Ramadan is around the corner and along with the reminder for Muslims to stay pious, comes a whole lot of good food. You might be surprised to learn that a holiday that is all about self-control and cleansing the mind and body of toxins through fasting actually includes a lot of irresistible and totally unhealthy foods.
There are quite a lot of dishes that are unique to the holiday so during this holy month, I can’t wait to get home to the smells of mother’s delicious cooking filling up the house the hours before iftaar, which the time we break our fast.
Muslims from all over the world break their fast with different foods. Though our ethnicities vary in flavor, a common theme in foods found during Ramadan in all cultures is an increase in consuming fried foods for iftaar. We can’t forget the kabobs, Rooh Afza, and dates that you’ll find in almost every Muslim home this month.
Being Bengali, the iftaari at my house had a desi twist, but while everyone else is hyped over the biryani that’s on their way, there are some other dishes I’m more interested in. I’m sure there are even some dishes my fellow Muslims of other ethnicities and non-Muslim desis can relate to. There’s no better way to spread the love this month than by sharing in good food!
Here are 8 foods I can’t wait to have this Ramadan:
Ramadan is the only month you’ll have dates on dates lined up every day. The prophet broke his fast with a date and traditionally that is how all Muslims break their fast. Before the month begins my dad will bring home a giant box of dates, and I mean giant. Now you may think all dates are the same, but that is not true. Dates come in various sizes, some with seeds and some without, some that are softer with jelly-like insides and some that are tougher to bite into like beef jerky. In my house, we prefer the larger dates from Saudi Arabia that are sweet, soft, and juicy on the inside.
If you’ve never had a beguni, you are missing out my friend. It’s a slice of fried eggplant and it tastes AH-MAZING. Beguni’s are actually a traditional Bengali snack sold by street vendors in Bangladesh or Kolkata. Though this snack can be found all year round at certain places, it’s most popular during Ramadan. It’s even easy to make. You start with thin slices of eggplant sprinkled with salt. Then create a batter with besan (chickpea flour), water, salt, chili powder, turmeric, ginger powder, and a pinch of sugar. You could throw in a spoon of chaat masala for extra zing. Mix the batter thoroughly and dip the slices into the batter coating it completely, deep fry, and enjoy!
3. Piyaju/Onion Pakora
Growing up I hated onions. I still can’t stand onion rings but for some reason, I loved to indulge in piyaju. Piyaju, or onion pakora as many others may know them as, are a little complicated to make so I haven’t mastered how to make the perfect piyaju just yet.
To make a piyaju, my mom often soaks lentils in water for about 30-40 minutes. She then drains the water and throws the lentils into the blender to turn it into a paste; the texture should retain a little coarseness to adhere to the sliced onions. Then add freshly sliced onions and green chilies, some coriander powder, salt for taste and a pinch of turmeric. Mix well and drop a blob of it into hot oil to fry until its brown. If the paste gets too runny add besan (chickpea flour) to thicken the batter.
4. Rooh Afza
Rooh Afza is a traditional drink that is often consumed by many Muslims to break their fast during Ramadan along with a date. This sweet syrup can be mixed with club soda or water but it is most often mixed with cold milk during Ramadan. When mixed with milk, it tastes like a strawberry milkshake but even better. All you need is a giant bottle of Rooh Afza syrup, milk, and sugar. Rooh Afza can also be used in kulfis or the ice-cream based falooda drinks.
For some strange reason, my family both in America and Bangladesh are obsessed with Tang during Ramadan. Rooh Afzah is more of a dessert in our house, we break our fasts with a date and a glass of the orange flavored drink. I’m pretty sure my mother thinks the sugar filled drink has some magical hydrating powers that will energize me for the rest of the day post iftaar. Yea…I don’t think that’s how it works mom.
Khichuri is one of the few dishes my mom taught me how to make. It’s simple to cook and is a filling meal during Ramadan. Khichuri is essentially a scoop of lentils, a cup of rice, a spoon of salt, a lot of water and a pinch of turmeric cooked until the rice is mushy. I try to jazz it up by throwing vegetables into the pot like carrots, broccoli, and potatoes. Starting off the meal with fried foods is not good for your health so I take on a heaping serving of khichuri to start and maybe a hard boiled egg.
Side note: dipping piyaju into the khichuri is freaking life.
7. Kala Channa
Kala channa is another great dish to serve up with khichuri. This dish of masala flavored small black chickpeas or black garbanzo beans is also a good source of protein after a day of fasting. You can make this dish as spicy as you want. It’s not too complex to make either, though it could take some time. It’s best to soak the black chickpeas overnight. Next cook the chickpeas up until it’s soft with some freshly chopped onions, turmeric, chili powder, ginger, bay leaves, cumin powder, coriander powder, and a pinch garam masala. Sometimes I’ll even add some tomatoes or potatoes.
What kind of Bengali would I be if my favorite foods didn’t include a dessert? Sweets are ingrained in our culture and a meal is never complete without a dessert in a Bengali household. My dad’s favorite is jalebi. During Ramadan, my dad will bring home jalebi from different shops and we’ll rate them to see who had the best. This sugar-soaked snack can be found all year round, but like beguni and piyaju, they are most popular during Ramadan.
What are favorites in your household during Ramadan? We want to hear from you! Tell us your favorite dish or post a picture at @thetealmago.