Taking a break from autumn recipes, there’s plenty on the web if you need something desperately, I have decided to concentrate on the upcoming Islamic holiday of the pilgrimage to Mecca and its culmination, Eid ul Adha. This year, the pilgrimage starts, most probably tomorrow. The whole new moon and viewing the new moon is always a bit tricky.
The pilgrimage to Mecca happens in the 12th month of the lunar Islamic calendar. The pilgrimage lasts 10 days, starting from the first of the month, and these are some of the most important days for a Muslim in his life time. The Pilgrimage, also known as Hajj, is one of the 5 Pillars of Islam and is a duty upon all Muslims providing they can afford to do it.
The Hajj involves tracing some of the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad (blessings be upon him) and the footsteps of other revered people in the Old Testament, for example, one ritual we observe is the frantic pacing of Hagar between two hills, looking for water for Ishmael, when they were stranded. On their seventh run, Ishmael struck the ground with his heel and a spring of water appeared. We do the very same thing, we walk back and forth between the two hills seven times. The walk is much easier for us than it was for her, we do it on paved marble and we take our time but even with the comfort, it’s not easy. It is a reminder for us, of her desperation, her resilience, her hardship and her motherhood. That well of water still exists today in Mecca and is known as the well of Zam Zam.
We travel to Medina, the city of the Prophet and observe other rituals during the 9 days. The 9th day is probably the most important, this day, everyone gathers on Mount Arafah and asks for their pilgrimage to be accepted and their sins forgiven. The Hajj is almost a baptism. When you perform Hajj, you have a clean slate, all your sins are forgiven and you are like a new born baby, pure and untainted. This is symbolised by the complete shaving of men’s head and just snipping the ends of a woman’s hair. So if you happen to see bald Muslim men come October 17th, they just got back from Hajj.
The Day of Arafah is a reminder of the day of judgement. You pray and ask for forgiveness and acceptance for your worship. Everyone is busy doing this intently and hoping their Hajj is accepted. It’s an “each to your own” mentality and that is a reminder of the last day, no one will be able to help you and only your good or bad deeds will decide your fate.
The 10th day is the day of celebration known as Eid ul Adha. On this day, everyone goes to congregational prayer in the morning, dressed in their nicest clothes. They meet and greet their friends and family. After prayer, its time for the sacrifice of the lamb, sheep, goat or cow.
Another ritual we observe is the sacrifice of Abraham of his only, beloved son, Ishmael (known as Ismail to Muslims). In the story, according to Islam, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his most beloved son, Ishmael and when Abraham obeyed his Lord without question, God rewarded his loyalty by replacing Ishmael with a lamb and Abraham ended up sacrificing that instead. It is Abraham’s loyalty to his one God, his duty and his sacrifice without question, that we remember, observe and celebrate.
Muslims remember this sacrifice and we too give a sacrificial lamb, goat or cow at the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Even if we don’t go to Mecca, we are still expected to give a sacrifice. The meat from the sacrifice is divided into thirds; 1/3 goes to the needy, 1/3 goes to family and friends and 1/3 is for yourself. Since my husband is not very good with the whole sacrificing a lamb sort of thing, we donate ours overseas to a needy country.
Needless to say, come the day of Eid, and days after, there’s a lot of meat! There is the meat that you have from your own sacrifice and then there’s the meat family and friends give you! There’s a lot of meat dishes that appear at the dinner table the next few months!
As a child visiting India or Pakistan for the holidays during this time was not a pleasant time for me. I did not like to see the sheep at our home one day and gone the next, and then appear on the dinner table later that week!
My family was very frugal with the meat too, and not because of saving money, but because they, honestly, found every piece of the animal truly tasty! The day of Eid, the breakfast was a lavish lay out of brains, livers, kidneys and other offal, all in rich masala and served with buttery naan or parathas. The breakfast table was filled with my uncles, grandfather, my older brother and my father all enjoying eyeballs and Rocky Mountain oysters (if you get my drift) talking excitedly about some mundane topic.
Me? I would walk up to that table, look at what was on it and quietly, walk right out. It was a hard few days for me because I didn’t eat much. I don’t know how I would be now if I went back to celebrate Eid there. I think I’d have an ever harder time!
Living here it’s much easier, I don’t have the visuals of animals, blood and guts. If I am given meat, it is already cut up and fairly clean. Living in Houston with family, we did enjoy some meat feasts though.
So today’s recipe, appropriately is a meat one; a Merguez Kebab one. I tried Merguez sausage once when I found them in Houston. I have looked since and have not come across any. So a few Google searches led me to the basic spices in the sausage and since Merguez sauasge is a North African spiced sausage, I wasn’t surprised to see the spices in the mix. Trial and error got me to the sausage I remembered. If you want to use it as a sausage, I would omit the onion and fry up links or patties, it is SO good. You can even drop Merguez meatballs into a tagine.
I turned the sausage into a heartier kebab by adding some onions and mint. I really wanted to grill them but time was of the essence that day so they went in the oven. Served with couscous and a vegetable tagine, they were perfect.
- 2 lbs/1kg lean ground beef (10 percent)
- 1 lb/500g ground beef (20 percent)
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- ½ tsp cayenne
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 3 tablespoons harissa paste
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- handful of mint, finely chopped
- Mix everything except onion and mint together and marinate overnight in the fridge.
- If you want to use it as a sausage, fry up in some oil as links or patties.
- If you want to make kebabs, add the onions and mint, form into kebab shape or patties and grill.
- Brush with a neutral flavoured oil before grilling or placing in the oven.
- You can also bake at 400℉/200℃ for about 30 minutes or until firm and browned.
- You can also stick them under the broiler for 5 minutes to get a deeper brown colour.
The ten days of the pilgrimage are very important whether you are travelling to Mecca or observing it at home. I usually fast the 9 days before Eid, so I will be doing it again this year, that means getting up before dawn and eating a light breakfast and then eating again after the sun sets.
In the spirit of this Islamic holiday, I’d like to wish you all much peace and happiness. I hope you are having a great weekend. Today, I am at Laith’s soccer tournament which is a two day affair and since it snowed yesterday, I am quite sure I am very cold. But I will take the cold over the heat any day! Wish us luck, I hope we win all our games.