Ramadan food traditions from Canadian chefs: La mousse, fattoush, halva and more
For the many Muslims in Canada who will be welcoming the month of Ramadan on Thursday, June 18, fasting and self-reflection during the holy month is of primary importance. But as Salima Jivraj, founder of North America’s largest halal food festival – Halal Food Festival Toronto – tells me, food also plays a vital role. Fasting takes place during daylight, which can be upwards of 16 hours when Ramadan falls over summer months, as it does this year. But when the fast is broken at sunset, meals are festive and often shared with friends and family.
The two main meals eaten during Ramadan are suhoor and iftar, with the former taking place prior to the fast and the latter upon breaking the fast in the evening. Traditionally, iftar starts with drinking water and eating dates but the rest of the meal varies according to cultural heritage – from South Asian samosas and kothu parotta (chopped flat bread stir fry), to Indonesian banana fritters (pisang goreng; recipe follows) and Lebanese spiced potatoes (batata harra; recipe follows).
It’s this diversity in Canada’s Muslim and halal food culture that makes it so special. “I’m from South Asian descent and of course you have Middle Eastern Muslims, South Asian Muslims, but I really learned a lot about the community,” Jivraj says in an interview. “There’s such a big Malaysian population here. The Somalian community is another massive community. Then there are Bosnian, Syrian, and Chinese Muslims; there is so much diversity.”
In putting together Halal Food Festival Toronto, now in its third year, it’s this wide variety that she and her team endeavoured to showcase. They made the decision to make the festival non-political, and although halal food is based on a religious concept, they created a celebration of food rather than an explicitly religious festival. “We just want everyone to come and have a good time, and I think that helps break barriers down and gets us all together. Because we don’t usually have this much community spirit,” she says with a laugh.
Chef Russell Auckbaraullee, a vendor at the 2015 festival in May and owner of Penthouse Catering, says that for him, the rapid growth of Canada’s halal food scene is inspiring. “I’m Mauritian; I’m half French, half Indian. This is something I wish I had grown up with,” he says. “This is the best time to be, because growing up, all we had was what mom and dad made. So it’s just amazing now. Every year, everyone’s pushing the envelope and pushing it to say, ‘Let’s do something different.’” Auckbaraullee tells me that the one dish he always looks forward to during Ramadan is a Mauritian Jell-O-type dessert his mother made, called La Mousse (recipe follows). “It’s a treat after you’ve fasted all day,” he says. “You make it out of China grass [agar], put it in the fridge, let it chill just like Jell-O and that’s it. It’s really easy.”
Pastry chef and instructor Fereshteh Keshavarz, who judged the festival’s pastry competition, also looks forward to sweets when breaking the fast. Keshavarz likes to make a simple Iranian dessert during Ramadan – halva (recipe follows). “It’s very popular among Muslims,” Keshavarz tells me. “We have our way to make halva, and other cultures have their own ways but it’s almost the same thing. It’s made of flour, sugar of course, saffron and rose water, and it’s very delicious. You have to try it.”
Simplicity is key when cooking for Ramadan, as is preparing dishes ahead of time Jivraj says. “I learned a lot from my mother-in-law and my mother; they pre-make a lot,” she says. “I remember being with my mother-in-law and we would make 500 samosas in a day and freeze them, and then that’s our Ramadan prep.” Trying new or complicated dishes while you’re fasting can be tricky with no taste testing during daylight hours. For this reason, Jivraj picks simple dishes that leave little room for error, such as the globally-inspired recipes from her Halal Foodie Magazine she shares below.
“In the summer months, my favourite thing to enjoy [when breaking the fast] is a drink,” Jivraj says. “I love falooda (recipe follows). It’s a drink made from a type of rose essence and it’s really cooling and refreshing. It’s rose-flavoured with pistachios and semolina noodles but I make it as a bubble tea with tapioca pearls, and crushed ice and ice cream. I have to have it at least every other day.” Auckbaraullee also enjoys a Mauritian version of falooda, called alouda, which his mother would grate pieces of her La Mousse into.
Chef Haifa Zeitoun (formerly of Levant Restaurant), tells me that fattoush is at the centre of her family’s Ramadan table. “I’m Jordanian and Palestinian; as a Mediterranean, the most important dish for us is fattoush,” she says of the Levantine bread salad. “We start with soup and fattoush, and after that we eat anything from kibbeh to samosas. We add sumac to the fattoush. It’s a little bit sour and everyone tries the fattoush with the sumac on top with fried pita bread. It’s amazing.”
The author was the guest of Halal Food Festival Toronto, which didn’t review or approve this article before publication.
A popular dessert during Ramadan in Mauritius.
Recipe courtesy of Russell Auckbaraullee, Penthouse Catering.
1 pineapple (coconut is a great alternative)
4 sheets of agar (a.k.a. China grass or Indian gelatin)
50 g caster (superfine) sugar
1 vanilla pod
2 cups (500 ml) water
custard, to serve (buy or make)
1. Dice and blend the pineapple, setting some slices aside for garnish.
2. Soften the gelatin sheets in cold water.
3. Stir 2 cups (500 ml) water together with sugar and vanilla (pod and seeds) in a saucepan, and heat over a low heat to make a syrup.
4. Add the pineapple pulp and boil for 15 minutes.
5. Incorporate the gelatin and allow it to thicken over a low heat.
6. Remove the vanilla pod, and pour the mixture into a loaf tin and let cool in the fridge for 2 hours.
7. Take the mousse out, garnish with slices of pineapple and serve with custard.
Halva is a simple Iranian dessert that is enjoyed during Ramadan.
Recipe courtesy of Fereshteh Keshavarz, Sugar Miracles.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
⅓ cup rose water
1 tsp saffron
1 cup flour
¾ cup oil
pistachio and almond slivers, to taste
1. To make the syrup, combine all ingredients for the syrup together and heat slowly in a saucepan until all the sugar is dissolved.
2. To make the paste, stir together flour and oil in a separate saucepan over medium heat; stir constantly until the colour changes to golden brown.
3. Take the saucepan off the heat and mix in the syrup.
4. Return the mixture to the heat and stir for at least 5 to 10 minutes, or until the liquid has completely evaporated leaving a shiny paste.
5. Put the halva on a plate and decorate with pistachio and almond slivers.
Chef Haifa Zeitoun likes to serve her fattoush with sumac and fried pita bread. This recipe is Palestinian chef Sami Tamimi’s from Jerusalem: A Cookbook (read our interview with Tamimi and co-author Ottolenghi) – it’s also garnished with sumac but is served with a buttermilk dressing and the bread isn’t fried.
Zeitoun uses the following ingredients, if you’d like to try more of a freestyle fattoush: purslane, onion, mint, parsley (all chopped); radish, tomato, cucumber, red and green pepper (all diced), lettuce (shredded); pita bread (toasted or fried in olive oil); black or green olives, pomegranate seeds, salt, olive oil, lemon juice, and sumac.
Excerpted from Jerusalem. Copyright © 2012 Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Published by Appetite by Random House, a division of Random House of Canada Limited a Penguin Random House Company. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
scant 1 cup (200 g) Greek yogurt and 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp (200 ml) whole milk, or 1 2/3 cups (400 ml) buttermilk (replacing both yogurt and milk)
2 large stale Turkish flatbread or naan (9 oz / 250 g in total)
3 large tomatoes (13 oz / 380 g in total), cut into 2/3-inch (1.5-cm) dice
3 1/2 oz (100 g) radishes, thinly sliced
3 Lebanese or mini cucumbers (9 oz / 250 g in total), peeled and chopped into 2/3-inch (1.5-cm) dice
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 oz (15 g) fresh mint
scant 1 oz (25 g) flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp dried mint
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
2 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sumac or more to taste, to garnish
1. Try to get small cucumbers for this as for any other fresh salad. They are worlds apart from the large ones we normally get in most supermarkets. You can skip the fermentation stage and use only buttermilk instead of the combination of milk and yogurt.
2. If using yogurt and milk, start at least 3 hours and up to a day in advance by placing both in a bowl. Whisk well and leave in a cool place or in the fridge until bubbles form on the surface. What you get is a kind of homemade buttermilk, but less sour.
3. Tear the bread into bite-size pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add your fermented yogurt mixture or commercial buttermilk, followed by the rest of the ingredients, mix well, and leave for 10 minutes for all the flavours to combine.
4. Spoon the fattoush into serving bowls, drizzle with some olive oil, and garnish generously with sumac.
FALOODA BUBBLE TEA
Recipe courtesy of Salima Jivraj, Halal Foodie.
1/2 cup of strong masala tea with cardamom (black, cold) or cardamom green tea
2 tsp tukmalanga (sweet basil) seeds
1 cup bubble tea tapioca pearls (available at many Asian grocers)
1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
1/3 cup dry vermicelli (specifically for falooda, cut in small pieces)
1 1/2 cups vanilla almond milk or regular milk
1/4 cup Rooh Afza (concentrate syrup)
1/2 tin sweetened condensed milk (optional)
Splash of rose water
4 scoops kulfi or ice cream
pistachios, finely chopped, to taste (1/2 – 1 cup)
almonds, finely chopped, to taste (1/2 – 1 cup)
ice (as required)
1. Make strong masala tea with cardamom or cardamom green tea. Set aside.
2. Soak the tukmalanga seeds in a full cup of water.
3. Cook tapioca pearls according to instructions on the package. Strain and add honey or maple syrup to keep pearls from sticking together. Set aside.
4. In another sauce pan, boil 2 cups of water and add vermicelli. Cook until soft, strain and add a splash of milk and a teaspoon of Rooh Afza (to give colour); set aside.
5. In a blender, add tea, condensed milk (if using), Rooh Afza, rose water, kulfi or ice cream, pistachios and/or almonds, and ice and blend.
6. Add milk or almond milk to achieve desired thickness (Jivraj prefers it very thick and typically doesn’t add more than 1 cup).
7. Scoop 1-2 tablespoons of each in each glass: vermicelli, tukmalanga seeds and tapioca pearls.
8. Pour mixture from blender into each glass.
9. Add a scoop of kulfi or ice cream to top it off (optional) and garnish with chopped pistachios and/or almonds, and a drizzle of Rooh Afza syrup.