Ramadan Kareem

Last night was the start of Ramadan. And for those of you who were suddenly confused about that word, Ramadan is a month-long fast in Islam that is designed to allow for spiritual reflection and increased devotion.

Now, when I was a young kid I thought this meant that Muslims starved themselves for an entire month. I was completely mystified. But then I grew up and started to understand the some of the intricacies of this holiday. I’ve recently been confronted with the fact that many people lack this understanding (through no fault of their own). So let’s go over some important things I’ve learned about Ramadan over the years.

  1. A month of fasting includes much more than just food. While fasting for Ramadan does involve abstaining from food or drink, it also includes abstaining from other activities like smoking and sexual relations.
  2. The food fast does not mean Muslims starve themselves for a month. The fast takes place during the day, and individuals start the day with the suhoor (pre-fast meal) and end it with the iftar (post-fast meal).
  3. Since this holiday is based on the lunar calendar, it actually occurs a few weeks earlier every year. As a kid I remember learning that Ramadan took place in the fall. This year it started on June 17th.

One of the great things about this holiday in modern times is our ability to access information. Fasting can be dangerous. I don’t say this as a reason to avoid this holiday, absolutely not. It’s just very important to approach a dietary change with caution. Dehydration can be a serious concern for individuals participating in Ramadan, especially during the scalding hot summer months.

And while hydration may be of utmost importance, it’s also critical to eat a filling meal before starting your day. In Middle Eastern and African countries where Ramadan is most popular, there’s plenty of food that has become known in Western countries. Fattoush, tabbouleh, paneer, and couscous are plentiful in America. And we can’t forget hummus.

But Silver Spork News is here with a full recipe to get your day started. It can be prepared the night before and heated up easily in the morning. That food is tagine, a Middle Eastern meal easily comparable to stew.

Lamb and Date Tagine

3 large lamb shanks, about 4 ½ pounds
Salt and pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, sliced, about 2 cups
Small pinch of saffron
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 2-inch thick piece cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons dried ginger
½ cup chopped dates of any kind, plus 24 whole Medjool dates
½ cup golden raisins, soaked in hot water to soften for 30 minutes and drained
½ cup pomegranate seeds
Cilantro sprigs, for all the garnish

Trim shanks of excess fat, then season generously with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, combine garlic, fresh ginger, paprika, and cumin, and smear over shanks. Leave shanks at room temperature to season for at least an hour. (Or you can wrap and refrigerate several hours, or overnight; return to room temperature before proceeding.)

In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed soup pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion, saffron and cayenne, and sprinkle with salt. Cook for 5 minutes, until somewhat softened. Stir in tomato paste and cook 1 minute. Lower heat to medium, add seasoned shanks and let cook with onions, turning occasionally, until meat and onions are lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Add cinnamon stick, dried ginger, chopped dates and water to barely cover (about 31/2 to 4 cups) to the pot. Bring to a simmer, cover pot with a tightfitting lid and place in oven.

Bake for 30 minutes, then turn heat down to 350 degrees. Check sauce and add water if level of liquid is below meat. Continue baking for another hour, checking liquid level occasionally, then test meat by probing with skewer or paring knife. It should be quite tender and almost falling from bone, but cooked no further. (Tagine may be prepared to this point up to two days ahead. Reheat gently in a covered pot on the stovetop, adding a little more water as necessary.

Remove meat from pot and place in deep, wide serving bowl. Skim off any surface fat from cooking liquid in pot. Add whole dates to pot and simmer for a few minutes to reduce sauce slightly. Pour sauce and dates over meat. To serve, garnish with raisins, pomegranate seeds, and cilantro sprigs.

At this point make sure you properly store all of your food. Either eat that night for iftar or store for a filling suhoor in the morning. And don’t forget to drink some water, my friends.

Post by Ian Sims. Recipe from NYTimes.