This year, “Eid Al Fitr” falls on Thursday the 13th of May. For the Muslim community, the eve and day of ‘Eid Al Fitr’ mark the end of the month of Ramadan and the beginning of the month of Chawal. Three VUB students tell how they experienced the Ramadan festival and the Eid – for the second time during the corona pandemic. Since Eid is an especially culinary occasion, each of them also agreed to unveil their favorite Iftar dishes. These recipes can be found hidden away below, at the bottom of the article.
Hala El Mohor (Palestinian)
Master student Journalism and Media in Europe: “The situation in Palestine right now weighs heavy on me. It makes me feel like I should not properly celebrate Eid”
“Celebrating Ramadan as a student abroad can be difficult. It can be lonely, and you miss the spiritual and social experience you might otherwise have with family back home. All the consequences of covid have made this worse, and you feel especially lonely since this month is usually enriched by the social dimension.”
“You try to make up for it virtually. I’ve had a video call with my parents to break our fast, which was nice, but not at all the same. Mostly because the exciting parts such as the social night life and the communal iftars weren’t there anymore. After a day of fasting and being hangry (hungry ànd angry) you could get together and eat, have a laugh and maybe play some card games and pray together. I didn’t really get to feel that Ramadan spirit this year.”
“I partly expected that I would have more time for myself to reflect, but instead ofbeing spiritual and reflective it felt like an arbitrary cycle of fasting, eating, sleeping on repeat, albeit without the usual social releases.”
“The situation in Palestine right now also weighs heavy on me. It makes me feel like I should not properly celebrate Eid considering what has been happening, and is still happening in my homeland. It’s so heartbreaking to wake up every day to such tragic news, especially because I also have family and friends there that actually are living through the scenes we only see on the internet.”
“It’s already disgusting enough to have to witness these violent attacks at any time of the year, but the fact that it happens during the holy month of Ramadan makes it even worse. This is supposed to be a month of peace and forgiveness, celebrating that seems impossible now.”
Ramil Tariq (Pakistan)
Bachelor student Social Sciences: “The (religious) practice need not stop just because we lose our channels of expression.”
“Unity, commitment, bonding, contemplation and a lot of food! That is the spirit of Ramadan. But, how can it be practiced with all the rules and limitations because of Corona? No iftars in the mosque? No discussions? No sharing kindness with the community? How is it going to work? This was my start to the month of Ramadan.”
“As the days went by, I learnt something crucial. The practice need not stop just because we lose our channels of expression. I saw mosques organize food drives helping the less needy, friends coming together for iftars, communities organizing online discussions. I learned that a person need not be a Muslim to feel like a part of the community. I tried my best to bring the spirit of Ramadan to my workplace, occasionally bringing in fruits and making my best effort to make time for everyone. I saw my efforts received in the best kindness and multiplied twofold.”
“Plus, having a lot of time finally made me get up and learn how to make Pakoras – a Pakistani delight that everyone must try. They turned out amazing, just so you all know! In retrospect, I believe that where something was lost, something better replaced it. After all, it wouldn’t be very Muslim-like if just a few rules and regulations stopped us from bringing in the spirit to full effect now, would it?”
Derya Akkoç (Turkey)
Master student Civil and Procedural Law: “No one is as preoccupied as usual with the solidarity aspect of Ramadan, the part that is usually most important.”
“As you might expect, corona has had a huge impact on Ramadan. The distractions that you have with a normal daily schedule are not there this time. So now you feel that boredom combined with that hunger, which quickly starts to weigh on you.”
“I mostly stayed at home in Hasselt and spent the month with my family. In my room in Brussels it’s a lot lonelier. I get along well with my roommates, but they don’t fast, which isn’t always easy to be around. In addition, the kitchen in my dorm is only a few meters from my room, which makes the countdown to breaking the fast even more cruel.”
“My mom helps with the routine of getting up in time for the Suhoor to drink enough water and eat something before the fast starts at sunrise. Being home with the family has many benefits, especially now.”
“Everyone is so preoccupied with corona that there is an attitude that ‘this month should be over soon’. No one is as preoccupied as usual with the solidarity aspect of Ramadan, the part that is usually most important. People see each other less, there is fear of contamination… The current state of affairs is just very demotivating, while Ramadan is already a challenging period by itself.”
Hala El Mohor – Palestinian Maqloubeh
Literally translated, Maqloubeh means ‘flipped’ or ‘upside-down’. Seeing the picture, this makes sense. The rice dish is flipped onto a plate to end up as a cake-like structure. Maqloubeh has many interpretations and differing recipes, ranging from lamb based to vegetarian. And the recipe will change depending on family and personal preference. This particular recipe is courtesy of Hala’s mother Rana.
500 g Basmati rice
2 Tbsp olive oil
A whole chicken
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
5 cardamon seeds
Salt and pepper (to taste)
800 ml water (ready boiled)
1 large onion
1 large eggplant
4 tomatoes sliced in rings
- rice and vegetables
- Wash the rice, then leave to soak and set aside.
- Dice the onion (chop up fairly finely).
- Chop up the eggplant and tomatoes into rough cube shapes. Basically, quarter the eggplant and courgette lengthwise, then slice.
- Cut the tomatoes into slices and set aside.
Precook the chicken
- Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
- Sauté the onions, then add the spices
- Cut the whole chicken into 4 pieces and fry together with onions, allspice, salt and some pepper, stir and brown the chicken.
- Add some of the boiling water to the chicken till completely covered and let simmer till the chicken is tender.
- Take the chicken out and leave the leftover water (now chicken stock) to simmer.
Let’s assemble and cook our Maqloubeh
- Grease another saucepan with olive oil. Then start with layering the bottom with the chicken, sliced tomatoes and eggplant. Season with salt and pepper, a small sprinkle will do.
- Pile the soaked rice on top of the chicken and vegetable base. Then pack down with a potato masher/large spoon/plate/whatever.
- Slowly pour the stock in until the rice is covered completely, with an extra fingerbreadth of water above the surface of the rice. Avoid creating a gap/hole in the rice as you’re pouring the stock in. You also don’t want to mess up the packed rice.
- Place the pot on the stovetop, turn the heat on high for 3 minutes to bring everything up to a simmering point although you’ll probably only see the edges bubbling. When you see the bubbles at the edges, move on to the next step.
- Put the lid on, turn the heat down to low and cook for 45 minutes. After that time, if you think the rice isn’t done, another 5-10 minutes should suffice.
- Take a large plate or serving platter, place it over the pot. Now comes the flipping part! After flipping the pot while holding the plate tightly against the saucepan, give it a gentle shake. Then slowly, ease the saucepan off the plate.
- If you packed the saucepan as mentioned, it shouldn’t collapse. But if it does, no big deal, it’ll still be delicious.
- Serve with joghurt or cucumber garlic joghurt salad. Or with a fresh salad of mint, cucumber and tomatoes with a dressing made of lemon, olive oil and salt.
Derya Akkoç – Lahmacun with yogurt sauce
Lahmacun, a name derived from the original Arabic word ‘lahm bi`adjien’ which literally means ‘meat with dough’, is an Oriental dish that is very popular during Ramadan. Lahmacun is a crispy dough dish topped with a spicy meat mixture with lots of onion and bell bell pepper mixed in tomato sauce. It looks like a pizza but it’s not quite that as the dough is much thinner and crispier. It is a dish eaten all over the world, mainly in Arab and Middle Eastern countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Jordan. But it is also a much eaten specialty in Europe such as in Belgium, the Netherlands and France. It is quick and easy to prepare and you do not have to dig deep into your wallet: very student friendly!
500 grams flour
130 ml warm water (not boiling!)
130 ml warm milk (not boiling!)
1 bag of dry yeast (7 or 11 g)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon of salt
1 dash of sunflower oil
Minced meat mixture:
100 grams of beef/lamb mince
1 large onion
2 cloves of pressed garlic
2 large tomatoes
1/4 red bell pepper
1/4 green bell pepper
Handful of fresh flat parsley leaves
Half a tablespoon harissa (mild or spicy to taste)
1 large tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon paprika powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper to taste (be careful: spicy!)
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
4 tablespoons thick yogurt (Greek)
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 pressed garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
Dried or chopped fresh chives
Finely chopped fresh parsley
Topping: Fresh parsley, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, lemon
- Put the water, milk, sugar and yeast together in a cup and stir until you get a yeast mixture. Let this stand for ten short minutes. Put the flour in a tall bowl and make a well, pour into that well the yeast mixture. Add the salt but be careful not to let it come into contact with the yeast mixture because if salt comes into contact with yeast it will prevent the yeast from rising. Finally, add a dash of sunflower oil as well. Knead everything together until it becomes a ball of dough. Cover the dough with a piece of plastic wrap and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Place in a warm place and let rise for an hour. Tip: Place next to an open warm oven. (If you are going to use a kneading machine add all the ingredients together and start the machine, after everything has been mixed a little stop the machine and lastly add the salt and start the machine again. This way the salt will not come in contact with the yeast mixture).
- In the meantime, prepare the meatloaf mixture: Cut the onion, tomatoes and bell bell pepper into 4 large pieces. Throw these into the chopper along with the pressed garlic and parsley leaves and mix until it becomes a mixture without too coarse pieces. Be careful not to mix the mixture too finely. Pour the mixture into a tall bowl and add the minced meat, harissa, tomato paste, salt, pepper, paprika, pinch of cayenne pepper and the 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil. Stir together until it is all well mixed together.
- Set the mixture aside for a moment and begin with the yogurt sauce. Add all the ingredients for the yogurt sauce together in a bowl and stir until you get a mixture. Place this in the refrigerator for a while.
- In the meantime, the dough has already risen. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Divide the dough into balls of 100 grams without kneading the dough. This is very important because otherwise the dough will be stiff and elastic. The dough must remain airy. Sprinkle the balls of dough with flour and roll them out with a rolling pin. Roll them out until they become very flat, as flat as a pancake. You can also toss the flattened dough from one hand to the other and gently catch it so it stretches a bit and becomes thinner. Place a piece of baking paper on a baking sheet, on top of it place the rolled out balls of dough and brush them with 2 tablespoons of the minced meat mixture, leaving a small white border on the dough. Per baking tray there is approximately room for two rolled dough balls.
- Bake for 10 minutes in the oven. Allow to cool for five minutes. Cut up the lettuce, tomato, cucumber and onion. Cut off a few sprigs of the parsley and cut the lemon into wedges. Add these to the Lahmacun along with the homemade yogurt sauce. Bon appetit!
Ramil Tariq – Vegetable Pakora
Fried pakoras are a staple in any self-respecting Pakistani or Indian cuisine, and one of the most common street foods across southern Asia. Simple to make, and quick to disappear from the table.
The best thing about this recipe is that it has no true ingredient list. Any mix of your favorite vegetables will work, making this recipe the easiest and most flexible of the three dishes presented in this article. Example vegetables to use would be: Carrots, aubergine, cauliflower, cabbage, bell pepper paprikas or whatever else you might like to add. Experimentation is a big part of making your favorite type of pakora. The onions however, are unmissable.
1 large onion
400-500 grams of your choice of vegetables
250 grams of spinach
Fresh mint and coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 tablespoon of garlic and ginger paste (or just chop up 1 piece of garlic and a thumb sized piece of ginger)
100 grams of chickpea flour
100 grams of rice flour
- Chop the onion and vegetables into thin, but elongated pieces and place in large bowl together.
- Roughly chop spinach, mint and coriander and add to vegetables.
- Add the spices, seasonings and flours to your vegetables and herbs and mix together, using the moistness of the vegetables to create a paste. Slowly add small bits of water if needed until you have thick batter.
- Generously fill a deep pot with frying oil and warm up on medium-to-high heat.
- Scoop out large spoonfuls of pakora batter and carefully drop into the hot oil. Be careful not to overfill the oil as to keep the pakoras separate. Leave the pakoras in for 4-5 minutes at a time, or until golden brown, then place in a tissue-lined bowl (as you would do with fries)
- Serve with chutney, yoghurt, mint or any other dip you prefer!