Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing some work on Recipes For Ramadan, and it’s struck me what a good vehicle it is for communicating some of our shared Islamic values – not just amongst ourselves but to a wider mainstream audience.
It’s not just about sharing great food inspo but about telling stories from different Australian-Muslim backgrounds and cultures, sharing our stories with the wider Australian community and exploring and explaining what Ramadan is. The main idea is to start a conversation – just like you would at a face-to-face iftar.
Earlier this year, I completed my Communications degree. One of the principles instilled in me is that education and information are generally most effective when delivered through entertainment. Like taking medicine with a sweet or spoonful of sugar. Recipes For Ramadan aims to inform and educate as well as entertain and engage Muslims and non-Muslims.
I’m guessing that anyone reading this knows that Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic year when Muslims worldwide practise shared Islamic values and principles. For many non-Muslims, Ramadan is understood simply as fasting from sunrise to sunset. They may believe that we then consume a huge evening meal. What many people don’t know is the primary purpose of this blessed month.
Observed as the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world spend the rest of the year counting down to Ramadan. It is a special time of the year when the Muslim population devote themselves to their faith, prayers, self-reflection and patience.
Ramadan is practised on the foundations of the five pillars of Islam: Fasting, Charity, Hajj, Prayers and the profession of faith. During Ramadan, shared values are practised and the generosity of giving is exercised in every household.
Many of the stories attached to the recipes in Recipes For Ramadan resonated with me and I think would help non-Muslims’ understanding too.
“Our Ramadan is always characterised by the theme of giving, and giving in as many ways as we can,” 19-year-old Beyza Koca told Recipes for Ramadan.
“Giving to charity is particularly important during Ramadan as it is the month where we get to experience the hardship of hunger by fasting all day from dawn to sunset and developing empathy with the poor,” continued Beyza.
Born and raised in Australia, Beyza told us how her family implements their Turkish traditions during Ramadan. She shared her father’s experiences of Ramadan when he was growing up in his hometown of Gaziantep in South East Turkey. Gaziantep is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy and the only city in the world named for its cuisine. ‘Antep’ actually means delicious food and generous skilled hosts and hostesses. (A useful bit of knowledge for your next Trivia night!)
Her father has told her about the Iftars in his youth, “There would be hundreds of people sitting on their knees around the Sofras [a piece of cloth used on the ground to serve a meal]. Young men and women are serving many dishes. Then when everyone is seated and has their plates, no one talks and everyone waits for the Adhan (call to prayer), which tells us we can break our fast. And then come the sounds of the spoons touching the plates, drinks being poured into glasses, eating, drinking and talking…”
Reinforcing the theme of Giving during Ramadan, Beyza wrote that in Gaziantep, Iftar not only means sharing with your relatives but “sharing with your neighbours and those in need”. The theme of giving is heavily acknowledged in the Koca family household, as it is with my family and every Muslim family household.
Islamic principles such as giving, generosity and selflessness frame our values and the way we approach many situations in life, following the example of our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him.)
Beyza’s story struck a chord with me and the values my parents have instilled in my siblings and me. Like the Koca family, we aim to continue to implement the core principles of moral fortitude, respect, acceptance, and kindness after the month of Ramadan and to reinforce these values in our everyday living consistently.
“Giving to charity is particularly important during Ramadan, as it is the month where we get to experience the hardship and hunger by fasting all day from dawn to sunset, and develop empathy for the poor”
Reading different family stories from around the world, I’ve been struck by how people and families from different cultures and traditions are united by shared values explored in reflections of what Ramadan means to us.
Sueda Ugurlu was born and raised in Japan.
“Living in a non-Muslim country like Japan made it hard to experience and feel Ramadan’s spiritual atmosphere and it’s social pleasures like fasting together, breaking fasts together, praying Tarweeh, and thinking about being generous together,” she told Recipes for Ramadan.
In the story Sueda wrote to accompany her recipe, she shares her family’s experiences as a Turkish-Muslim family in Tokyo during the month of Ramadan. The Muslim community in Japan is small but Sueda’s mother loved inviting friends and colleagues to join them for iftar and prepared locally-inspired dishes as well as the Turkish ones she had grown up with herself.
The family emphasised the traditions and values they continued to practise and preserve, even without the support of a large Muslim community.
“In any culture, tables bring people together and Ramadan Iftars don’t just mean having guests but thinking consciously about the act of sharing your food with others [..] I treasure memories of breaking the fast and inviting guests to Iftar the most in Japan,” says Sueda.
Like Beyza and I, Sueda reinforces that the gift of giving is also accentuated in her family during Ramadan: “our iftars were even better because my mother put so much effort into filling the seats around the table with Muslim and non-Muslim friends… she gave her all to cook delicious food for everyone”.
Established in 2020 in response to COVID-19 lockdowns, Recipes for Ramadan is a platform to host ‘virtual iftars’, Muslim families sharing recipes and stories which draw on their ancestry and culture are the hosts. Others reading the stories and trying the recipes are our guests. On the website and social media, through AMUST, through community partners and this year through a 6-part series with Guardian Australia and a 25 minute on ABC Radio.
This year, when we have finished editing the recipes and stories we’ve received, we will be up to some 60 recipes from some 20 countries. If it’s true that Australian Muslims come from 192 different countries, we could be sharing recipes and stories for a good while yet!
These recipes and stories aren’t just for Ramadan! You can cook and read all year round. Make it a bit of an adventure and if you have an adventurous palette (like me) and you’re ready to try new foods, even from places you may not have been, start by checking out below my highly recommended three-course meal chosen from the Recipes for Ramadan collection. The recipes are all really quite simple to prepare and there’s no need to wait for next Ramadan!
Let’s start with Entrée!
Mehreen’s traditional Pakoras
My entrée – tried for the first time this Ramadan – is Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi’s Pakoras from Lahore. All about the flavour, this traditional Pakistani dish has its own twists to complement an incredible aroma. An abundance of spices turns humble sliced potato, onion rings and baby spinach into a perfect mouth-watering entrée to any iftar!
“For me, Iftar without Pakoras is no iftar at all. Just the smell of the frying transports me back to my childhood home, where two or three karahis (saucepans) with pakoras and samosas are on the go,” Mehreen told us.
“It’s hard to replicate the hustle and bustle of Lahore in Sydney, but I do bring back small slices of memory, the sounds and smells, into my home every day during Ramadan.”
Dania’s score: 10/10!
You can find Mehreen’s story and Pakoras recipe here:
Next up – the main meal!
Beyza’s Ali Nazik Kebab
What’s an iftar without a main meal… Right?
For me, Beyza’s Ali Nazik Kebab has to be one of my top favourite iftar mains. A traditional dish of tender grilled lamb on a bed of chargrilled eggplant puree mixed through with yoghurt. Yum!
Even before you stick your fork in, its delicious marriage of scents will make you melt! Ali Nazik (or Alinazik) kebab comes from Gaziantep, Beyza Koca’s dad’s hometown in Turkey.
“There are different beliefs about where the name Ali Nazik came from. One of them dates back to the 16th century Ottoman Empire. It was the time of the reign of Yavuz Sultan Selim. On a trip to the city of Antep, (today’s Gaziantep), the Sultan was greeted with this local delicacy… Sultan Selim liked the dish so much he asked “Whose ‘gentle hand’ (“Eli nazik” in Turkish) made this?” The story goes that the name, “Ali nazik,” has stuck since then,” Beyza explains.
Dania’s score: 10/10!
You can find Beyza’s story and Ali Nazik recipe here:
And finally – dessert time!
Sueda’s Tapioca Coffee Jelly
What better way to end a long day of fasting and abstention from coffee than with a coffee-based dessert! This sweet yet intricate tapioca jelly is delicately crafted with the simplest of ingredients, some of which you may already have in your fridge. As a big coffee fan, this sweet dessert was the pinnacle at the end of a fantastic iftar dinner.
“A very special dessert my mother would make during Ramadan that my brother and I could not resist eating was Sweet Tapioca with Coffee Jelly. It is a Japanese dessert that my mother came to know and love and has made ever since. It’s easy to make and refreshing to eat during hot summers. Whenever I have this dessert, I remember the good times in Japan,” shares Sueda.
Dania’s score: 10/10
You can find Sueda’s story and Tapioca Coffee Jelly recipe here:
Do try some of our favourite Recipes for Ramadan meals, and send them through to our team to be featured on our socials! Email [email protected]