Persian Cuisine for Ramadan
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar and is a time of prayer, reflection, fasting and self-sacrific
Because Ramadan is a lunar month, it begins on a different date every year. Its start is announced according to the appearance of the new moon, and the exact time can vary by several hours depending on where in the world you find yourself.
Ramadan is deeply followed by the Muslims in Iran. It is considered as the month to strengthen family bonds and thank the Almighty for His blessings. Gratitude, charity and spirituality are forms of worship. Muslims pray collectively during the holy month in mosques across the country where Iftar meals are also held. Many people spend generously during Ramadan to support the needs of the poor. Food, clothes and other items are distributed among the poor and under-privileged.
In Iran, eating, drinking and smoking in public is prohibited during the holy month. Coffee shops and restaurants are closed during the day until Iftar time.
The meal consumed before dawn is known as "Sahari", which varies from family to family. Some prefer hot meals while others eat bread, jam, cheese, and eggs. Many families also consume dates and hot tea.
Iftar traditions vary widely around the world. Muslims in many countries eat dishes that are typical for their region the year round. In other countries, special dishes are particularly associated with the iftar meal.
Iranians traditionally break their fast with dates and a cup of tea or hot water. Some families combine Iftar and dinner into one meal, while others prefer a gap between the two. Tea, bread, cheese, fresh vegetables, Zoolbia and Bamieh (two traditional Persian sweets coated in sugar syrup), Halva, Sholeh Zard (a sweet Iranian dessert made of rice, sugar, and saffron), Ash Reshteh, and Haleem as well as various kinds of soups are commonly served during Iftar time.
Ash reshteh is a type of āsh (thick winter soup) made commonly in Iran. The ingredients used are reshteh (thin noodles), kashk (a whey-like dairy product), herbs such as parsley, spinach, dill, spring onion ends and sometimes coriander, chick peas, black eye beans, lentils, onions, flour, dried mint, garlic, oil, salt and pepper.
Haleem is stew popular in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the South Asia. Although the dish varies from region to region, it always includes wheat, barley, lentils and meat. Popular variations include keşkek in Anatolia, Iran, the Caucasus region and northern Iraq; harissa in the Arab world and Armenia; khichra in Pakistan and India; and Hyderabadi haleem in southern India. Haleem is made of wheat, barley, meat (usually beef or mutton, but sometimes chicken or minced meat), lentils and spices. This dish is slow cooked for seven to eight hours, which results in a paste-like consistency, blending the flavors of spices, meat, barley and wheat.
Haleem is sold as a snack food in bazaars throughout the year. It is also a special dish prepared throughout the world during the Ramadan and Muharram months of the Muslim Hijri calendar, particularly among Iranian, Pakistani and Indian Muslims. In India, Haleem prepared in Hyderabad during the Ramadan month, is transported all over the world through a special courier service. Haleem is traditionally cooked in large, wood-fired cauldrons. Haleem is also very popular in Bangladesh, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, when it is a staple dish.
Persian Shami Lapeh is a delicious and traditional Persian main dish. Shami is a combination of beef, yellow split peas, egg and spices. To prepare it dissolve ground saffron in 1 tablespoon of boiling water (find the How to Use Saffron under the Tips on How to... section) and set aside. Pick over the peas and remove any stones. Wash and drain. Place the peas in a pot and pour 3-4 cups water over them. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until peas are tender (add more water during cooking, if necessary). Drain and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in a pot over medium heat; add the onion and sauté for 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high; add beef and sauté until brown on all sides. Add the turmeric, 1 1/2 cups water, salt and pepper. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until beef is tender, stirring occasionally.
Continue cooking until all liquid is absorbed. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Place the beef and peas in a large bowl; combine well. Using a food processor, grind the beef and peas mixture until smooth and soft. Add the eggs, dissolved saffron, baking powder, salt and black pepper; mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings. Take a small amount of the mixture (about 3 tablespoons) and make a small ball out of it. Flatten the ball shaping into patties, about 3/4 inch thick. Poke a hole in the center. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Reduce heat to medium. Place the Shami gently in the frying pan (making sure not to overcrowd). Fry until they are cooked through and golden brown on each side (once you see that the bottom has turned into golden color flip them over). Add more oil, if necessary. Be careful not to overcook and burn them. Place them on paper towel to absorb the extra oil. Then transfer to a serving dish and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve cold or hot with bread.
Sholeh Zard is a sweet Iranian dessert made of saffron, sugar, and rice. To prepare it, wash rice a few times until the water is clear, then drain. Add six times water and bring to a boil, removing the foam. When rice softens completely, add sugar and stir well. Dissolve saffron in half a cup of hot water and add to the mix. Heat up oil and also add to the mix. Add in most of the almonds and the rosewater. Stir well and cover. Cook in oven at low temperature for half an hour. Serve with pistachio, almond and cinnamon sprinkled on top.
Halva is a tasty dessert. To prepare it, heat oil in a frying pan until it is hot. Add flour, reduce heat and stir frequently until the mix changes colour to golden, thickens and becomes fragrant. Add sugar to one glass of water and bring to a boil. Add saffron and rosewater and stir. Let flour cool slightly, then add the mix and stir well. If the mix is not thick, heat for 1-2 minutes but not longer. Serve with crushed pistachio and almond sprinkled on top.
Zoolbia & Bamieh
Zoolbia Bamieh is one of the favorite deserts in Iran. It is made of starch, yogurt, flour, saffron, oil, and rose water.
In order to prepare zoolbia mix starch, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and water, then add yogurt and mix well until the mixture is even and smooth. Heat oil in a pan until hot. Pour the mix through a funnel into the pan creating round lattice shapes about 5-6 cm in diameter. Turn heat down and fry fully on one side, then on the other. Mix well sugar, rose-water, and a glass of water. Heat until water comes to a boil, and the syrup thickens. Remove from heat. Soak zoolbia in the syrup for about 5 minutes, then serve.
For cooking bamieh Mix cooking oil with a glass of water and 1-2 spoons of sugar, and bring to a boil. Pour in flour and mix well. When water boils off and the mix thickens, remove from heat. Allow the mix to cool down, then add eggs and mix well until smooth. Heat oil in a pan until hot. Pour the mix through a funnel into the pan, creating flattened balls about 3 cm in diameter. Fry on both sides. Mix well sugar, rose-water, and a glass of water. Heat until water comes to a boil, and the syrup thickens. Remove from heat. Soak baamieh in the syrup for about 5 minutes, then serve.
Fereni is a Persian pudding dessert that people make for various occasions. For some events Fereni is served cold as a dessert, while at other times it is served warm for someone who is feeling under the weather or sick. To prepare it dissolve rice flour in milk. Add sugar and rosewater. Stir regularly over medium heat until it comes to slow boil and thickens. Sprikle crushed pistachio on top and serve cold.
In our language Persian/Farsi, "shir" means milk and "berenj" means rice. Placing rice, the staple of Iranian cooking, in a pot along with milk and simmering it till well-cooked with the right consistency is what this pudding is all about. To cook it, wash rice well, then drain the water. Add two glasses of water to rice and cook until rice slightly softens. Add milk and continue cooking over medium heat until the mix thickens. Add rosewater and cook for another minute or so. Add cream and serve with sugar or jam on top.
Ranginak is a healthy, nutritious and wonderful tasty dessert from the southern region of Iran. Ranginak is best when made with freshly picked and soft dates and is traditionally served with a freshly brewed cup of tea. To cook it heat oil in a pan until hot. Pour in wheat flour and turn down the heat. Stir frequently until flour turns golden. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Add fine sugar, cinnamon and cardamom to flour and mix well. Pour half of the flour-mix in a flat dish and flatten the surface with the back of a spoon. Insert a piece of walnut inside each date and place the dates on the flour-mix. Cover the dates with the rest of the flour-mix and again flatten the surface with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle ground pistachios on top. Cut into diamond-shaped pieces and serve.
Compiled By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Deputy Editor of Iran Review