Archive | August, 2011

Hibernating Ramadan

6 Aug

The month of Ramadan is here when Muslims, the world over, fast from sun up to sun down. We end the month with a big celebration known as Eid-ul Fitr. Here are some wonderful images from the Boston Globe which features Muslims around the world initiating this occassion.

What is so important about the month of Ramadan? It is the month when Muslims believe the Qur’an was first revealed in the form of a recitation by the Angel Gabriel (Gibril, in Arabic) to the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). Here is a more eloquent statement on the reason why Muslims fast by Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

In my own words, we fast simply to become closer to God. In doing so, we draw closer to the source of mercy and love; therefore, as a family we draw closer to one another. This becomes evident in so many small ways. This evening while I recited Qur’an, my soon to be 10-year-old son was getting dressed in his jellabiya (traditional clothes for attending the mosque). I saw him from the corner of my eye. His last gesture before he walked out of the room was to lean down and give me a kiss on the cheek. “Bye, Mama,” he said. Such simple, loving gestures make a mother feel like she is sitting on a river of gold.

During Ramadan we find that the chore to constantly grind calories and fill up our schedule with limit-less activities, when put aside, helps us focus more acutely on the purpose of our life in this world and of our desire to be in much closer proximity to our Creator in the afterlife.

We hibernate during Ramadan to find, hopefully, the spiritual sustenance to give us energy for the year ahead. Ramadan comes about 11 days earlier every year on the lunar calender; how wonderful that this year it comes just before the school year descends.

In Ramadan it is encouraged not to spend the whole day excessively planning and thinking about collard greens, fried chicken and mash potatoes, and how good a glass of sweet tea would feel in our dry mouths. However, there is a period of the day given wholly to preparing a special Ramadan meal, to enjoy at sundown, known as the iftaar. My Collard Green-Arab kids love this part. We often huddle in the kitchen together and whip up comfort foods that we want to share together. Even though the little kids are not fasting, they anticipate this shared meal as much as if they were fasting.

I don’t cook many Southern comfort foods. I turn out a variety of Moroccan holiday meals passed down through the generations. I want our children to grow up with special memories of the Ramadan table and since the Moroccans have been perfecting that craft for a few hundred years, why re-create the wheel. Plus, this bonds my children even more to their Moroccan culture and identity which they weave with their Collard-Green roots.

Regardless of culture, Muslims the world-over traditionally break their fast with dates, because that was the tradition of the Prophet Muhammed and his companions. These are the lovely medjool dates, plentiful in California. We bought 11 lbs and we will likely need to purchase more before Ramadan is over. Forget about those dried, pitted dates at the local grocery store chain. These are so much better.

Here is what I’ve been preparing it the gluten-addict category which is my favorite Ramadan food-group.

This will become batbout – a Moroccan flat bread that is cooked on the stove. Mmmmm…..

You have to try this with strawberry preserves and butter. If you like cornbread you will love this and the texture is especially heavenly.

This will become Melloui, a Moroccan crepe-like pancake, which is traditionally served with butter and honey instead of syrup.

That sheen on my hand is straight-up oil and butter. This stuff is not for the Jazzercise queens. It’s ridiculously fattening and yummy! You must not die before eating melloui.

I wish I could insert the sizzling sound it makes while cooking. The kids keep asking: “Is it iftaar time yet?!” They can hardly resist.

Gosh, and I must mention krachel. It is a sesame and anise sweet roll scented with orange flower water. Our kids love preparing the dough and it gives my kneading hands a rest for a few minutes.

 Oddly, it resembles a hamburger bun, which is what I thought it was the first time I saw it and started preparing it for the Ramadan table. The deliriously delicious recipe for these rolls can be found on where Christine Benlafquih reveals traditional recipes passed down from mother to daughter.

Even though Ramadan is a month of abstaining from our regular routine, which includes breakfast and lunch; it is really a month of indulgence; indulging our inner earning to be closer to God and closer to one another. The meals we prepare and anticipate in those moments before the Ramadan meal is served are opportunities to slow down and savor the company of one another and eventually the flavorful delights we have given up all day long for the sake of quenching our higher thirst for God’s favor and closeness to His mercy.