Post Ramadan Post

The entire month of Ramadan has passed by and I never managed to publish a post about this very culinarily charged period.  For those of you who don’t know, the month of Ramadan is observed by Muslims with daily fasting.  Because the timing of Muslim holidays is calculated using a lunar calendar, the date that Ramadan begins shifts backwards each year by about 11 days.  For many years now, Ramadan has fallen during the hottest summer season.

holiday cookies waiting to be baked

Fasting in this region’s brutal heat is no easy undertaking – particularly for 30 long sweltering days.  Yet several of my Muslim friends have told me that they wait all year long for this holy month, despite the hardship.  One day, when Balkees was complaining how exhausted she felt, I asked her about the seeming paradox.  Just the opportunity to answer my question seemed to pep her up.

Ramadan is a month full of her* she told me.  Her in Arabic translates to goodness.  You use the word her when saying good morning or good evening.  But her also signifies abundance and wellbeing.  During Ramadan, Balkees explained, the whole family sits together every evening for the break-the-fast dinner and it doesn’t matter what you serve, there is always enough and no one complains.

Sometimes you need to take away what you take for granted to appreciate what you have.  And in Balkees’ house, there is no shortage of her.

 *pronounced like “hair” from the back of the throat

A Time to Fast, a Time to Feast

The month of Ramadan, that started this year on August 1st, has passed the halfway mark.  For observant Muslims, this means less than two more weeks of the daily fast – that extends from the pre-sunrise meal through dinner at sundown. 

Lately, I’ve been waking up at 4 AM with the sound of the Muezzin’s call from the neighboring Bedouin village.   And I think of my friend Balkees and her family, roused from their beds and sitting around the table in the darkness, sharing a meal of fresh whole-wheat pita bread, home-made labaneh sprinkled with zaatar (also home-made), and chunks of sweet, refreshing watermelon – an intense dose of hydration for the dry day ahead. 

But my turn to fast is still a few months away, so today I am indulging in my favorite Galilee lunch:  farike, vegetable salad and yoghurt, topped with toasted almonds.  A marvel to behold and savor!

Bedouin Hospitality

Emna's fresh sheepsmilk yoghurt

Emna's fresh sheepsmilk yoghurt

Thank goodness some relief has come from the monotony of these long, hot summer days.  Ramadan begins today and a few days ago I paid a pre-holiday visit to my good friends Maryam and her sister Emna, in the neighboring Bedouin village of Basmat Tabun.  I haven’t seen them for some time – they used to walk across the nature reserve for exercise, but lately, they tell me, it’s been so hot and they are too busy – getting the children ready for the school year and preparing for the holiday.  Also, summer is wedding season and there had been several weddings in the family, each one involving days on end of celebration.  Emna brought out to show me the dresses she bought in Nazareth for the weddings – long elegant tunics worn over matching pants, decorated with beads and matched with contrasting head scarves.

The conversation inevitably turned to cooking, and the sisters told me that one of their favorite foods for breaking the daily Ramadan fast is a salad of finely chopped tomato and cucumber, mixed with the  fresh sheeps-milk yoghurt that Emna makes (she has a herd that she keeps, with the help of her teenage son, in a plot of land near the house), and sprinkled with garlic powder.  Both Emna and Maryam have daughters who are finishing high school, and we talked about their plans – they want to do some kind of national service – through the one-year program for post-high-schoolers,  and get their driver’s licenses.  When I left, Emna insisted on giving me a bucket of fresh yoghurt, and Maryam, a case of plum tomatoes her husband had just gleaned (he’s a truck driver who works in agriculture).  Yesterday Ron and I dunked them in boiling water, peeled, chopped, cooked and pureed them and made this lovely tomato sauce, destined for the freezer.  

Fruit of our labor

Fruit of our labor