Shelley WisemanFor Muslims the world over, the holy month of Ramadan (this year from August 11 to September 9) is a time of fasting between sunup and sundown, a time of reflection and abstinence. After sundown, and the evening prayers, comes the time for gathering together and feasting at the meal that breaks the fast, called Iftar. Following the long day without food, sweets restore energy and are usually eaten before the long leisurely dinner begins. Traditionally that means dates, which, it is said, Mohammad ate to break his fast (see the Walnut-Stuffed Dates recipe). In Pakistan Ras Malai, fresh cheese dumplings in a sweetened milk syrup are popular, and of course the jellied candies Turkish Delight would be found on a Turkish table.
The meal itself contains many dishes typical to each country where Ramadan is celebrated. These are not exclusive to Ramadan, with a few exceptions -- Ramazan Pidesi, a flattish round bread garnished with restorative nigella seeds, is baked only during Ramadan in Turkey. In Malaysia, where Islam is the official religion, you might find chicken curry alongside the ubiquitous ketupat -- glutinous rice steamed in woven banana or coconut-palm leaves (also wonderful with plain steamed rice). Malaysian curries show their Indian influence in the dried spices used, such as coriander seeds and turmeric, but their identity as Southeast Asian is evident in the use of galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves, more familiar in Thai curries. Since many of those ingredients are hard to come by, we have taken tips from native Malaysian, Nicky Lee, pastry chef in New York's Four Season's Hotel, on how to reproduce the flavor and spice of a Malaysian chicken curry using easy to find ingredients. He uses Indian curry powder (any supermarket variety is fine) and Thai red chile paste, also available in most supermarkets, which already contains those ingredients.
Try our recipe sampler, below, for some of these classic Ramadan foods, which you can assemble with other Turkish, Malaysian, or Pakistani dishes into a menu for your own celebration. Each speaks distinctly of its origins, and each is a delicious treat, whether you're enjoying it at the end of a day of fasting, or simply to experience the rich traditions of Ramadan.
- Malaysian Chicken Curry
- Ras Malia (Fresh Cheese Dumplings in Milk Syrup)
- Ramazan Pidesi (Turkish Ramadan Breads)
- Citrus Turkish Delight
- Walnut-Stuffed Dates