The other day, someone commented on a recipe of mine with the question of whether my cooking and dishes differ Ramadan to Ramadan, since Ramadan falls in different months every year, or if I find myself making the same dishes whether it is summer or winter. That question did get me thinking…did I change how and what I cook year to year during Ramadan?
I don’t know if many of you read the online food site, The Kitchn, but I was excited to discover they would be doing a series of articles and recipes on Ramadan; from how to organise a Ramadan kitchen to talking with career people about how they fast and work. I am thrilled to see these posts because it finally brings Ramadan into the mainstream by showing how people across the world fast and break their fast.
For many years, I think close to 5-6 years, I subscribed to Bon Appetite magazine. In all that time, I never saw one magazine cover or feature on the two holidays that 1.6 billion people around the world celebrate. I read countless articles on Christmas, Easter, Passover, even Kwanzaa but no Ramadan or Eid ul Fitr or Eid ul Adha. I was quite disappointed and I think that’s why I stopped subscribing. I felt for a food magazine, they should know all food trends and holidays but they didn’t bother to research or educate. I don’t think anything has changed. I follow them on Facebook and I have yet to see anything on Ramadan.
So, imagine my excitement when I see an email from The Kitchn in my inbox asking me for my input on Ramadan. More than them asking for my input, I was excited that someone was focusing on Ramadan for a change.
Even though Ramadan is mainly about abstaining from food, drink and bad behaviours, it is also very much about family and community. The way any family and community connects is by sitting around a table after a long day of fasting and worship, and breaking their fasts together. Sharing a meal with family, friends and strangers is the best way to strengthen ties of kinship and friendship. And this act of sharing a meal is present in every culture and country.
If any of you are interested in reading my article on The Kitchn, you can find it here. I talk about my childhood Iftars in London and the Iftars I have with my children and husband these days.
Back to the question asked by the commenter, the answer is yes and no. Ramadan, like any holiday, has its food traditions. They are different according to countries, families and seasons. Every family has certain food they like to have during Ramadan and many times, it’s only during Ramadan that these foods are cooked. There are quite a few specialties that are reserved for Ramadan. So in this case, my cooking doesn’t change because winter or summer, I will cook certain Ramadan goodies like ataif bil ashta, fruit chaat, borek and samosas. Fasting also kicks in a craving for indulgent, fried foods and though I limit those greatly, I will make them a few days during Ramadan’s 30 days.
I have a set of foods that I will prepare specially for Ramadan regardless of the season, but I also do cook seasonally. When Ramadan fell in the cooler months, I did make a lot of rice dishes and warming stews and curries. This year, Ramadan falls during the longest, hottest days and warming curries just don’t feel good. I have been doing a lot of fresh, colourful salads with grilled meat. The dinner is easy, doesn’t take long, healthy and tastes delicious. We’ve also been breaking our fasts with all the wonderful fruit that’s available to us right now, various berries, juicy and crunchy grapes, and ruby red cherries. I haven’t fried anything yet! Of course, very soon there will be a rebellion from the natives who want their traditional Ramadan treats; I will have to succumb then.
These shami kebabs are always on my Ramadan to do food list. One reason: I love them. They are my favourite and have been since childhood. They are also very versatile just like the chicken kebabs I posted last week. These are kebabs that you can make in bulk and store in the freezer. A quick thaw and a shallow fry in a skillet and they are ready; piping hot, spicy and delicious. Most Indian and Pakistani households will have these in the freezer to pull out when guests drop in unexpectedly. They are perfect alongside a cup of hot chai and other savoury and sweet nibbles. They are also nice to have as an easy dinner: a quick tempering of tangy daal, hot rice or naan and a side of the freshly fried shami kebabs. My favourite way of eating shami kebabs as a child was to stick them inside two slices of buttered white bread, and it still is! I also like them rolled up in a paratha.
These days when I make them for Ramadan, I’m thinking suhoor, the pre dawn meal before the fast starts. I love having these kebabs with some eggs. I will make a large batch and have some for dinner that evening, fry some up for suhoor the next morning, and freeze the rest for later on in the month. This batch, I fried them all up and ate them for breakfast last week. A quick warm up in the microwave is all they need in the morning.
I have shared these before but I’m updating the post here and adding new photos. I hope you try these if you haven’t before. Something interesting to note, these are very similar to the Persian kotlet. Indian cuisine, especially Mughal cuisine has a lot of Persian, Ottoman and Turkish influence. So in dishes that have strong Muslim influence in India (mainly meat dishes) you find a variety of kebabs, meat curries and rice dishes heavy with saffron, nuts and dried fruit.
Serves: 16-18 kebabs
- 1½ pounds/1 kg boneless beef cubes
- ¼ cup chana daal/ yellow split pea lentils, rinsed and soaking
- 1 teaspoon black cumin
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 black cardamom
- 7 green cardamom
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon ginger, minced or grated
- 4-5 cups water, divided
- 1 cup red onion, finely chopped
- ¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
- ¼ cup fresh mint, finely chopped
- ½ green chilli, finely chopped
- 3 eggs
- 1½ teaspoon sea salt or to taste
- oil, for frying
- The quickest way to tenderise the meat and lentils is to use a pressure cooker.
- If you don't have a pressure cooker, we can cook it traditionally; it will just take longer.
- Most of the time is inactive while the meat slow cooks.
- First, grind up the whole spices in a spice grinder.
- Wash and soak the lentils till needed.
- In a medium Dutch oven (5qt), add the meat, all the spices and 2 cups of water (or to cover by an inch)
- Bring up to a boil and then turn down the temperature to low.
- Cover the pot and let simmer.
- The meat will take 2 to 3 hours to tenderise depending on the cut of meat used.
- Check on the meat periodically to ensure there's enough water and to check the doneness.
- Add a cup of water after an hour, the drained lentils and the garlic and ginger
- If the meat is still pretty tough, cook for another hour, add another cup of water if needed.
- Check to see if the meat is tender and the lentils soft.
- If not add a ½ cup more water if needed and continue cooking.
- Once the meat is tender and the lentils are soft, uncover the pot and cook until the mixture is dry.
- Stir occasionally to prevent catching,
- Once the meat and lentils are soft and tender and the moisture has evaporated, pull off the heat and allow to cool.
- While still warm, place the cooked lentils and meat in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, almost paste like.
- Remove the chopped meat and lentils into large bowl.
- Season with salt to taste.
- In same processor bowl, add your onions and pulse till finely chopped.
- Remove into the bowl with meat and lentils.
- Pulse the cilantro and mint and green chilli.
- Add to the bowl.
- Crack in 3 eggs.
- Mix everything together into a meat dough.
- Take golf ball size balls of dough and shape into patties or ovals.
- Place on a plate lined with wax paper until ready to fry.
- You can shape the patties ahead of time and place them on a wax paper lined tray or plate and freeze or refrigerate.
- Heat up a large skillet or cast iron pan, add ½ cup oil to shallow fry.
- Place the kebab patties gently into the hot oil and fry until brown and crispy on one side, and flip and brown the other side.
- Drain on paper towels and serve.
Release the pressure and check to see if meat and lentils are tender.
Remove the cover and cook until almost dry, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Hope everyone is enjoying the warm weather. It’s a bit too hot for me; the Midwest and West are in a heat wave apparently , and even though we are getting afternoon thunderstorms, it’s not cooling down much. I miss my winter!
Have a wonderful week, everybody!