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Saturday, 27 July 2013

Ramadan in Lebanon - Old Traditions & a Lebanese Lentil Soup

Lebanese children celebrating Ramadan
Photo by Beirut.com

"The most significant Ramadan tradition that my family follows is being together as a family and I do hope and believe that the younger generation does follow this tradition. Ramadan is a lovely time of the year that I would invite everyone to join in and celebrate regardless of religion or culture." 
 - Tala Soubra, UAE Blogger 'Fork it over Dubai'


As part of the celebrations in the days leading up to Ramadan, many Lebanese people head out to the beaches or public parks with their children for sighting the crescent that signals the beginning of Ramadan, as part of the longstanding Beiruti tradition called "Istibanat Ramadan" إستبانات رمضان . Back in the day, after people have seen the crescent they would head to Dar Al fatwa دار الفتوى (The Islamic Court) where they would testify seeing the crescent and the Mufti مفتي will then announce the beginning of Ramadan. While much of the old traditions seem to be diminishing with time, most people still carry out this tradition and some even insist that their children and grandchildren should take part to keep the tradition alive. After all, these traditions are ones that give Ramadan its distinct flavour.
Lebanon is no stranger to good food and spreads of food that allow people to gather and eat merrily in each other's company. In fact, Lebanon is the most famous for this among all other Arab countries. Ramadan - being such month where gatherings are of the essence - fits right in the Lebanese meal style.

Lebanese Mezze (appetisers)
Whenever possible go for free range meats, not only will you know they have had a good life
as opposed to mass production conditions, but the meats are always way better

I have chatted with the lovely Tala Soubra, a UAE food blogger of Lebanese origin, about Ramadan in Lebanon and she noted that the predominant aspect of Ramadan in Lebanon is the gathering of Family, alongside good food and gratitude. She said:

"Ramadan is a beautiful month that revolves around family, food and being thankful. Keeping with the spirit of the Holy month, most Lebanese families view it as a time to get everyone together. Breaking fast therefore usually occurs at relative’s homes, who take turns in throwing delicious Iftar dinners. That way, cooking Iftar every evening becomes a lovely event rather than just putting dinner on the table." 

Tala also explained that Lebanese cuisine allows cooks to prepare a multitude of dishes as" most of the Lebanese quinine is served fresh and doesn’t require over night preparations." then went on explaining that Ramadan food preparations in her household usually start on the day of, instead of days, and at times weeks, in advance as is the case with other cuisines. "


Making Vegetable Croutons for Tala's Lebanese Lentil Soup (recipe below)
Photo by Tala Soubra, Fork it Over Dubai

According to Tala, all the food of Lebanese cuisine can be served during Ramadan, however, specific dishes such as lentil soup, and the famous Ramadan drink Jillab جلاب - made out of a mixture of grape molasses and rosewater, which is served cold (with ice) and topped with pine nuts - are almost always served during Ramadan. The Lentil soup, she explains, is usually served to break the fast in order to warm you up and prepare you for the great meal to follow. 

"Another signature component of an Iftar meal is that it is always a complete four course meal, including soup, salad, main dishes and desserts... One very good example of the difference between Ramadan food choices and other days' desserts for example. While, in my household, Arabic sweets such as Knefeh or Baklava are usually reserved for special occasions, during Ramadan either of the above sweets are always present in the house. " she adds.

When I asked Tala about the food she personally prefers to eat in Ramadan she unhesitatingly replied:

"During Ramadan I do prefer eating Lebanese food because it is set in a certain way to ease yourself into breaking your fast. While there aren’t many foods that I would not eat during Ramadan, I don't think I would go for Japanese food such as sushi. I don't think that would be ideal... " 

I then asked her whether she prefers a home-cooked meal in Ramadan or breaking fast at a restaurant, she was one of the very few I spoke with who are keen on the restaurant Ramadan experience, however, she does prefer Mum's home-cooked meals to a restaurant experience for Iftar, these were her words:

"As Ramadan is thirty days we enjoy breaking our fast either at home or in restaurants to enjoy a variety of Iftar experiences. With that said, the majority of my Iftar dinners are at home because I enjoy my mothers cooking the most to be honest."

Breaking Fast at restaurants is a welcome break from cooking and allows you to enjoy different Iftar experiences
However, during Ramadan home cooked meals remain the most popular choice
..................................................................................................................................................................

A Ramadan Menu in Tala Soubra's Household includes

Starter
Lentil Soup (recipe Below)
Meat and Spinach Fatayer (Meat & Spinach Pastries)

Entree
Rice and Chicken with toasted almonds 

Dessert
Knefeh 

Beverages
Jillab

................................................................................................................................................................

"My loveliest memory of Ramadan is waking up for Suhour and sitting with my bother in the kitchen to have our last meal of the day all while exchanging stories and memories from our childhood and the future to come."   - Tala Soubra 

Tala Soubra's Lebanese Lentil Soup
Tala's Lebanese Lentil Soup
Photo by Tala Soubra, Fork it Over Dubai
You Need
1 cup lentils
1 onion
2 carrot
1 sweet potato
3 teaspoon Salt
2 teaspoon white pepper
1 table spoon on vegetable oil
4 cups Water
A drizzle of olive oil
A drizzle of lemon

Wash and soak the lentils for ten minutes. Dice the onions. Peel and chop the carrots and sweet potato into bite sizes. 

Add the vegetable oil, onions and 2 teaspoons of salt in a deep pot and sauté until the onions are translucent. (Keep a handful of onions on the side to be used for the croutons).

Add half the carrots and sweet potato and the full amount of white pepper to the onions and sauté for 3 minutes.

(The other half of the carrots and sweet potato will be used for the croutons)

Add the 4 cups of water to the vegetables and bring to a boil. Strain the lentils and add them to the boiling water and veggies. Cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes. Stir the mixture occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Have a taste test and add salt according to your liking.

Serve hot and drizzle some lemon and paprika on top.

To make the croutonsTake the remaining onions, carrots and sweet potato and lay them out on a sheet pan. Drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt over the vegetables. Bake in the oven until roasted, about 30 minutes.

***

Fork It Over Dubai
Tala Soubra is a corporate banker by day, and by evening lives in the world of her passion - the world of Food. She is the food blogger behind Fork It Over Dubai which is predominantly a restaurant blog but she also delves into recipes, lifestyle and travel posts. 

"The most important initiative with my blog is to get people involved, that’s why I invite everyone to join me on my restaurant reviews every Tuesday for Fork It Over Dubai Tuesday Dinners and even feature my readers for recipes they do best on U fork It Over."

All quotations and most information including the Lentil Soup & Vegetable Croutons images and recipes are provided by Tala Soubra and are her property. They are published on this blog with her permission. Please do not copy or use them without her permission.

***

Food For Thought
Together is always better




I hope you have enjoyed getting to know the specifics of Ramadan in Lebanon.  I would love to hear your thoughts... so let me know what you think of Old Traditions, are you one for keeping them alive or one for slicing them off the menu and moving on, never looking back? Do share with us and keep the conversation alive.



Come back tomorrow for 
How she remembers Ramadan in 1910 :)



The world is beautiful, all its people are beautiful, all cultures equally important, and all the same in the end - all out there for us to explore...
Ramadan Kareem

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