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Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Food Fight of Our Lives: Food For Money, Never Mind Survival!

Corporate Farming: Food For Money Not Survival!
Photo by Jupiterimage

Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus proves its universality yet again
Not so long ago, food enthusiasts were debating the importance of organic farming against conventional farming. Whether organic was necessary... the importance of buying more expensive yet less perfect looking produce... whether organic was just another trend the industry was pushing our way as a fashionable statement of a prestigious lifestyle... and some even going the extent of slamming the organic movement as yet another conspiracy theory to get the gullible of us to "pay more for less".... these were all points in the organic debate minutes.

Simultaneously, farmers were bombarded with the lure of corporate driven agricultural forms, tempted by the promise of sustainability and the smell of exponential money potential... These farmers, especially owners of small farms, never dreamt of being able to make it bigger than Wall Street. Yet there they were being offered magic seeds with the potential of generating millions for them and their families to savour and live a life of comfort and no worries. Little did they know that these monstrous corporations were going to burry them with tons of paper work, and files upon files of contracts that give them no way back. It was more or less like signing a contract with the devil, where you are promised all things you can ever dream of at the small price of never being able to change your mind!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

"Today's Modern Food: It is not what you think"


A Trending Necessity and the Ugly Reality of perfectly shaped forcibly evergreen produce

Many people think that choosing 'organic produce' is a trend, something fashionable, or you do it because it is cool! Many even question what is so special about organic produce? Why are people going crazy over less perfect looking fruits and vegetables, when there is the perfectly shaped, waxed, odorless, produce that is available all year round...?!
Way over a few dozen people believe that these are labels created to confuse consumers, are marketing slogans, and a way to sell produce at more expensive prices... A new term everyday... organic, slow, sustainable, local, seasonal, free range, GMO, fast, Controlled production conditions, Mass production.... all becoming too hard to keep up with..!!!
While some terms have been used for marketing purposes, and some terms became synonymous with fashionable trends, and some causes may have been adopted for their "cool" status, one must realise that the issues are Real, deeper, and they are at the very core of our wellbeing and continuity! Yes, a bit too serious, but all true... These issues and causes are very important to understand, and take action towards (supporting or opposing).

Read on for the full article....

Thursday, 15 August 2013

2 Quiche Recipes including the basic recipe to make any quiche - Perfect for Brunches and Afternoon Tea

Spinach & Chicken Quiche


Quiche is one of my favourite savoury pies. It is one pie that is very open for your imagination and the addition of any ingredients and flavours that your palate desires. When made in mini size, it makes an elegant pass around option for cocktail parties, and also makes a brilliant afternoon tea option, as well as being great for lunch boxes. Even in Buffets, mini quiches stacked on a cake stand or multi-tiered platter are always very elegant.

Children usually love Quiche, especially if you involve them in the making of it. I usually create a mini ingredients bar for my kids and their friends including finely chopped vegetables as capsicum, tomatoes, mushrooms, grilled chicken pieces...etc and tell them to make their own quiche. We make the basic quiche recipe (below) then each will add their preferred ingredients and flavours to it and it heads to the oven. Besides being an excellent activity that the kids will love, it will taste delicious and makes an excellent meal or snack for them to enjoy with the pride of the baker.

Your guests will always enjoy quiche, you and your family will too, so what's stopping you? Get to it and here is how its made...

***

Basic Quiche
Makes 1 large pie
To make baby Quiche simply use a mini tartlets tray
or cupcakes tray and follow through the recipe as with
the large pie.
This is a basic Quiche recipe that you can serve plain or use to build on with other flavours. Try adding broccoli & gruyere with chicken, or sundried tomatoes, black olives and fresh basil for a Mediterranean quiche, or add a variety of mushrooms and cheeses…etc. Be creative, this is one space where you can do that with flying colours :)

These instructions are taking allowing the kids to prepare it with you into consideration so this recipe is child friendly.
You Need1 recipe short-crust pastry for savoury pies and tarts, recipe on this link
4 beaten eggs
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup milk
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella
¼ cup shredded Swiss cheese
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
Salt & Black pepper to taste


Roll and bake the pastry as instructed in the pastry recipe.

Allow your child to stir together, eggs sour cream, milk, nutmeg and seasoning, in a large bowl. Pour the mixture into the hot, baked shell (yourself as it will be hot) and bake in 325°F/280°C oven for 30-35 minutes or until a knife inserted near the centre comes out clean.

Remove the quiche from the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes before removing from the pie plate. Serve warm or cold, along side assorted leaves dressed with a simple vinaigrette.


Spinach and Chicken Quiche


For Spinach Quiche
Although spinach is not your most obvious option to serve kids, quiche is a good place to introduce children to spinach. Mixed with the rest of the quiche ingredients the flavor of the spinach becomes very mild.

Prepare as in the plain quiche recipe, except, sauté 1 finely chopped small onion in 1 tbsp olive oil until translucent. Add chopped baby spinach leaves and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the onion and spinach mixture to the egg mixture and mix then pour the mixture in the hot, baked shell. Follow through as instructed in the plain quiche recipe. 

You can add some grilled chicken pieces to this quiche for a heartier meal and because some children will like it better this way.



Both the plain quiche and the spinach quiche are delicious. Use the basic recipe to create any variety of flavours you like.
Sahtein
(Arabic for Bon Apetite)  :)

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Short-Crust Pastry for Savoury Pies & Tarts and The Simplest Most Delicious Tomato Tart


Tomato Tart
Photo by Bronmarshall

I have received many requests for a good savoury short-crust pastry, and because the past month was very busy with the Ramadan Special posts, I wasn't able to post the recipe then.

But, here we are, this is my go-to recipe for savoury shortcrust pastry and it is very simple to make, yet super delicious (especially when flavoured to match the ingredients of the filling). Making your own pastry is way better than buying the ready made ones, as it allows you to control the flavour and use these to enhance the overall flavour of your savoury pie or tart.

Pastry Flavour options 
Use spices, hard cheeses, toasted nuts, herbs and even chutneys or flavoured oils to flavour your pastry. These flavourings can either mirror those that are used in the filling or different ones to enhance and compliment the flavours of the fillings.

Parmesan cheese or any similarly textured cheeses, sage, thyme, oregano, dills, fried garlic, sumac, zaatar, cumin seeds, sesame or fennel seeds are all flavours that I repeatedly go for in my savoury pies and tarts...

The sky is the limit so be creative :)


***

Instead of using the same old tomatoes,
try mixing different types of tomatoes in any
recipe including this delicious ingredient.
You will be surprised how this enriches
the flavour and the visual appeal
of your dish.
Short-Crust Pastry for Savoury Pies & Tarts
Makes 1 large pie or 12 mini pies (8 servings)

This pastry is perfect for making any type of savoury pies and tarts. Flavour the pastry with Parmesan cheese, black pepper, oregano or even lemon zest for extra flavor. 

For best results, make sure the butter and water are extra cold.

You Need185g all purpose flour
100g cold butter, cubed
2-3 tbsp ice cold water
60g grated Parmesan cheese


Place the flour, butter and grated cheese in the food processor. Then pulse until the mixture resembles crumbs.

Turn the processor on medium speed and (working quickly) while it’s running, gradually add the water (1 tbsp at a time) until the dough clings and resembles a ball. Turn the machine off and transfer the dough to a clean work surface.

Gather the dough together using your fingertips and wrap it with cling film. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 450°F/280°C. Lightly grease a loose-bottom pie plate or tartlets tray if making mini pies. Set aside.

TIP  -   You can use a Mini Tartlets tray or a Cupcakes tray to make mini tarts or pies. These are very elegant to serve during cocktail parties, afternoon teas as well as make an excellent Lunch box choice for your kids.

Roll the pastry (around ¼ inch thick). Line the greased pie plate or tartlet tray holes with the pastry and trim off any excess pastry.

Blind bake the pastry in the preheated oven for 8 minutes. Remove the baking beans and reduce the oven temperature to 325°F/160°C.

Bake the pastry for 5 minutes extra (or until it is dry). Remove from the oven. Your pastry is now ready to fill with the desired filling (following the recipe).

***

For Tomato Tart
Tomato tarts are the simplest tarts to make, yet the most delicious to have. The vibrant tomatoes, sprinkled with green herbs look mouthwateringly beautiful in the tart shell.

You can use whole or halved cherry tomatoes, sliced assorted tomatoes and may even alternate red, green and yellow tomatoes. Be creative and remember that visual appeal is always essential and makes your food look even more delicious.


You can use tomato chutney as a base for this tart's filling
Or you can use only oven grilled tomatoes
sprinkled with olive oil and omit everything else.
Whatever you do a tomato tart is always delicious
You Need
1 recipe Savoury Shortcrust Shell (above)
1/4 cup EV olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
4 springs Thyme
Goats cheese or your preferred cheese
Cherry tomatoes or assorted tomatoes
3 tbsp pecans, toasted then roughly chopped
4 springs thyme extra
a pinch of coarse sea salt extra

Make the shell as per the instructions above, but do not over brown the shell as you bake to allow for finishing the pie in the oven. Once the pastry is dry, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup olive oil with 1 crushed garlic clove, 3 rounds of the pepper mill or 1/2 tsp freshly crached black pepper, 1/2 tsp course sea salt and thyme leaves from 4 stems.

Generously brush the slightly cooled pastry with the olive oil mixture. Top with crumbled goat's cheese (or your desired cheese), and brush with the olive oil mixture. Sprinkle the roughly chopped toasted pecans and the remaining thyme leaves. Line the tomatoes to cover the whole top of the tart and brush with the remaining olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper then bake in 350°F/180°C oven for 12 minutes or until slightly golden and tomatoes start to crack.

Remove from oven and leave to cool slightly. Serve warm or cold with a side of assorted leaves dressed with a simple vinaigrette.

A simple yet fabulously delicious light lunch, snack, brunch option.... you get the drift :)


I make this with Nabulsi cheese جبنة نابلسية (A specialty cheese of the city of Nablus/Palestine) and it tastes Divine. If you have access to Nabulsi cheese, try it, you are going to love it!

If you are making this for your children's lunch box, then cheddar cheese is more popular with kids,  and the same with oregano as opposed to thyme. I would also remove the pecans as it is not safe to send anything containing nuts to school. Just in case any of the children are allergic.


Sahtein
(Bon Apetite in Arabic :))

Wednesday, 7 August 2013



كل سنة وانتوا كلكم سالمين



Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Reflections Of Andalusia

Image of Bayad playing the lute in the presence of the Lady and her entourage.from the 13th-century manuscript Hadith Bayad wa-Riyad, from Andalusia 

Today's post is the 30th and last post of Ramadan Special 2013. 
Throughout this Ramadan, I had been exploring the essence of the Holy month, the spirit of Ramadan and its cultural traditions in different countries and various eras. One thing very evident is that Muslims everywhere celebrate Ramadan very similarly, despite the few differences which are more like culture-specific details. For instance in Hyderabad a Musaherati would roam the streets with a lantern, while in most Arab countries, following suit of the Ottoman era they would roam with drums, and a little further back in time it was roaming with their own voices... put the tools aside, the aim was one; to wake people for their predawn meals, in an attempt to help make people's fast easier and more tolerable. The Ottoman's Mahya Illuminations, the lights in the picture of a star and moon that is today hung on balconies and homes to express the celebration of Ramadan, are similar to the very old era's lanterns that were placed on either side of the path leading to the mosques to help people find their way for Tarawih prayers. On the same note, the Religious sessions held for the Sultans during Ramadan to teach them the right practices, The Hakawatis telling stories to address the issues arising at the community and the today's Ramadan TV dramas that deal with all matters of the society, all eventually aim at addressing issues and teaching people the right practices.... as with the rest of the examples I had explored throughout Ramadan... 
All stress the fact that in the bigger picture we are all similar despite the details.


The Last Ramadan Tradition I am exploring in this series,
One of the most important Ramadan practices: Contemplation
It is Reflecting on life, one's self in it and understanding that nothing is eternal. 

Therefore, while I have explored all the traditions with a focus on food and cultural traditions, to conclude this Ramadan Special I will leave it at contemplation. No recipes, no cuisine, but only food for thought.

Cordoba Bridge

The one space I had left unexplored was Andalusia! 
I had left Andalusia for the last post, because it is the Islamic culture and era that I personally find most fascinating. 

Andalusia, was the Golden Age of Islam, and it was the people, the time and the place where culture came to the forefront. Following in the footsteps of the Abbasids and Umayyads, Andalusia continued the focus on cultural development and therefore during that time literature, arts, music, sciences, and the social life of people had all thrived, not only for those living there, but for all those around them as well. Some of the most prominent features of Andalusia are co-existence, tolerence and a focus on humanities. Andalusia's works are at the base of today's philosophies, sciences, sociology, and all aspects of life today. It was one of the major stops and stepping stones in the transformation of human societies. 
For those who like to explore history and sociology, Andalusia is one of the most fascinating to explore, as it is very insightful on what made a society flourish and the conditions under which people lived happily and fulfilled their most potential, both spiritually and physically.

I have chosen to conclude this Ramadan Special with contemplation, as one must always take a few steps back and reflect on one's life. Also concluding this series with Andalusia, as I think there are lessons to be learnt from that era, especially lessons about cherishing culture and fostering an environment where all people matter, where you are encouraged to bring out your talents and contribute to society... If only today's very advanced world can reach the full potential of all people, if only it can provide a haven in which people are happy, a space where balance, tolerance, peacefulness and expression are a God given right then today's world would have been a better place, and today's world would have reflected better conditions for all its people.

In search of The Middle Ground
While I might come out as an idealist - I do celebrate the beauties of idealism in theory - however, I am more of a realist but one who believes in the middle ground. There has never been an ideal situation, where earth became heaven. History is all too human, as it should be, because it is the reflection of its main characters - humans. But there were periods that were more tolerant of humanity, and periods where the middle ground was everyone's destination. Extremities - both sides of the pole - are the biggest manifestation of ignorance and the source of all evil, and all periods of extremities have proved to do no good to anyone. If people were to find the middle ground, then maybe heaven will become closer. And we must always remember that there is a reason why there is both; a life and an afterlife!

For the last post, I do not wish to sit here and tell you about the greatness of Andalusia and why it has been forever the point of study for all the world's intellectuals, historians, and a point of reference in all fields... Instead, I will leave you with a segment of Food for thought that I hope will give you an introductory impression of Andalusia and interest you to explore more...

The Grand mosque of Cordoba

Food For Thought
These words are from the opening speech of Faouzi Skali - Director General, Spirit of Fez Foundation - addressing the Fes Festival: World Sacred Music. But I have chosen this piece for this segment as the words go beyond the festival, planting the seed for reflections of Andalusia...

"There are certain periods in history that stand out in our memory as special times when mankind seemed to rise above his usual small-mindedness, when his actions became a source of inspiration for generations and centuries to come.

We might talk about the Greek Miracle in this way, and even more so of that time conjured from an ingenious and subtle harmony between spirit and matter, faith and reason, art and Convivencia (Co-existence) or simply of that time when both individual and community life was so very rich and accomplished: that of Andalusia, which covered a large area of Spain from the 8th to the 15th century.

Obviously we must be wary of excessive idealizing here. Examining the pattern of events at that time gives us a more prosaic reality containing human conflict - all too human - where the ideology was no more than a comfortable mask hiding the usual motivations found in the history of mankind, those of monopolizing power and wealth.

So rather than talking of a paradise, we can speak of an Andalusian paradigm: that where knowledge above all led organically towards the realization of one aim: that of the accomplishment of wisdom and human values. This objective was undertaken with awareness and in accordance with the various approaches of such philosophers as Ibn Tofail, Averroes, Maimonides, Raymond Lull and Ibn Arabi.

According to many Andalusian thinkers such as Ibn Hazm or Ibn Gabirol, knowledge itself cannot be considered as separate from that other dimension which is an integral part and superior to it: that of Love; Love that is freed of all constraint to become progressively unconditional and universal. These writers could have paraphrased the wisdom of Rabelais to say that knowledge without love is nothing but the death of the soul. This phrase is particularly apt in our time of technological proliferation and the rupture of the narrow remit of science and of the complete loss of vision of its aims.

In Andalusia the cult of femininity reached its highest point, it was the scene of courtly love and of poetry. Today we need to rediscover the mystery and hidden resources of this lost paradigm. Nizam (Harmonia), just like Dante’s Beatrice of later centuries, can escape time and place and return from the furthest reaches of the Orient to interrogate each of our philosophers, all of whom spent time in Fes.

Perhaps the secret of this recreated Andalusia will be murmured to us in the shadows or the light, between songs, musical interludes and poetry, clothed in the breeze that whispers within Bab al Makina or through the lanes and courtyards of the medina."


Andalus Quran 12th Century

All Conclusive
I had set out this Ramadan to expand the Horizons of your dinner table, and hopefully I was able to bring new cuisines, conversations, and thoughts in that effect. I had also aimed to explore The Colours of Ramadan (the cultural traditions that gave Ramadan its unique flavour), and I hope you have enjoyed remembering these and finding out more about them, their origins and where they stand today. Another objective was Food For Thought, in which I asked you to pause and feed your thoughts, through the 30 segments at the end of each post, which I hope you have seen and that they allowed you to stop for a minute and reflect. I wanted to help you explore, cook, eat and share this Ramadan and I hope that you enjoyed all these.

Most importantly I wanted to bring interesting to you this Ramadan, and I can only hope that you have found all this interesting and that it sparks an interest to explore more and discover the real traditions, the real history and the real identity of this beautiful culture.

Thank you to all those who took part in this Ramadan Special and those who have connected with me, sharing all this amazing information, recipes, stories, traditions... you guys have given this Ramadan Special an amazing touch and have enriched our knowledge and our Ramadan.


Wishing you and your Families Eid Mubarak, an amazing time in the company of those you love and hopefully a fresh start after all the hardwork you have done this month. 
I will leave you now with the all conclusive line and the one message I intended this Ramadan


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 & Eid Mubarak :)

Monday, 5 August 2013

Ramadan in Falasteen (Palestine) - The smell of olives, the food of a generous land and the traditions of all people

Two Palestinian men catching up at Mosque's yard

Al Quds القدس (Jerusalem)
After Tarawih prayer, the souks of the old city would be buzzing with people, selling all types of desserts, sweets and savoury snacks. Everyone knows everyone in Falasteen; a walk in the market is like visiting the homes of all your relatives, neighbours and friends (everyone you know) at once.

The worshipers and their teachers, the shoppers, the merchants, the running children, the chatty adults, and the strollers - on which snacks are sold - are all being squeezed through the ancient narrow alleys as "Kaek" & "Baraze'" are being shouted out to wet your appetite, not just for the decadent sesame-coated bread rings (Kaek) or its sweet counterpart the (Baraze' cookies), but for life!

This ancient city, perked right in the middle of the Middle East, is so alive and buzzing that it blows in you a whiff of its own soul, rubbing on you in every which way and direction that you no longer distinguish your self from hers.

This is after all, Jerusalem - The land on which heaven met earth and continues to dialogue.



One of the most common Ramadan Traditions everywhere is praying at mosques
During the Holy month all Muslims prefer praying in Mosques, especially Maghrib صلاة المغرب (sunset) and Tarawih صلاة التراويح (evening) prayers. In Falasteen فلسطين (Palestine) it is no different, people prefer praying in the mosque, however, over there people are lucky as they get to pray in Al Aqsa Mosque المسجد الأقصى, one of the holiest sites in Muslim Religion, as it used to be Muslims' first Qiblah القبلة الأولى.

People performing prayer at Al Aqsa Mosque
inside the mosque and in its surrounding yard
In Ramadan, most Muslims set to read the whole Quran (Khitma ختم القرآن) within the month, as the Quran is meant to purify the soul as well as teach people the right religious practice. Tarawih prayers are special evening prayers, performed during the Holy month, which are longer than the usual evening prayer as during Tarwaih the Quran is read at length - aiming to read it in full, if possible more than once - during the month. Therefore, most people would carry out Tarawih, and preferably at the mosque.

In Al Quds القدس (Jerusalem), where Al Aqsa Mosque is, most people would gather in the mosque's yard before sunset prayer, and would break their fast with dates, water and other Ramadan drinks, before performing Maghrib prayer there. They would then have their Iftar meal in the mosque's yard, enjoying the outdoors in the company of the Mosques beautiful surroundings. Therefore, many organisations as well as individuals will organise communal Iftars at Al Aqsa Mosque, where they get to feed many fasting people (Itam Saem إطعام صائم) which is considered to be a practice highly rewarded by God. These communal Iftars are not only meant to feed those in need, but are also for anyone present, as many people work in Jerusalem but don't live there, and some would not make it back home in time for Iftar, so they too can enjoy these Iftar meals. Other than the organised communal Iftars, it is very common for people to take their Iftar meal, in picnic style and have it at the Mosque's yard.

"Kaek Maqdisi" كعك مقدسي , these bread rings coated with sesame are a specialty of Al Quds (Jerusalem). While they are also made in all of the Palestinian cities, every Palestinian knows that the best are those made in Al Quds. Anyone visiting the Holy city will take back Kaek as a treat for those back home in other cities and if you happen to be visiting, they will insist you try saying: "These are from Al Quds"

Flavours of the Old Souks of Palestine 
نكهات أسواق فلسطين القديمة 
In Palestine street food is just as good as home food, and while over there people gather and break fast with the family (extended family, neighbours and friends included in the term, ie the whole country) over a home cooked meal, many items such as pickles, olives, Msabaha, fool, hummus... and beverages... would be bought from the market and brought home to accompany the home cooked delights for Iftar. After Tarawih, the whole country it seems is out and about enjoying the flavours of the Palestinian markets and its old souks.
After Iftar and by the evening prayer time, people would then perform Tarawih after which the old souks in all Palestinian cities would be buzzing with people, selling all types of desserts and sweets such as Knafeh كنافة, Kullaj كلاج (Palestinian desserts, the specialty of the city of Nablus نابلس) Ba'lawa بقلاوة, Warbat وربات, Shueibyat شعيبيات (all of which are made using filo dough and filled with nuts or cheese, then drenched in sugar syrup), Halawet il Jiben حلاوة الجبن (a dessert made from cheese, filled with Arabic style clotted cream and drenched with sugar syrup. Best had in the city of Akka عكا as they are known for their specialty Akkawi cheese جبنة عكاوية), Boza Rukab بوظة ركب (A Palestinian ice cream, the specialty of the city of Ramallah رام الله), as well as Kaek bitamer كعك بالتمر (sweet bread rings filled with dates, the specialty of Hebron الخليل, Gaza غزة and Jerusalem القدس) and Baraze' برازيء (sesame coated sweet cookies with Pistachio, the specialty of Jerusalem)... just to name a few.

Kaek bil Tamer كعك بالتمر sold on strollers
all over Palestine's markets and old souks
The markets are also full of mouthwatering savoury snacks such as Jerusalem's best loved specialty Kaek bi Simsim كعك بسمسم (Sesame coated bread rings), which are filled with either zaatar, cream cheese, labneh or even boiled eggs with condiments. Falafel, Hummus & Fool are found everywhere in the form of plates or sandwiches. Fattet Hummus فتة حمص is one dish celebrated everywhere in Palestine and Qudsyeh قدسية is a dish that contains both fool and Hummus and is a Jerusalem specialty. Musabaha مسبحة, is a dish of pureed Hummus mixed with chopped parsley and whole hummus, another specialty of Jerusalem. All of which are had with Kaek كعك , Palestinian olive oil زيت الزيتون الفلسطيني and olives زيتون فلسطين and sliced heirloom tomatoes; Absolutely delicious flavours of Falasteen. ...

Besides the foods, strollers will be laden with jars upon jars of Ramadan beverages including Carob juice خروب , Tamerhindi عصير تمرهندي (Tamarind Juice), Irqsoos عرقسوس (Licorice Juice), Laban Iran لبن عيران (Yogurt drink), and Almond Juice عصير حليب اللوز made out of almond milk and meal, and Rose Juice عصير الورد...

Maqdoos o Mukhallalat  - Pickles from Palestinian Souks

After Iftar Entertainment
Many people would go out after Iftar. The coffee shops are a very common choice, where people go for coffee, shisha and play Tawla طاولة زهر (backgammon), or cards and other games. However, the most celebrated form of entertainment in Palestine is simply hanging out in its public places like by the sea, the gardens, the parks, the souks and even the streets; taking in its beauty. It seems everyone is out after Iftar and the country is just buzzing and very crowded. People would just go out and sit anywhere with a picnic, they would have their children, at times friends and neighbours with them.

With that said, in Palestine, like in other countries many people like to host Iftars and Suhoors, and exchange home visits too.

Musalsalat Ramadan (Ramadan TV)
TV Dramas are very popular during Ramadan. Most people would have a few dramas that they watch and anticipatingly wait for (I remember my grandmas TV time, when no one would utter a word so not to distract her, always accompanied with a table of delicious snacks and fruits). This is one very popular after Iftar entertainment, however, it is more for the older generation as the young prefer hanging out.

Fattet Fool Akhdar, Layered Platter of Green Broad Beans
recipe on this link

What the Palestinians Eat for Iftar
Palestinian cuisine is huge and filled with varieties. Most of the cuisine's foods are elaborate and festive, so whatever is eaten during the year is fit enough to feed a king, therefore fit enough for a Ramadan Iftar. Besides Qatayef, there is not much that is Ramadan specific, however during the Holy month dishes such as fattehs (Layered platters of bread/rice, meats and vegetables) are had more often than during the rest of the year. All the varieties of stuffed vegetables and rolled leaves are cooked in concentration during the month. Also soups, which are not a part of everyone's daily diet are consumed daily in Ramadan.

Famous dishes include Wara Dawali o Kusa ورق دوالي و كوسى (stuffed vine leaves and zucchinis, quite different from the Lebanese apetiser stuffed vine leaves. In Palestine the stuffing includes minced meat and meat pieces are cooked along with the stuffed vegetables and the dish is served hot as a main course), Mahashi Bil Bandoora or Laban محاشي باللبن أو البندورة (Stuffed vegetables in tomato sauce or yogurt sauce), Maqloobeh مقلوبة (Upside down pot of rice, meat and vegetables in many variations), Qidreh قدرة (A dish of caramelised onions, meat, rice and whole hummus), Musakhan مسخن Palestine's best loved dish... that is just to name some.

Musaherati Ramadan Drummers

The Palestinian Suhoor (predawn meal)
If you are not full eating delights from the markets, and if you are home in time for Suhoor then the meal would include what the Palestinians call Hawader حواضر (ready foods) and Nawashef نواشف (sauceless foods). Hawader include zaatar, labneh, olives, grilled Nabulsi cheese, manaqeesh, maqdoos (nut-stuffed eggplants that are pickled in olive oil), hummus, falafel....

Hawader - foods always at hand in Palestinian homes
While Nawashif are leftovers from making the food such as leftover fried eggplants or cauliflower from making maqloobeh. These would be sprinkled with cumin or sumac and a squeeze of lemon and had with bread. Another example is the flesh from coring Kusa when making the stuffed kusa, which is then stir fried with olive oil, garlic and cumin, also had with bread... Fatteh الفتة is another example for using these leftover ingredients to create a separate and equally delicious dish.


The Spirit of Ramadan
Ramadan is hugely celebrated in Palestine, and has a unique spirit there. From the spirituality of practice, communal bonding, to the celebration of Iftar and the all-night activities to breaking fast with the family - which in the Palestinian sense includes all Palestinians (ie the whole country) - to exchanging visits and picnics at the Mosques' yards... Palestine is a country whose people appreciate life and celebrate it together as a family.

Despite Ramadan being a Muslim celebration, in Palestine all people are one. The Christians too celebrate with their Muslim neighbours and friends. It is very common to be invited to your Christian friend's/neighbour's home for Iftar during Ramadan and vice versa. The same applies to exchanging visits and celebrating Christian festivities and occasions. As it should be, in Palestine it does not really matter what the differences are as every one is Palestinian in the end, and thankfully everyone is there to celebrate it today. And while all Ramadan traditions here are ones shared with all other people in various Muslim communities, this is the one very unique feature of Ramadan in Palestine.

***

Carob Juice
Photo by Nour Al Shamaly
Carob Juice
From the Flavours of the Palestinian Old Souks

This recipe is from the facebook page Palestinian food (on this link), which posts photos and recipes of Palestinian food, as well as photos from all over Palestine. A page worth liking if you like Palestinian food, and pictures of Palestine.

You Need
1 1/2 cups expressed Carob juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 Liters water
1 tsp Rosewater

In a pot, combine the expressed carob juice and sugar, heat gently stirring continuously until the sugar is completely melted and the mixture is caramel coloured.

Slowly and carefully add the water to the carob mixture, stirring to incorporate. Leave the mixture to boil on medium heat until it becomes dark brown (almost 30 minutes).

Remove from heat and bring to room temperature, then place in juice containers and chill until ready to serve. Serve chilled with a few ice cubes.

***


Food For Thought
Give Thanks

Translation of the Arabic poem in the video. 
"If You Walk on a Street" Poem by Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish
Translated by Mohammad Shaheen





Hope you have enjoyed reading today's post and getting to know more about Ramadan in Palestine and its decadent foods. 

Ramadan is about to be over soon, I would love to hear your thoughts about this year's Ramadan Special, what you think of it so far, how you like or dislike its topics and if you found the information useful and interesting. Share your thoughts with me as they help me see these posts from your perspective and help me better plan next year's Ramadan posts :) So do please leave a comment giving me your feedback...


Come back tomorrow for The final post of Ramadan Special 2013 
Reflections of Andalusia :)


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

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Two Pakistani Savoury Recipes That Will Have You Drooling & Dare To Think Different

Cleaning of Mosque's carpet in anticipation for Ramadan

In yesterday's post I had explored Ramadan in Pakistan with the UK-based food writer Sumayya Jamil. Sumayya was very generous to share with us three of her family Recipes for Pakistani dishes popular in Ramadan. I had shared the first, a desset (Pakistani Seviyan) in yesterday's post, and today I will share the remaining two savoury recipes: Vegetable Pakoras and Kachumber Bejeweled Salad to give you a taster of Ramadan in Pakistan.

For more recipes and Pakistani flavours, make sure to drop by Sumayya's blog at www.pukkapaki.com, and try out her mouthwatering dishes posted there.


Chai & Assorted Vegetable Pakoras
Photo by Sumaya Jamil

Assorted Seasonal vegetable pakoras
Ready in: 15 minutes
Serves: 2-3 people

" To me, pakoras are one of the key dishes that celebrate the joys of Ramadan in Pakistan.

A match made in heaven, a simple pakora batter made from chickpea flour and a little rice flour for crispiness and can be used to adorn any seasonal vegetable of choice. Traditionally made with thinly sliced potato, onion rings, aubergines or green chilies. 

These can be fried until golden and crispy, these are healthy (slightly!) if shallow fried!"

You Need
For the batter
100 grams chickpeas flour
50 grams rice flour (not ground rice)
1 tsp dry roasted cumin seeds
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp turmeric
½ tsp red chili powder
Tap water
Vegetable oil to shallow fry
5-6 slices of aubergines, halved
4-5 okra, sliced into 4 pieces horizontally
Half a red onion, cut into thin rings

To garnish
1 tsp finely chopped mint leaves
1 green chilli, sliced thinly
1 tsp chaat masala



Whip up the batter ingredients into a thick batter by adding water slowly.

Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan (use as much as you like, I prefer to shallow fry). Keep the oil on medium heat.

Dip each slice of vegetable in the batter until coated evenly, dip into hot oil and fry either side until light brown.

Drain on kitchen paper and serve garnished with chopped mint leaves and sliced green chili and chaat masala (substitute chaat masala with a sprinkling of red chili powder and ground cumin)


***

Pakistani Kachumer Bejeweled Salad
Photo by Sumayya Jamil, taken by Joanna Yee

Pakistani Kachumber Bejeweled Salad 
Ready in: 10 mins
Serves: 2-3 people 

"This is a real celebration of freshness, spice and a balance of flavours; this was always a firm favourite accompaniment on our Ramadan table in Pakistan. Whereas not always a traditional accompaniment during Ramadan, in my home this was omnipresent! 

Simple to make and with real Wow factor! Served with rice dishes, pakoras, currys - anything!" 

You Need
½ medium size red onion, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, deseeded and finely chopped
½ cucumber, deseeded, finely chopped
4 tbsp pomegranate
1 tsp dry roasted cumin seeds
4-6 mint leaves, finely chopped
½ bunch of coriander, finely chopped
1-2 thin green chillis, finely chopped
1 tsp Chaat masala (substitute with ground pepper red chilli powder + coriander powder)
Juice of half a large lemon or one lime
½ tsp sugar
Salt to taste


Combine all the ingredients above and allow to marinate for about 30 minutes before serving


***

Both recipes and their photographs, are provided by Sumayya Jamil 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
"People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but one thing you can't do is ignore them! Because they change things." - Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is one of the most inspirational people of our time. Listen to his speeches and read his book because this is a man who went against all odds and whose choices could have been very different given his life's circumstances. Blaming life for our choices is yet another choice, and the difference between people and great people is a choice.


Hope you have enjoyed learning Sumayya's family recipes and that you will give them a try.

Ramadan is about to be over soon, I would love to hear your thoughts about this year's Ramadan Special, what you think of it so far, how you like or dislike its topics and if you found the information useful and interesting. Share your thoughts with me as they help me see these posts from your perspective and help me better plan next year's Ramadan posts :) So do please leave a comment giving me your feedback...


Come back tomorrow for
Ramadan in Palestine :)


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

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Ramadan in Pakistan - A well celebrated month filled with excitement, aromas and delicious indulgent food

Preparing for communal Iftar at the Mosque
Photo provided by Sumayya Jamil, Taken by Athar Hussain

"The excitement of Ramadan is very well celebrated in Pakistan. Being one of the largest Muslim countries of the world, this is a very important month, socially, religiously and spiritually."


- Sumayya Jamil, London based Cookery Teacher and Food Writer 


One of the most noticeable qualities of Pakistani cuisine, to me, is that it is very aromatic, almost perfumed to be more accurate. This is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think Pakistani food. It is always the smell that starts this eating experience, followed by the beauty of its appearance and finally when you taste it... I mean it is definitely special, very layered and definitely not shallow.

To think that I, like many others, used to think Pakistani and Indian cuisines were one and the same! I never could tell the difference at first! Perhaps for a palate - that back then had been - so undaring to venture into the world of heat, that whenever the opportunity presented itself, the same palate was so focused on the heat that it missed everything else! But the beauty of heat is that once you buckle up your courage to face it, it makes way for everything else to be revealed, and you can then taste more clearly. Then, the cuisine stands out for its own right. One that is really bold, very well flavoured with layers upon layers of flavour stories to tell. The heat then becomes one of the mesmerising factors of this flavour palate.

Communal Iftars at the Mosque
Photo provided by Sumayya Jamil

Taken by Fahadee
Like the cuisine, Pakistan is a country that is very multi-layered, and one whose people are always available and willing to explore with you their food and culture. Being one of the largest Muslim communities in the world, fits Pakistan right in this Ramadan Special, and who better to speak with about Pakistan's Ramadan Traditions and food than the lovely and super talented cookery teacher and food writer Sumayya Jamil, who is a specialist in Pakistani and Muslim heritage food and culture? So we chatted about Ramadan in Pakistan and here are some of what we talked about...

Pakistani Kitchen Prep Prior to Ramadan
While most perishable foods are bought fresh on the day, some ingredients have to be stocked in advance. This prior prep creates a sense of excitement in anticipation of the Holy month and puts everyone in the spirit of Ramadan as described by Sumayya.

"When I reminisce about preparations for Ramadan in Pakistan, I remember well that a couple of weeks before Ramadan, my mother used to collect key Ramadan dry cupboard essentials such as lentils, dry roasted vermicelli, dates, Rooh Afza (a floral based drink), flour for parathas and samosas, chickpea flour for pakoras, chickpeas both black and regular and rice. All perishables were always brought fresh on the day. There was always sense of excitement mingled with urgency and expectation. A month of contemplation and perseverance stood before us and preparing for it was as wonderful as the month itself." 

And while home cooks stock their pantries with Ramadan essentials required for making their family meals, they do not forget those whose circumstances are unfortunate and in true Ramadan spirit, they collect the ingredients needed to stock these people's pantries too.
"To us this is a month of respecting food, where it comes from and those less fortunate. We would always prepare similar dry ingredient boxes for the poor and distribute these before Ramadan as well." explained Sumayya.

Pakistani Markets during Ramadan - Rooh Afza in bags
Photo provided by Sumayya Jamil

How is Ramadan cooking different from the rest of the year? & what does Pakistani cuisine offer during Ramadan?
According to Sumayya, During Ramadan Pakistanis tend indulge more in their food as they cook a lot more with ghee (clarified butter), and generally consume more dairy intake. Cooks will also prepare fried foods as well as foods that have a slow release of carbohydrates such as chickpeas and lentils. 
"Most of the year we do eat similar food, but specifically streets are laden with fried foods for Iftar such as pakoras, samosas and sugary jalebis which are Ramadan delights only!" she says

She also explains that most people cook at home, but will also buy snacks from street vendors to compliment their home cooked meals. The food of choice for most people is traditional cuisine.
"For us Ramadan is a celebration of Pakistani food and most families would only ever enjoy typical Ramadan dishes during this month – I however can’t think of anything I would never eat!"

The Pakistani Repertoire of Ramadan Foods
A repertoire of delicious foods that mix between fritters, salads, daals, biscuits and doughnuts... 
"As Iftar approaches, our kitchens would come alive with the scent of hot, tantalizing snacks. Our Iftar meal is one full of energy inducing foods followed shortly by dinner. More meat based and rice based dishes also feature such as Haleem, Nihari, Biryani and chickpea Pullao (stock cooked rice)"
  
Pakistani Street Food - Fruit Chaat
Photo by Sumayya Jamil

So if you are thinking of hosting a Pakistani style Iftar, there is a huge list of Ramadan food to choose from, below are some of these foods explained by Sumayya:


Most Popular Pakistani Iftar Foods

Chai & Pakoras
Photo by Sumayya Jamil

Dahi Baras or Dahi Phulkis (Lentil based fritters, softened with a topping of whipped savoury yoghurt, chopped coriander, mint, green chili  ginger, red chili, with  Chaat masala (a mix of cumin, dried mango powder, pepper and other mixed spice)
Chola Chaat (Chickpea based mixed salad with tamarind sauce, mint, coriander, cumin, tomatoes and potatoes) 
Shami Kebabs (Beef based finely minced kebabs with Chana lentil, fresh coriander, mint, ginger and infused with whole garam masalas)
Mixed Vegetable Pakoras (Assorted mixed vegetables such as sliced potatoes, aubergines, okra, green chillies dipped in spicy chickpea batter and lightly fried)
Haleem (Wheatgerm, oats, lentil and beef or chicken based stew topped with fresh herbs, green chili and ginger)
Jalebis (Sweet cardamom infused doughnuts dipped in sugar syrup) 
Samosas (Wholewheat flour based pastry parcels stuffed with a variety of fillings, potatoes, cheese, spicy beef mince, sometimes sweet fillings too such as coconut, bananas and sometimes halva (my family recipe!)) 
Daal with Bhagar (Lentil of any sort tempered with oil or ghee, cumin, garlic and red chili topped with fresh herbs.) 
Kachumber (Mixed raw salad of finely chopped cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, coriander, mint and green chili and lemon juice and cumin) 
Pakwan (North Pakistani biscuits made with aniseed, pink salt, figs and nuts) 
Chickpea Pulao (Basmati rice with whole garam masalas and chickpeas cooked in their own stock) 
Fruit Chaat (Sweet and savoury mixed fruit salad with spicy Chaat masala (explained above)) 
Biryani (Either chicken, mutton or beef based biryani, layered rice and curry dish infused with saffron and Kewra (screwpine water) )
Chai (Milky tea cooked with tea leaves, with or without cardamom but always lots of sugar) 


Most Popular Pakistani Sehri (Suhour) Foods
Dahi aur Gur (A personal favourite of Buffalo full-cream milk yoghurt, with fresh cream pieces within it and topped with raw sugar cane molasses) 
Spicy Eggs / Khakeena (Scrambled eggs with cumin, fresh coriander, tomatoes, green chillis)
Plain or stuffed Parathas (Plain or vegetable or meat stuffed flaky flatbreads made with whole-wheat and plain flour and cooked with ghee (clarified butter))
Puri (Wholemeal flour based flatbread deep -fried) 
Sujji ka Halva (Semolina halva made with cardamom, nuts cooked in ghee (clarified butter)) 
Nihari (Beef or lamb-based slow cooked curry) 
Seviyan (Sweet roasted vermicelli cooked in milk and infused with saffron and topped with nuts, raisins and silver leaf. More an Eid recipe, but some families like to eat this at either Sehri or at the end of Iftar as a dessert (personal favourite) )


Ramadan in Pakistan
Awaiting Iftar at Mosque

Pakistani Ramadan Traditions
Sumayya explained to me that one of the most prominent features of Ramadan in Pakistan is the free Iftars given out at mosques, and many people offering free food to poor people on the ‘big’ Ramadan days such as the 27th fast or the last Friday of Ramadan, called ‘Jumma-tul-veeda’

Breaking the fast is traditionally done by starting with a Medjool date followed by Rooh Afza (rose flavoured sherbet) with basil seeds, which are meant to give you instant energy. 
"Nearly everyone would have a warm cup of Chai (tea) after Iftar. Pakistanis love their tea and probably miss it more than food during Ramadan!" 

Then most people either follow on a dinner after their Maghrib (sunset) prayers or eat dinner much later. Most nights during Ramadan, many people go to the mosque for Taravi (evening) prayers late at night and some stay awake until Sehri (Suhour) and sleep after their Fajir (morning) prayers until they need to go to work. 
"Many of us girls used to play night volleyball whereas most boys and men would play night cricket right till Sehri time! "

She also mentioned that many people love to entertain at Iftar time and many have lavish Iftar parties during the month. As for Suhour she says that traditionally the ladies - and now even the men do - wake up early to prepare parathas and eggs the aroma of which will wake you from sleep. You will then have this home cooked bread and eggs with a cup of cardamom tea before you go back to sleep. 

These are the traditions and rituals of the Holy month in Pakistan that still live on today, and as you can see the excitement of Ramadan is very well celebrated over there.

***

Pakistani Seviyan
Photo by Sumayya Jamil

Sumayya was very generous to share with us 3 of her Pakistani Ramadan Recipes! I am sharing with you the dessert recipe in this post and will be sharing the 2 savoury recipes in Tomorrow's post, so make sure to come back tomorrow for those.

Sumayya Jamil's
Pakistani Seviyan (Sweet Roasted Vermicelli Dessert)

"Usually always enjoyed on Eid day, and many Pakistanis love to eat Seviyan (sweet roasted vermicelli made with nuts, saffron and milk). As a dessert during Iftar or Sehri. This is one Ramadan related food that never leaves my mind or my home.

Here is my maternal grandmother’s simple recipe, which reminds me of the comfort of her hugs, Eid festivities, the sunshine of Pakistan and Ramadan."

Serves: 7-10 people
Ready in: 30 minutes

You Need
Pakistani Seviyan
Photo by Sumayya Jamil
Half a packet of Pakistani/Indian roasted vermicelli (found in Asian shops) – crush these by hand, into small pieces before adding to milk

25 grams caster sugar
100 grams of sweet condensed milk
1 pinch of saffron, soaked in 1 tbsp hot boiling milk
1 pint of whole milk / soya milk / almond milk
A handful of chopped pistachios, almond, raisins
4-5 cardamom pods, bruised open
Ghee
Decorate with silver leaf (optional)

Heat ghee in a saucepan on medium heat and add the cardamom. Once fragrant add the crushed vermicelli and keep stirring to avoid burning them.

Once fragrant slowly add both the milks and keep stirring. Add sugar and stir and cook until the mixture becomes thick and vermicelli is cooked through.

Pour in saffron and then place in a serving dish.

Garnish with nuts and raisins and adorn with silver leaf (optional)



***
Meet Sumayya Jamil 
Sumayya Jamil
Sumayya Jamil is a Freelance Cookery Teacher and Food Writer specialising in Pakistani and Muslim heritage food and culture. She is based in London but was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. Her mission is to highlight the differences of Pakistani cuisine from other South Asian ones in the UK, as many confuse Pakistani cuisine to be the same as other South Asian ones.

Growing up in Pakistan to a family of accomplished home cooks, she is a self-taught cook and her passion is to share her country's distinct and haunting flavours with the UK which is an already spice loving country.

In the UK, Sumayya teaches at Divertimenti Cookery School London, Rachel Demuth's Vegetarian Cookery School, Bath and also holds her own group and private classes in London. Her classes are based on cooking with the Asian concepts of estimation called ‘Andaza’ and loves to share her passion for demystifying spice.

As a food writer, Sumayya has written for many well known publications such the The Foodie Bugle, Delicious, Vegetarian Living and Crumbs magazine and has been featured in Good Housekeeping UK. Additionally she has also worked with and been published in Madhur Jaffrey's Curry Nation cookbook. Sumayya is also a member of the Guild of Food Writers and is currently working on her memoir based cookery book on Pakistani cuisine.

Sumayya also blogs at www.pukkapaki.com and her site also has information about her classes and pop-ups / supperclubs.

All information, along with Seviyan recipe and photographs, are provided by Sumayya Jamil 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 will always manage to find prejudices, labels and struggles upon which we will judge one another... But if we were to really see, we will find the sameness in all of us!




Hope you have enjoyed reading today's post and getting to know more about Ramadan in Pakistan. 

Ramadan is about to be over soon, I would love to hear your thoughts about this year's Ramadan Special, what you think of it so far, how you like or dislike its topics and if you found the information useful and interesting. Share your thoughts with me as they help me see these posts from your perspective and help me better plan next year's Ramadan posts :) So do please leave a comment giving me your feedback...


Come back tomorrow for
Sumayya's Vegetable Pakoras & Kachumber Bejeweled Salad:)


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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