"Ramadan" refers to the ninth month in the Islamic year, and it is the holiest month on the Islamic calendar. The holiday of Ramadan is observed by fasting (no foods or beverages) during the daylight hours and then, after sunset, breaking the fast with a celebratory meal. It is a month to think of those less fortunate, to feel closer to God, and to break fast with loved ones. This month of prayer and restraint follows the lunar calendar, so the official dates for the start and finish of this holy month vary from year to year. In 2010, the holiday began August 11th and ends around September 10th. As the month comes to a close, I got to thinking about all that daytime fasting and wondered what one does eat during the special evening meal. I asked Shayma, of The Spice Spoon, to fill in some of the food details. Shayma is originally from Pakistan and lived there for many years, as well as in countries such as Nigeria and Italy; she now calls Toronto, Canada home. Shayma spoke to me of her family's traditions when celebrating Ramadan. A typical day during Ramadan is: wake up before dawn and have a hearty meal — a paratha (a grilled flat bread, toasted with oils), a piece of fruit, milk, dates and a fried egg. The family shares this morning meal and sets out on their typical day. They refrain from eating or drinking all day. Then, to break the fast, the family (and friends too) gathers together. They begin their evening meal with a date and maybe some date juice. It is said that the Prophet Muhammad ate dates, so the sweet fruits have a religious symbolism as well as a practical purpose — a quick sugar fix after fasting all day. After about an hour or two, a celebratory meal is shared — a rice dish, meat, bread, curry, vegetable, lassi (yogurt drink) and fruit are all served, accompanied by '"forbidden foods." These forbidden bites are typical street foods of India and Pakistan: jalebi (very sweet fried cookies), samosas, and assorted sweets. For Shayma and many other Muslims, a wonderful aspect of the holy month is the time shared with loved ones, especially over a delicious meal where the chefs of the family pull out all the stops. Many foods are created just for Ramadan and aren't usually served any other time of year, so it is a truly special feast. This connection between certain dishes and holidays so reminded me of Thanksgiving in the US, a feast I cannot imagine without my Dad's pumpkin chiffon pie, a dessert he creates every year without fail, but only that one day per year. The family, the specific dishes, the feeling of togetherness and thanks — holidays are sentimental, no matter your location, culture or religion. When I asked Shayma about her favorite Ramadan memory, she wistfully spoke of a year in Pakistan where the month coincided with the hot summer mango season. One evening when the family broke fast together, Shayma's grandmother presented a dish of fresh mangoes, served with malaai (a type of clotted cream) and a sweet lassi to wash down the golden dessert. I cannot think of a more celebratory treat to start out a family feast. So no matter who you are and what you are celebrating, consider these tasty treats, inspired by the flavors of Ramadan.
Sweet Lassi serves 2 This cooling yogurt drink is perfect with rich and spicy curries, and the natural enzymes in the yogurt are just the thing to temper spice, both in the taste buds and in the belly, for happy digestion. 1 cup yogurt, ideally full-fat Greek yogurt 1 cup water A few ice cubes 3 teaspoons sugar Pinch of salt Blend all the ingredients until frothy. Serve immediately. Mango Dessert serves 4 2 ripe mangoes, peeled and diced into medium-sized chunks 1 dollop quick clotted cream (recipe below) 2 tablespoons pistachios, crushed Divide the mango chunks into four glasses, top with one dollop of quick clotted cream; scatter a few crushed pistachios on top, for garnish. Place glasses into the fridge for one hour, to let the flavors meld. Quick and Easy Clotted Cream In Pakistan, a version of this thick clotted cream is called malaai. In England it's known as Devonshire cream. Whatever you call it, it's rich and delicious — perfect for scones, atop pancakes, or served with fruit. 4 ounces mascarpone cream 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream 2 tablespoons sugar Pinch of salt In a medium bowl, beat all ingredients with a mixer until evenly incorporated and small peaks form. Chill in the fridge for about an hour before dividing into mango glasses. Keep extra for amazing hot chocolate topping or to serve with fruit or even oatmeal. • Visit Shayma's blog: The Spice Spoon Related: How To Make Thai Mango with Coconut Sticky Rice (Images: Leela Cyd Ross, mango photos; Shayma of thespicespoon.com, lassi drink)