I like food. Like, really like food. So growing up, I never particularly enjoyed fasting. For one whole month, every year, my family and I (and roughly 1.2 billion other poor, hungry souls around the world) would fast for Ramadan from sunrise to sunset without so much as a drop of water. For an adolescent who would have gladly exchanged a kidney for a pack of Doritos and a latte, fasting was totes hard.
So when I would arrive home from school after a long day of chemistry, Frontline and counting the number of stomach rumbles I could produce between each set of calculus, I expected a feast for iftar (breaking of the daily fast). My mother, like many other Arab mums, relished the prospect of whipping out her entire Middle-Eastern culinary repertoire each night and watching our faces light up as we devoured our garlic and coriander infused broad beans (foul b’kizbara), wara aneb ( meat-stuffed vine leaves slow-cooked in a lemon-garlic sauce) and her incredibly smokey baba ghanouj.
As a hopelessly nerdy teenager whose idea of culturally diverse cooking was throwing a tablespoon of curry powder on my Maggi noodles, watching my mum cook her tantalising creations of pure gastronomic goodness was nothing short of awe-inspiring. My mum’s food was well-loved amongst friends so our home was often abuzz with people waiting to dig in to my mum’s creamy knafeh.
Times have changed though and so has my palate. Nowadays, cooking is my passion and when I’m not reading a Jamie Oliver cookbook *blushes* or feeling incredibly inadequate after my nightly Masterchef fix (what on Earth is a roux soufflé?), I can usually be found baking a cake. Or bread. Or creating a new type of gourmet salad (true story).
Luckily, my husband shares this love of food and we regularly host friends and family for dinner. Like mum, however, I’ve inherited the uncanny ability to cook roughly twenty times more than what is actually going to be eaten. Which, in Ramadan, kinda defeats the point.
Ramadan is all about self-discipline and resilience. By depriving the body of its most basic need-sustenance- the fasting process indirectly forces the mind to learn how to cope with difficult circumstances and to keep going in spite of them.
The iftar we hosted this year was a great example of such resilience. Forty people expected, ten dishes, five kilos of meat, two hours to go and one hostess about to go cray-cray.
As a pasta-addicted Lebanese-Syrian girl married to a Bangladeshi man with a penchant for all things sugar, the menu at our house tends to be quite colourful. On this particular night, we decided to start with piaju (deep-fried spicy onion crispy fritters with a hint of fresh coriander to balance the heat), lahm bajeen ( Lebanese mini-pizzas topped with tangy pomegranate-laced lamb) and move on to a spicy biryani, Afghan mantu, penne pesto, Lebanese fatteh ( toasted Lebanese bread covered with chickpeas soaked in a garlic-yoghurt sauce and toasted pine nuts), rocket, pear and blue cheese salad (except we sorta forgot the pear #fail) and the spinach gozleme that almost was. Kitchen disaster? Try catastrophe. But overall, it went really well and given the amount of food on the table I don’t think anyone noticed the missing gozleme.
Honey and soy chicken wings
Afghan mantu dumplings
Fatteh and biryani
- Meat mixture
- 500g lamb or beef mince
- 3 large onions, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- ⅓ cup pomegranate molasses
- 3 tbsp tahini
- 1 tbsp dried mint
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- ⅓ cup pine nuts
- Dried chilli flakes ( optional)
- Salt to taste
- 2 cups plain flour
- 2 tsp instant yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 1½ cups lukewarm milk
- 2 tsp oil
- 1 tsp mahlab powder ( optional; available at Middle Eastern grocery stores)
- Fry onions till they are soft and translucent. Add mince and fry off till browned.
- Stir in the crushed garlic and let fry for 2 minutes or till the garlic becomes aromatic. Remove from heat and let cool.
- Once cooled, mix in the rest of the ingredients except the pinenuts and set aside.
- To make dough, mix dry ingredients then slowly add the milk and slowly bring the dough together as you dough. Continue adding milk till you get a soft dough that's almost sticky but just dry enough to work with you may need less or more milk to achieve this. Knead knead knead! For a good 10 mins. Set aside to rise for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Top 10cm rounds of dough ( or frozen paratha if using) with a good spoonful of the meat mixture and spread to within 1cm of the border.
- Top with pinenuts and put in oven. Bake till crust is well-cooked and pinenuts are golden, around 20-25mins (10 mins if using paratha).
- Try to keep your hands off them till they cool down. Burnt tongues hurt.
Me with my black forest mousse
Baklava, lamington, black forest mousse, coconut & pandan cake and more desserts!
Lebanese coffee with cardamom
Photography by Jennifer Lam