I’m running a little late for a Stress Free Dinner Party Commemorating Ramadan, but there is still have time to give you a hand entertaining any practising Muslim friends you may have. If you are a practising Muslim, please feel free to send me your suggestions and corrections.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and like Christian events such as Easter is set by the lunar calendar. This year, in Australia, Ramadan began on June 18 and will end on July 17 but there may be regional variations.
It is a holy time commemorating the revelation of the Qu’ran to the Prophet Muhammad. It is one of the five fundamental religious duties of Muslims to fast during the day throughout the month if they are well (similar to the Christian Lent, some groups are exempted from participation). Muslims also perform acts of charity, recite special prayers and try not to get angry or into fights. Some cultures decorate with lanterns, take ritual baths or light firecrackers.
If you want to do a breakfast (suhoor) party the meal must conclude before sunrise, or dinner (iftar) commences after sunset (which today for me is 17:09 – easy!). The following information is not exhaustive or all-inclusive, so you should check your plans with your guests.
Both suhoor and iftar are generally large buffet style meals that include fresh fruit, vegetables, breads, cheeses, and sweets. While the religion emanated from the Middle East, at one point it exceeded the spread of the Roman Empire so there is a great variety that can be served. Meat can be eaten but it must be halal, i.e. come from permissible animals that have been raised on an animal product free diet that have been slaughtered using a particular method. Your best way to deal with this is to buy from a halal butcher, or look for halal certified meat in your supermarket. Some Muslims will eat Kosher because the requirements are similar. Muslims generally do not drink alcohol, and therefore do not eat food that has been cooked in alcohol. I’m picking dishes that I hope will be filling and provide a nice mix of flavours, but aren’t particularly related in any way. I’m allowing generous serves.
As mentioned above, Muslims do not drink alcohol though they do drink tea, coffee, milk, juices and water. You might like to do some further research and learn how to make drinks like Amar al din from apricot paste, Sobia from fermented brown bread or Jallab from rosewater, grape molasses and dates.
You can make this anything you want, by picking any country that is or was a Muslim country. Given the length of the fast (particularly if you are in summer) you should make it comfortable and relaxing. I’m not going to decorate because this is a time of community and I don’t want to detract from that.
Again anything, and I’m still recommending comfortable.
As in my book, I assume six people arriving at 6:30pm for dinner at 7:00pm.
6:30 Aperitif: Dates and Milk
According to my research it is almost traditional to commence a Ramadan meal with dates and milk for a quick energy burst and to soften the pangs of hunger (because this is what the Prophet did). Basically a plate of 2-3 dates and a small glass of milk per person. The likelihood is that my guests will have snacked before they get to me, but I hope they will appreciate the notion.
7.00 Appetiser: Meze
This is basically bread and dips, something quick, tasty and filling that my guests can get stuck into. I’m going to cheat and buy afghani bread from the market, but you could also use naan, chapatis or any other kind of flat bread. I’m going to make the dips, but you could buy them. You could also add a bowl of olives, other preserved vegetables and/or some flavoured oil as well.
Hummus: Soak a cup of chickpeas overnight and then simmer for about half an hour. Drain and blitz in a food processor with 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid until it has a coarse texture. Transfer to a bowl and add 1/2 cup of tahini, a tablespoon of sesame oil, 1/2 teaspoon of cumin, the juice of 2 lemons, 1/4 clove of minced garlic and salt to taste; mix well. If you like, mix a little dried chilli with a tablespoon of olive oil and drizzle over the top.
Ful Medames: soak a cup of ful or cannellini beans overnight and then simmer for about an hour then drain and reserve the liquid. Crush 2 cloves of garlic and mix in 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Mash a cup of beans with half a cup of the cooking liquid, stir in the garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil and the uncrushed beans.
Spicy Roasted Eggplant: prick an eggplant with a fork, and place under a fully preheated broiler/griller set on high. Put a green chilli under at the same time. Cook, turning frequently until blackened and smoking. When done, set aside under a towel to steam the skins loose, and when cool enough to handle, strip the black bits off. Put the eggplant in a bowl and mash it up a bit with 1/2 cup of yoghurt, 2 tablespoons olive oil and the juice of half a lemon. Split the chilli in half, remove the seeds and membranes, and add to a mortar with a clove of garlic and a teaspoon of sea salt. Smash it into a paste and stir into the eggplant.
Labneh: Drain fresh live yoghurt through muslin for several hours, and then mix with garlic and chopped fresh herbs. Or maybe some harissa stirred in if you want something spicier.
Rather than clear these away, I will leave them on the table when I serve the next course. And bring out more bread.
8.00 Main: Lamb Tagine, Roasted Root Vegetables, Feta Salad and Couscous
Mix 1 1/2 tablespoons of cumin, 1 1/2 teaspoons of ginger, 3/4 teaspoon of turmeric, 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 3 cloves of crushed garlic, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 5lbs/2.25kg of diced lamb shoulder and marinate for 2 hours in the fridge. Then heat more oil in a casserole dish over a medium heat and brown the lamb in batches. Return all the meat to the pan, and add 3 sliced onions cooking for another couple of minutes. Then add 3 cups beef stock, 3 peeled and chopped tomatoes, 3/4 teaspoon saffron, a large chopped carrot and 3/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro (coriander). Bring to the boil and cook covered over a low heat for an hour. Add 1 1/2 cups pitted kalamata olives and 1 1/2 teaspoons of chopped preserved lemon rind (rinse and discard the pith and flesh) and cook uncovered for 30 minutes. Serve drizzled with honey.
Roasted Root Vegetables: Peeling and chop potato, sweet potato/kumara, pumpkin and onion into large chunks, tossing in olive oil, sprinkling with something like Moroccan spices and roasting for 1 1/2 hours at 350F/180C. You should allow 2-3 pieces of each per person in the full knowledge that there will be leftovers which are delicious refried in a big cooked breakfast the next day. You could also add beetroot, turnips, swedes, parsnips or other hard vegetables that you like roasted.
Feta Salad: it’s like Greek salad, only different. Chop and combine a red pepper (capsicum), red onion, 2 tomatoes, a small cucumber and 1/2lb/225g feta, 2 tablespoons of parsley. Stir in 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with za’atar (a mixture of thyme, sumac and sesame).
Couscous: Put 3 cups of couscous in a bowl with 2 1/4 cups of boiling water. Leave to soak for 5 minutes, then fluff and stir in about 3oz/90g of butter.
9.00 Dessert: Spiced Pears and Pomegranate
Peel 6 pears and cut into wedges and place into a bowl with the seeds from two pomegranates. Toss with lemon juice to coat. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg and 3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon into 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, and then into the fruit. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour. Sprinkle with chopped almonds and mint to serve. And of course my Chantilly Cream (mix some vanilla paste with fresh full fat cream and icing sugar to taste, and whip until soft peaks form).
10.00 Coffee and Digestif
I’m serving the coffee with Luqaimat from the market These are little dumplings soaked in syrup which almost burst in your mouth. Delicious!
On the assumption that you have finished all the preparations, we’ll pick it up again when it is time to start cooking.
While I have talked about courses above, in as I finish making the appetisers I will lay them on the table for the flavours to develop, with the added bonus that when everyone has arrived we can sit and start eating.
01.30 mix marinade and set lamb to steep
02.00 set yoghurt to drain
02.05 put chickpeas on for hummus, put beans on for mesdames
02.15 roast eggplant and chilli and set aside
02.45 make hummus and put on the table
03.15 make mesdames and put on the table
03.30 make eggplant dip and put on the table
04.00 prepare the lamb and after cooking for an hour leave to cool with the lid on
04.30 prepare pears and cream
05.15 preheat the oven and prepare vegetables
05:35 prepare feta salad
05:50 chop herbs to mix with the yoghurt and put on the table
06.25 plate the dates and pour the milk
06.25 pop the vegetables in the oven
06.30 guests arrive
07.00 serve appetisers
07.25 reheat lamb, add olives and lemon
07.45 make couscous
8.00 serve main
9.00 serve dessert
10.00 serve coffee
What do you think of my Ramadan Dinner? I got so hungry while I was writing I had to go and have some lunch.