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Friday, 19 July 2013

Ramadan in USA - Qamar El Deen (Apricot Juice)

"My Ramadan food memories come from my family’s very Egyptian kitchen in the US, where I grew up. One of the most important aspects of the season was to feed the community around us."                  
                                             - Sarah Dajani, pastry student at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris

While the US is not the first place that pops to mind when saying Ramadan, there is a Ramadan culture in some areas over there too. Whereas only the Muslims observe the fast, more and more people join in the cultural aspect of the Holy, which is mainly characteristised by being a time to focus on good deeds and acts of supporting the community.

From charities, fundraisers, to even sponsoring orphans... many such activities take place in the US during the month of Ramadan. Some of these activities are done through individual efforts, and others through organisations, however, all are aimed to support the community within which one lives. In this effect, large communal Iftars are usually organised not only for family, friends and neighbours, but also extended to anyone in need of a good meal, including non-Muslim and non-fasting members of the community. Donated packages of food stocks to feed a family for at least one week, are organised, packaged and delivered prior to the start of the Holy month to ensure those in need are ready for the fast.
Such a commendable effort, befitting with the original Ramadan spirit, in which community and supporting others are crucial. One to be inspired by actually. 

While in the very near past, this used to be the culture of Ramadan everywhere, it seems that over the past decade, many have reduced Ramadan to just fasting, and even by that, only abstaining from eating and nothing else! A whole month of no work, sleeping all day, watching TV and hanging out at coffee shops!

Let's not forget that Ramadan is the month to consider others - one of the main objectives of fasting - and extending this consideration to the community in actions rather than just thought is more Ramadan in essence than breaking fast after a day spent sleeping and spending the rest of the evening pinned in front of the TV slurping soft drinks and munching on sugary foods. This is, in the end, the real essence and culture of Ramadan, not the tents, the lavish foods and the waste of, the TV programmes, and the card games lasting until right before sunrise to ensure sleeping all day. 

Having said that, one can still enjoy those fun activities, Ramadan is a celebration at the end of the day.  However, balance is what makes the difference. Perhaps the balance lies in doing good for others, and doing good for yourself too. Taking a little and giving a little, after all, too much of any one thing defeats all purpose.

Ramadan Orphan Drive
photo by IslamicRelief USA

My friend, Sarah Dajani, who is currently studying French Pastry at Le Cordon Bleu, grew up in the US. When I asked her about her family's Ramadan traditions, and her early memories of Ramadan, she described it as being characterised by communal work. She said:
"One of the most important aspects of the month was to feed the community around us. We spent weeks preparing for a major Iftar dinner in which we would invite nearly 100 members of the local community, including non-Muslim friends who weren't fasting, to share in the feast. I was always in charge of dessert, so I spent the majority of the day melting chocolate and dealing with pastry emergencies!"
Sarah's family had lived in Egypt before moving to the US. She describes that during Ramadan her family's kitchen becomes very Egyptian. Just like most people, Sarah's family cooks and enjoys the comfort foods of home, in their case the traditional Egyptian cuisine. She described their menu as follows:

A traditional Egyptian Iftar menu consists of

Chicken noodle soup with orzo pasta
Arabic bread with hummus and fresh vegetables


Qamar el Deen (Dried Apricot Juice)

Fresh fruit salad
Qatayef (fried Arabic pancakes stuffed with cream, nuts, and honey)

Molokheyya, rice & chicken

When I asked Sarah how cooking is different during Ramadan, and how her day is different during the Holy month, she said:
"Most days of the year I spend all my time thinking about food. In Ramadan that stops. After several days of fasting, your stomach becomes barren, and your mind adjusts to the fact that you can’t snack or slurp during the day. It’s a kind of liberation. Free of those fixations, your thoughts become clearer and the evenings turn away from indulgence and towards contentment. So cooking and eating become more mechanical somehow, although no less enjoyable. Another difference is, weekends are usually spent at friends’ houses, while during the week, I like to eat in and conserve my energy."  
I also asked her if there are any specific Iftar or Sohour foods that she has by means of traditions? She like everyone else will break fast with a date, which gives her body energy and a cup of water to rehydrate her body. She also said that since she had been spoiled with the Jordanian 'Majdool' dates, she can no longer break her fast with the other tougher and leathery varieties. As for Sohour, she only has a cup of water at 4 am as if she eats more her stomach feels queasy for the rest of the day. 
"I have friends who have a few cups of coffee for suhoor and then head straight to sleep, to avoid the caffeine headache the next day. I cannot do that."

Qamar El Deen (Dried Apricot Juice)
Photo by Sarah Dajani
Sarah Dajani's

Qamar El Deen
Dried Apricot Juice

Sara has generously shared her Qamar El Deen recipe here with us. She said:

"Qamar el Deen Literally mean the “moon of religion,” it is also known as apricot juice. It involves soaking apricot fruit leather in water overnight and stirring it until it becomes a viscous, syrupy nectar that almost immediately raises your blood sugar after a long day of fasting."

Qamar El Deen is a very famous drink in many countries during Ramadan, and is a staple drink on most Iftar and Sohour menus.

You Need 
1 packet (400 g) Qamar El Deen fruit leather sheets
1 cup sugar
6 cups water, room temperature

Use a large pot (big enough to hold 3-4 liters of water). 

Tear the fruit leather sheet  into medium-sized pieces, about half the size of your palm. Place them in the pot. 

Pour all the water into the pot to cover the fruit leather, then add 1 cup sugar and mix. 

Allow the mixture to sit for 6 to 12 hours, mixing occasionally. When the fruit leather has disintegrated mix it well and pour the drink into a pitcher and refrigerate. Add sugar to taste. 

Serve cold.


Meet Sarah Dajani
Sarah Dajani is the author of the blog 'Devour'. She is currently studying basic French pastry at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. Originally Egyptian-Palestinian, Sarah graduated from Princeton University in 2009 with a degree in international development in the Middle East. She joined Bain & Company as a management consultant in their Dubai and Silicon Valley offices, gaining a foundational skillset in business. In 2012 she moved to Jordan as a Fulbright scholar in social entrepreneurship in the food and agriculture sector, where she applied her business knowledge in the field of social and economic development. She is currently starting a business with her partner, Sarah Toukan, that aims to preserve Middle Eastern culinary heritage and present it through gourmet pastry. She will be joining Stanford’s Graduate School of Business as an MBA candidate this fall. 

Qamar el Deen picture and recipe are provided by Sarah Dajani 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
"We may have different religions, different languages, different coloured skin, but we all belong to one human race."                                                                                                                          - Kofi Annan

Hope you have enjoyed exploring Ramadan in the US, but mostly I hope you have been inspired to remember the real essence of the Holy month of Ramadan. Why not dedicate some of your time to helping others and supporting your community?
Would love to hear your thoughts, do leave a comment and help me keep the cnversation alive...

Come back tomorrow for 
the Mystery of Moroccan Tagines :)

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