this is referred to as iftar.
My mama always had a delicious spread of authentic, wholesome, home-cooked meals prepared that we would indulge in after we broke fast with water, dates, and soup. Dates are very significant during Ramadan as a traditional culinary custom, merely due to the fact that they provide sustainability and concentrated source of energy, while also being easily digestible. After iftar, many families would attend night prayer and a special Ramadan prayer called taraweeh at the mosque (this is the house of worship for those practicing Islam). Many mosques hold gatherings during the month where people can break their fast together, being a wonderful service for students, the poor, and anyone who desires a break from cooking, and almost all mosques hold a community dinner on weekends. These days/weekends were also a huge part of what we did in my family during my younger years, as Ramadan not only serves as a time to reflect with relatives and friends, but to also enjoy delicious meals together. Whether it was a collective and joint effort of each family bringing a dish to contribute at the mosque, or relatives and friends would host Ramadan dinner in their own homes, those memories are what made Ramadan extremely exciting for me.
As Ramadan commemorates the revelation of the Holy Qur’an, the most blessed night of this holy month is believed to fall on one of the odd nights during the last ten days, and this night is called Lailat al- Qadr, or The Night of Power, signifying the night in which the Qu’ran was first revealed. Mosques are usually open all night during these days as Muslims hold vigils in prayer and recite Qur’anic verses.
At the end of Ramadan, Muslims will celebrate one of the major holidays called Eid al-Fitr or “Festival of Breaking of the Fast”, where a special prayer and sermon are held the morning of Eid followed by community celebration with friends and relatives filled with food, games, and gifts.
As I now have my own family, my husband and two girls aged almost 2 and 4 years old, my husband and I are able to carry on those traditions and teach our girls the beauty and meaning of Ramadan just as we grew to love it. A lot of activities for them revolve around decorations and arts and crafts, reading age appropriate books about Ramadan, lots of light décor, and cooking meals for them that my mom would cook. As they become older and more understanding of the holiday, I look forward to taking them to the mosque and for them to gain the appreciation for this time to reflect, as well as helping to instill those same traditions and customary practices that were instilled in me.
I am able to relive those younger Ramadan years through them while also making our own memories and traditions that they can eventually pass on to their own kids one day.
I am happy to share two of my family's favorite traditional recipes:
Mujaddara – an Arabic dish that features cooked rice and lentils topped with delicious caramelized onions, served with a side of fresh and savory tomato cucumber salad, and yogurt. Vegetarian friendly!
What you will need:
For the lentils/rice:
*This could typically serve 2; so double your batch according to your preference!
1 cup of brown lentil beans
1 cup of rice (I use Basmati Rice for basically everything, Jasmine would also work!)
3-4 cups of vegetable stock
2 large onions, finely chopped
4-5 tablespoons of olive oil
½ tsp garlic powder
½ onion powder
¼ tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
For the yogurt:
1 cup of greek or plain nonfat yogurt
1 tsp of dried mint
salt and pepper to taste
For the salad:
2 plum tomato’s
1 medium sized cucumber
lemon juice, salt, and olive oil to taste and desired tangy preference
1. Give your lentils a quick rinse and add to a pot with your vegetable stock and seasonings - stir. Set stove on
high and bring the lentils to a boil until they become tender and soft.
2. Add your rice to the pot, and add vegetable stock as needed. You want there to be enough liquid that will
cook the rice but not too much where the rice drowns and becomes too soft. Your end goal is a fluffy and
delicious lentil and rice mixture. Bring the pot to a bowl, then cover and lower to medium heat until the water is
boiled away and rice is cooked.
3. While your lentil and rice is cooking, add your chopped onions to a pan of the olive oil and keep on high heat
until they begin to brown and crisp just a tad. Once you see the light crisp set in, lower your heat to medium and keep stirring occasionally until your onions are tender and caramelized and have soaked up enough of the olive
oil. Cover and set aside.
4. Prepare your yogurt mixture by mixing all ingredients together and set aside in the fridge until ready to serve.
Prepare the cucumber tomato salad the same way by mixing all ingredients together and set aside in the fridge
until ready to serve.
5. Once you’re ready to dig in, layer on a plate your rice and lentil mixture, topped with the caramelized onions,
dollop a bit of the yogurt on top with a side of the salad and ENJOY!
Ghrayba – a perfect, Middle-Eastern, melt in your mouth, butter cookie that is so easy to make and even easier to indulge in, also enjoyed during Ramadan!
What you will need:
1 cup of rendered butter, refrigerated or 1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup powdered sugar
2-2 ½ cups of flour
1 cup blanched almonds
1. Beat the butter and sugar thoroughly with a mixer, slowly and gradually adding the flour.
2. Take a small amount and form in the shape of an S (this is the traditional way to shape them) or make them in
a small round shape, not flattening too much. Each cookie should be about a couple inches in size, give or take.
3. Press a blanched almond in the middle of the cookie (if you don’t have almonds, you can also use half of a
skinless peanut piece).
4. Place your cookies on a cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees in a preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, and
avoid browning of the cookies!