Fast then feast: Metro cooks share Ramadan recipes

Muslim cooks fight temptation as they cook for their families while fasting

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Dearborn — Fasting during Ramadan can be difficult, with long, hot days lasting from 4 a.m. until the sun sets. The last place anyone wants to be is in the kitchen while you try to keep your mind off of food, but someone has to prepare the Iftar feast for the family.  

Millions of Muslims around the world fast during the month of Ramadan, when eating anything or drinking even a sip of water is prohibited while the sun is out. It's one of the five pillars of Islam and is intended to bring the faithful closer to Allah and remind them of the less fortunate. 

 Fasting Muslims are encouraged to spend time in contemplation, prayer, reading the Quran and performing acts of charity during the day.

During Ramadan, Muslims break fast during Iftar, a Thanksgiving-style dinner with extended family and friends. As their stomachs slowly shrink throughout the month, the dinner table does not. 

This Ramadan, which began in mid-May, we profile three Muslim women who are fasting and who fight temptation while cooking for their families. Their stories and their Ramadan recipes are below. Sorry, you'll find no bacon here.

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Master chef, Muslim neighbor

At 5 years old, Amanda Saab, 29, stood on a step stool, waiting for her mom to hand her a spatula. She always loved to cook and saw it as a way to bridge barriers. As she got older, she had aspirations of becoming a social worker. Suddenly, she was the first hijabi, a scarf-wearing Muslim woman, on Fox Network's "MasterChef."

She started her blog, Amanda's Plate, in 2014 when friends and family wouldn't stop asking her for recipes. A year later, she faced Islamaphobic comments after her episode of "MasterChef" aired. During the show, her exit caused some controversy after she was challenged to cook a pork hot dog, prohibited under Islam; she refused. Many questioned the fairness of asking her to prepare a meat that was in violation of her religion.

"I experienced really hateful comments and tried to find a way to respond," said Saab. "... But I didn't think of acting on it until President Donald Trump called for total and complete shut down of Muslims coming into this country."

Saab, a Dearborn native, was living in Seattle when she "knew there are a lot of neighbors thought we didn't belong and were probably thinking 'Who are these Muslims?' " 

In January 2016, she started Dinner With Your Muslim Neighbor, an interfaith project designed to bring the community together. After moving back to Michigan, she has hosted more than 20 dinners in her home in Huron Township and said her favorite time to host is during Ramadan. 

"We always start with the five pillars of Islam to open up dialogue," she said. "Generally, we break our fast, eat something and (Muslims in the group) want to go pray immediately. To keep our guests entertained while we're praying, we asked them to decorate cards for kids in the hospital, true to the spirit of Ramadan (by) giving and actively being involved."

Her Ramadan go-to dishes, Saab said, are the side dishes. 

"Fattoush and lentil soup are vital to the Ramadan meal. It has to be on the table every night," Saab said. "I also think of my mom's mamoul cookies. We make them close to Eid and the smell of the syrup caramelizing in the oven means Ramadan is coming to an end."

Saab's mother is a vegetarian, and she grew up learning that Mediterranean cuisine is versatile and  easy to cater to those who don't eat meat and vegans. That's what inspired her lentil kibbeh. 

Lentil kibbeh (vegetarian)

Prep time:  15 minutes // Cook time: 15 minutes // 6 servings

Ingredients: 1 cup red lentils, rinsed well • 3 cups water • 1 cup bulgur wheat (fine bulgur #1 coarseness) •1 medium white onion, chopped (about 1½ cups) • 1 red bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup) • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided in two • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes • 1½ teaspoon diamond crystal kosher salt (half the amount if using table salt) • 2 tablespoons tomato paste • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice • ½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley • ⅓ cup cold water

Garnish with olive oil and fresh mint. Serve with pita bread.

Instructions

In a large stock pot, place lentils and water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cook for about 5 minutes, then stir in bulgur wheat and cook for 3 more minutes until lentils are cooked and bulgur has expanded and softened.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet. Sauté the onion and red pepper until soft. Add the cumin seeds, red pepper flakes, kosher salt and tomato paste. Remove from heat and allow to cool. In a food processor, pulse together the onion and pepper, sauté a few times.

Place lentils and bulgur mix in a bowl. Add in the pepper and onion puree, lemon juice, chopped parsley, water and more 2 tablespoons olive oil. Mix until combined. The mixture may seem dry, but should hold together when pressed firmly. If it is still crumbly, add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil.

On your serving dish, press the lentil kibbeh together. Make some groves with a spoon. This will hold the olive oil. Drizzle with olive oil. Top with fresh mint. Serve with pita bread and fresh vegetables.

Beef shawarma with tahini sauce 

Prep time: 4 hours // Cook time: 20 minutes // Serves: 4-6

Ingredients: Beef shawarma

  • 2 pounds beef steaks, very thinly sliced; ¾ cup white vinegar • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil •  1 tablespoon 7 spice • 1 tablespoon ground cumin • 1 tablespoon ground coriander • 2  teaspoons garlic powder • 2 teaspoons onion powder • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (half this amount if using table salt) • 2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon.

Tahini sauce

  • 3 tablespoons tahini • ¼ cup warm water • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice • 1 clove garlic grated fine • ½ teaspoon kosher salt • 

Red onion sumac salad

  • 1 large red onion, sliced thin • ½ cup flat leaf parsley • 1 teaspoon sumac • ½ teaspoon kosher salt • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. 

Serve with pita bread, tomatoes and pickled turnips. 

Instructions:

Beef shawarma: In a large bowl, combine spices with vinegar and olive oil. Add flank steak and toss to combine. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours and as long as overnight. Before cooking, bring to room temperature. In a large skillet, add 3 tablespoons olive oil and the marinated steak. Cook for 6-8 minutes until cooked through and tender.

Tahini sauce: Combine ingredients until smooth. Add an additional tablespoon of warm water if needed. 

Red onion sumac salad: In a small bowl, combine the red onion and parsley leaves. In another small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, sumac and salt. Pour over the onions and toss until evenly coated.

Assemble: Lay pita bread flat and layer shawarma, red onion salad, pickled turnips and tomatoes, and drizzle with tahini. Roll up the pita and grill slightly, if desired.

Entrepreneurial cook, Instagram hustle

On any weekday, Summer Homayed can be found taking long jogs in the morning and running a one-woman catering business out of her Dearborn Heights home at night.

The Lebanese mother of three said she always cooks with large families in mind. 

She and her seven siblings grew up watching their parents in the kitchen. Her father immigrated from Lebanon when he was 27 years old and worked for Ford Motor Co. before he owned Arabian Village Bakery in Dearborn's south end. 

"We literally grew up in that bakery and now I spend at least six hours minimum a day in my kitchen." Homayed said. "Ramadan is a special time because instead of over-indulging in three to four meals a day, you just have one. ... It's a humbling experience about sacrifice and breaking bread with family."

Homayed has an associate's degree in childhood education but she's fully devoted to her home-cooked catering business.  (On Instagram: @summers_hommade_meals.) She posts menus Monday, Wednesday and Friday, catering to more than 100 families a week. 

"The only thing more difficult than not having water all day is not being able to taste the food you're cooking," Homayed said. "It's all right though, I somehow always find a volunteer that's not fasting."

During Ramadan, Homayed often makes mloukehia with rice because it's nutritious and filling. Mloukehia, made of soaked jute leaves, is known as the “food of kings” dating back to the time of the pharaohs, when an Egyptian king drank it in soup to recover from an illness. Today, it’s one of the most widely eaten vegetables in Egypt.

She pairs it with hummus, kibbeh nayeh, raw lamb or beef mixed with fine bulgur, spices and trimmings. 

"My mother slaves over her garden, where she grows her own mloukehia leaves and picks them one by one like mint," said Homayed. "I love cooking. It's what makes me happy and I feel like I'm providing for and feeding my family. I didn't dream of being a cook, but words can't explain how it makes me feel."

Mloukehia and rice

Prep time: 3 hours the day before // Cook time: 1 hour // Serves: 4-6

Ingredients: 1 box 400 gram of Naim brand mloukehia (Jute leaves) soaked, cleaned and squeezed until the water is clear. Soak and squeeze leaves 10 times. 

Needed for chicken broth:  2 whole chickens • 1 onion • baby carrots • 2 bay leaves • salt and pepper (by preference) • whole lemons (by preference) • 5 stalks of parsley • 8-10 cups of water • 1 jalapeño for serving. 

Final herbs (this will be the final step; add these herbs at the end of the cooking process when cooked chicken is added) • Three heads (not cloves) of garlic • 3 large bunches of cilantro with partial stems chopped • ½ cup clarified butter or ½ cup regular butter with 1 tablespoon of corn oil. 

This dish can be made without chicken for a vegetarian meal. 

Instructions: In pot, boil your mloukehia leaves and make sure leaves are not gooey. If leaves and water have a gooey consistency, strain your leaves and discard the water and start boiling process over again. Now that your leaves are ready for assembly, discard half the water from the leaves and add the chicken broth and jalapeño. Boil leaves in broth on medium heat for approximately one hour. 

For your broth, boil all the ingredients in a seperate pot until it creates a broth and debone chicken. Separate the fat and skin from chicken. Overchop the chicken fat, skin and onions until the fat is rendered and pieces can dissolve in broth. Remove lemons and bay leaves from the water. 

Final herbs: In sauté pan, melt clarified butter. Once butter is hot add chopped garlic and cook until the garlic is aromatic. Add chopped cilantro to garlic sauté and cook cilantro until it’s translucent and aromatic. Once this step is complete, add garlic and cilantro mix to part of mloukehia. Add shredded chicken as the final step and simmer until flavors are to perfection. 

Serve with lemons cut in half and diced jalapeños over a bed of rice pilaf. 

Hummus

Ingredients: 2 cups of canned or homemade chickpeas very soft and less then ¼ cup cold crushed ice • 2 cloves of garlic • ¼ cup tahini • ½ teaspoon salt (less or more depending on the salt content in your chickpeas) • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (add more if needed) • 1 teaspoon of olive oil In food processor blend chickpeas, garlic, salt, lemon and half of your crushed ice till smooth.

Instructions: If needed add more crushed ice to the food processor after your hummus blend is fully blended and ice chips have dissolved. Add tahini and blend till incorporated. Slowly drizzle olive oil into the food processor as it blends. Allow your hummus to blend for approximately one minute. Scoop hummus into a plate garnish with paprika, fresh herbs and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Serve with a side of pita bread, veggies or pita chips. 

From her family to yours  

Ameena Elder may not be a traditional chef, but cooking for more than 50 people during Ramadan has made her a pro in the kitchen. The Palestinian-American woman from Dearborn, a teacher's coach for Dearborn Public Schools, said she knew by the age of 16 that she had a passion for cooking. 

Elder, a fasting mother of four, plays the Quran while she faces temptations in the kitchen and said she finds strength in the struggle. 

"When I'm working in the kitchen and things begin moving along, it's almost therapeutic. We indulge in all of this (food) but in reality not many people are," said Elder, 34. "While fasting, you're trying to get the time to pass but it's really not about rushing through it, but taking the time to be spiritual."

Elder holds her recipes close to her heart and chooses dishes like fattah gazzawia and musakhan to bring her back to her roots. 

"It's something my mom used to make during the oil pressing season in Palestine," she said. "I saw how she and others take so much pride in the kitchen. It's really from the heart, and I learned as long as you don't oversalt, you're good." 

Tabbouleh

Prep time: 15 minutes 

Ingredients: 4 bunches of curly parsley • 4 cucumbers • 3 tomatoes • 4 green onions • 4 lemons • ¼ cup of olive oil • salt • ½ cup cracked wheat soaked cracked in hot water.

Instructions: Dice all the ingredients very fine. Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix in the cracked wheat. Add the lemon, oil and salt to taste.

Grape leaves

Prep time: 1 hour // Cook time: 2 hours // Serves 10

Ingredients : 3 jars grape leaves • 1½ lean ground beef • 1 teaspoon garlic powder• salt and pepper to taste • ½ can tomato paste • ¼ cup oil • 3 tablespoons of olive oil • 1 packet sazon spice • 1 teaspoon of allspice • 1 clove of garlic • 1 onion • 2 tomatoes • ¼ cup lemon juice or freshly squeezed lemons • ½ pound beef shanks

Instructions: Boil water in a pot. Lower to medium heat. Submerge the leaves in the water to loosen them and allow them to get a little tender. Keep in the water no longer than 2 minutes. Strain the water. Spread out the leaves and cut off stems. Set aside.

Mix all the ingredients together. For smaller rolls, cut the leaves in half vertically. Place a small amount of the mix on each leaf and roll.

Boil approximately 4 cups of water with three beef bouillon cubes, salt, black pepper and a tablespoon of olive oil.

Once all the leaves have been rolled, chop 1 onion, 2 tomatoes and beef shanks then place at the bottom of the pot before placing the grape leaves (this will help prevent from the bottom layer from sticking.)

Place the rolled grape leaves around the pot until it is full. Lay a glass plate in the center of the pot pricing down so when you pour the bouillon, the leaves don’t unroll.

Fill the pot upwith the bouillon. Cook on high for 25 minutes, then on medium low until the water is gone. This may take about 2 hours. 

After 2 hours, take ¼ cup of lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of olive oil and pour around the inside of the pot.

Yogurt salad

Ingredients: 1 yogurt (Leban) • 5 cucumbers, diced • 4 tablespoons of dried mint • 1 clove of garlic • ¼ cup of water • salt to taste

Mixed all ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour. Drizzle olive oil before serving.

Musakhan, a Palestinian dish and recipe passed down in Elder's family for generations.

Prep time: 1 ½ hours // Cook time: 1 ½ hours // Serves 4-6 

Ingredients: Khubiz Taboon bread (can be purchased at many local Middle Eastern bakery) • chicken quarters • 1 bag of golden onions • 1 bag of white onions • 1 clove of garlic • 4 cups of olive oil •  ¼ cup sumac • 1 teaspoon cumin • ½ teaspoon allspice • 3 teaspoon garlic powder • seasoned salt • salt and pepper • sliced almonds •  minced parsley • 1-2 lemons • 1 teaspoon vinegar 

Instructions

Onions: Dice the onions into ¾ inch squares. Mince the garlic. Heat olive oil in a pot. Add onions and minced garlic. Season onions with cumin, garlic powder, black pepper, a dash of seasoned salt and pepper. Cook until tender and almost caramelized. Strain the onions from the oil and set aside.

Nuts: Sautee the nuts with some of the oil from the onions until they are golden brown. Set aside for later. 

Chicken: Preheat oven at 450 degrees. Marinate the chicken in lemon, salt and vinegar for at least an hour. Rinse the chicken and place on a tray. Rub the chicken with seasoned salt, black pepper, salt, garlic powder, allspice and olive oil. Bake on 450 degrees for 1½ hours. Lastly, drizzle the oil from the onions over the chicken and broil 3 minutes. 

Assemble

1. Place one bread in the oven for a few minutes. 

2. Dip the bread in the oil from the onions, making sure oil is spread evenly. 

3. Place on a tray.

4. Spread a lot of onions over the bread.

5. Broil on high for 2 minutes.

6. Place a few pieces of chicken over the bread and garnish with nuts and parsley. 

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter:@SarahRahal_

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