This is the story of how a typo turned into an entree. In Whatsapp group of fellow moms, coordinating the dishes of a potluck, someone offered up a Samoa cake. Misreading that for “Samosa Cake” many of the moms jumped at the prospect: “Samosa cake?! What’s a Samosa Cake?! I want to try it!!”. After clarifying the mix up, some ideas were thrown around as to what a samosa cake would look like. I immediately thought of layers of phyllo dough stacked with a samosa meat mixture, baked and cut in slices. When I looked up for recipes that would meet these requirements, I pulled together elements from a Borek recipe (Turkish layered meat pastry), an Egyptian meat pie, and the filling from a Yemeni Samboosa. There are cubanelle or italian frying peppers here for flavor, often seen in Turkish recipes. There’s tomato paste from the samboosa recipe, an ingredient that is necessary for any red meat dish, in my humble opinion. And the whole layering and baking technique pulls from Egyptian meat pie recipe.
It’s January and I know many of us are trying to find ways to eat healthy. I’ve had a little extra time on my hands so I’ve been coming up with different ways to eat healthy/less meat/fewer carbs. Not exactly low fat though. Kale caesar salad. Chana dal with veggies and coconut milk. Tomato soup. Today I whipped up this salmon and mixed vegetable sauté. Follow along for inspo on my Instagram!
I’m calling this my #baesic salmon because even though it’s a basic way to cook it, it’s bae in my recipe book. I’ve tried cooking salmon just on the the stovetop, and it just burns on the outside before cooking through on the inside. If you lower the heat too much you don’t get the nice crust. This way, if you sear it on the stovetop, finish it off the oven, you get the best of both worlds. I wasn’t sure if it would be done actually, but when I dug into it, it was juuuuuuust slightly pink and rare in the middle. If you prefer it cooked well through, leave in for 2 more minutes.
I know we all tryin’ to eat more nutritious food, less meat, fewer carbs. And I know salmon isn’t exactly the best option either. It’s overfished, not sustainable. But I for one need to change things up from beans, lentils and eggs. We still do chicken once a week or so. Red meat once a month maybe. Baby steps.
For the mixed vegetable sauté:
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 5 organic carrots (they’re smaller, so if using big carrots, use 3-4)
- 1/2 large onion or 1 medium onion
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 12 oz cauliflower florets, or from 1 head of cauliflower
- 12 oz broccoli florets, or from 1 large head of broccoli (I had two small heads of broccoli)
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- more salt and pepper to taste
For the salmon
- 2tbsp olive oil
- 2tbsp unsalted butter
- 12 oz salmon fillet
- salt and pepper
- a squeeze of lemon
- For the vegetable sauté: heat up oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add carrots, saute for 2-3 minutes, then add onions. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 2-3 minutes more. Add the garlic, then broccoli and cauliflower florets. Add butter and more salt and pepper. If the veggies are starting to brown too easily on the bottom, reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until veggies are crisp tender, 10-15 more minutes. Taste for seasoning.
- For the salmon: Preheat oven to 350F. Score the skin side of the salmon – about 3 slits diagonally. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Melt butter and olive oil in at least a 9in round french or other ovenproof skillet. When bubbling stops, add the salmon, skin side down. Don’t touch it for at least 2 minutes. When there’s a nice crust, it’ll lift off easily. Flip over carefully, minimizing splatter of hot oil, using two spatulas if necessary. And cook for an additional 2 minutes. Then insert in preheated oven for 7-8 minutes.
- Remove from heat, finish with a squeeze of lemon and let rest for a few minutes before serving. Serve alongside steamed quinoa or brown rice.
Ramadan is halfway over, but there’s still time to make some of my favorite recipes for this time of year! Going clockwise from the top left:
Citrus Quinoa Salad with Dates, Almonds and Mint – we consume a lot of dates during Ramadan. This recipe uses up any extra dates you may have in a salad you can feel good about eating at the end of a long fast!
Meyer Lemon Strawberry Lemonade – I know sugar is the devil. I know. But you have to try this lemonade. It is light years beyond any bottled strawberry lemonade you can find. Recipe adapted from Pioneer Woman.
Basil Smoothie – a surprising staple in many homes I’ve introduced this smoothie to. Basil, yogurt, sugar and ice makes for an unexpectedly refreshing drink.
Tandoori Chicken – an easy, make ahead dish. When you’re fasting, you’re low on energy. So the less time you have to spend on your feet in the kitchen, the better. These chicken legs get a quick marinade of yogurt and spices. Then about 45 minutes before eating, pop them in a hot oven. That is all.
Mint Limeade – aka virgin mojitos. The refreshing flavors of lime and mint make this the perfect compliment to your break-fast meal.
Haleem – a protein packed Ramadan must. It’s one stop, one pot iftar. Stewed meat, grains and lentils combine to make the most filling, comforting dish possible. Can probably make this in your slow cooker as well.
Fruit Chaat – refreshing and easy. Simply combine your favorite fruits – try to ensure varying textures and levels of sweetness. Try apples, grapes, kiwis. Or pineapple, cantelope, raspberries. Or mango, blueberry, nectarine. Leave the yogurt/chaat masala dressing on the side, or mixed in, for a variation of your favorite fruit salad.
Banana Date Nut Bread – another healthy way to use up dates. The potassium from the bananas and dates combined with the fiber from the whole wheat make this bread great to have on hand when you’re short on time for your pre-dawn meal. Can bump up the fiber content with flax seeds, chia seeds, etc.
Aloo Chop (Fried Mashed Potato Balls) – not the healthiest thing on the list, but a comfort food must for many of us South Asians. Mashed potato balls stuffed with bits of hard boiled egg, breaded and fried. Yum!
When you were a kid did you have curry for suhoor?
Let me take a few steps back here. Ramadan Kareem everyone! The blessed time of year when Muslims around the world abstain from food & drink (yes, even water) from dawn til dusk. Not just a physical fast, Muslims (healthy, adult) are to abstain from sex, violence and cursing. Particularly trying for those at northern latitudes where the days are long (16+ hours for us in NY), we need to make the most of our pre-dawn and fast-breaking meals. That means nutritious food that will keep our bodies busy breaking down complex carbs and proteins. Just as important: staying hydrated!
So if you’re South Asian, you probably had white rice along with veggies and some hearty curries for your pre-dawn meal (suhoor/sehri). And they probably left you feeling awesome, especially after your post-fajr nap.
Not. They always left me feeling queasy and hungry after a few hours. Don’t get me wrong, hunger pangs are going to strike regardless. It wouldn’t be a fast without the experience of hunger – to humble us, to remind us of our blessings, to connect us to those less fortunate, and to remind us constantly that we are doing it for the sake of God. But in eating whole foods, super foods, foods that are full of complex carbs and hunger abating protein, we can put our best food forward while going about our day to day jobs in non-Muslim countries. Otherwise, it can be challenging, functioning on reduced and disjointed sleep (late night prayers + a meal in the middle of the night) with a lower blood sugar throughout the day making your mental processing faculties a bit foggy.
So here I present my go-to spread for suhoor: overnight oats with fruit and nuts, two hard boiled eggs, toast with peanut butter, banana and chia seeds, coconut water, and water. I may not have all of these items every day, depending on how much time I have on my hands, but the overnight oats and hard boiled eggs are a must. I prepare the oats around the same time that I’m making iftar so it has a good 8 hours to soak in the fridge. When you read the recipe below, you might be turned off to the fact that it’s made with water instead of milk. But if you’ve ever struggled with downing oatmeal because the gummy texture turned you off, you must try it with water. Of course you are free to make it with almond, soy, rice, hemp or coconut milk instead.
Recently, I’ve been topping it with the raspberry compote from my Eton Mess. I don’t want to say it’s divine or anything in case that’s sacrilege – but it’s really really really good.
Combine the complex carbs from the oats with the protein and good fats from the eggs – you are good to go. The potassium from the coconut water and bananas (or dates!) well keep you running. The chia seeds provide a nutritional boost as well given they’re packed with Omega-3s, fiber, and protein. Sometimes I just munch on them as is. They have a wonderful crunchy/chewy texture.
Here are my tips for hard boiling eggs:
- Bring a generous amount of water to boil.
- THEN add the eggs.
- Set the timer for 8 minutes eggsactly (had to).
- When the timer is up, drain the water. Let cool. Don’t peel them ahead of time as they’ll dry out.
- Just before eating, crack them on a surface and roll around. You’ll find these eggs are the easiest to peel.
And here’s my go to recipe for overnight oats (from Quaker):
- 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
- 1/2 cup water (or enough to cover the oats)
- pinch of salt
- 2 tbsp fresh fruit or fruit compote
- 1 tbsp chopped walnuts (optional)
- 2 tbsp yogurt (optional)
- In a mason jar, or recycled jam jar, combine oats, water and salt. Close the lid and give it a shake. Let it sit in the fridge overnight (6-8 hours).
- To serve, top with fruit, nuts and yogurt, if using. Enjoy immediately. And be generous with the fruit! One of the perks of summertime fasts are the glorious fruits available, particularly at your local farmers market.
Ramadan is coming up! I figured I should add a few more Ramadan friendly recipes to the blog, for those of us who are looking to depart a bit from the usual fried foods iftars. During these long summer days when we’re denying ourselves food and liquid for 15 hours straight, we need to treat our bodies well! This is a dish you can feel good about eating, that’s not going to make you crash before the long night of ibadah (prayers) you have lined up.
This recipe is based on one from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. I know a quinoa salad is not the first thing you think of when you consider French cuisine, but she’s filled her cookbook with things she makes for her family, without strictly adhering to a particular cuisine. In our hyperconnected world, it’s kind of impossible to resist influences from other regions. She’s got a Moroccan Tagine and carrot salad, small plates from her American upbringing, French pastries and traditional stews from her current residence. And she’s kind of an authority when it comes to food so I trust her with my quinoa!
I’ve taken a lot of liberties with her recipe though. First was to change the prep method for the quinoa. For some reason the package directions always tell you to cook it covered over low heat for about 15 minutes. That always gave me soggy quinoa. My way gives perfectly cooked and fluffy quinoa every time. Second, I nixed the ginger powder for cinnamon since I hate ginger and thought cinnamon would compliment the citrus. Third, I increased the fruit to nut ratio for my sugar loving palette. She suggests using any kind of dried fruits, nuts and herbs. I combined the dried fruits, nuts and herbs I thought would work best (dates, almonds and mint). You could also do raisins, pine nut and parsley. Or apricot, walnut and cilantro. It’s a vibrant, tasty way to prepare your quinoa that uses up the plethora of dates we often have lying around during Ramadan.
- 1 1/2 cups quinoa
- 1 cup medjool dates, pitted and diced small (about 7 dates)
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
- salt and pepper
- juice of 1 lemon
- juice of 1 orange
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (recommended: Trader Joe’s California Estate EVOO)
- In a small saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to boil. Add quinoa and lower the heat to medium low. Cook for 12 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. After the 12 min are up, turn off the heat and put the lid on. Let steam for 3 minutes, then fluff with a fork. Set aside.
- Toast the almonds on a dry skillet over medium heat. Stir occasionally. When the nuts are light brown and fragrant, take off the heat and let cool.
- Chop the mint and combine with the dates and nuts in a large bowl.
- Make the vinaigrette: combine the orange juice, lemon juice, cinnamon, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper and olive oil in a jar. Put the lid on and shake vigorously.
- Add the quinoa and vinaigrette to the large bowl. Combine everything and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper as needed.
One of my first cookbooks ever was Giada De Laurentiis’s “Everyday Italian“. From it, I made my first pesto, marinara sauce, bolognese, vegetable bolognese, her fabulous balsamic roasted chicken, and many other Italian classics. For that reason, it will hold a special place in my bookshelf. One thing I noticed though, was that many of the tomato based sauces required celery, onion, and carrots as the base. While I always have onion on hand, the times I bought celery and carrot for those specific recipes, it was a pain to try to finish them off. I’m not a big celery-snacker. I might make a salad out of the celery and carrot (though I much prefer carrot and mushroom salad). So while I appreciate the flavors attributed to the classic mirepoix (sweet onion, sweet earthy carrots, licoricey celery), I needed one that suited my family’s needs and my grocery habits.
Enter My Go-To Bolognese. Olive oil. Onion. Garlic. Beef. Tomato. Seasonings. Almost all of these things I have on hand – I don’t even bother with the fresh herbs. Dried oregano. Basil already in the canned tomato. Done. Deal.
I amp up the flavor with crushed red pepper flakes. I add tomato sauce along with the crushed tomatoes – something I picked up from watching Pioneer Woman. It adds moisture and flavor to the sauce. And the best part is…
It gets better the longer it sits in the fridge. The first day you taste it, you’re like yeah, it’s good. But the second day you taste it and you’re like wow where did this meaty flavor come from?! And because my family is relatively small (both kids under 6), I can get away with freezing half and thawing it out later in the week when I’m knee deep in frosting for a cake order! One of the few things I don’t mind eating out of the freezer.
And the cinnamon! It’s my not-so-secret-anymore ingredient. Ever since I made Ina’s Pastitsio, I fell in love with the flavor combination. It makes you go “hmm what is that?!” – in the best possible way.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/4 tsp salt plus more to taste
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 15oz can tomato sauce
- In a medium saucepan, warm olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion and ground beef. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and the meat is no longer pink. Add the seasonings: garlic, oregano, salt, both peppers, cinnamon, sugar and bay leaf. Stir until fragrant – 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce. When the sauce comes to a boil, lower the heat to low and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 to 45 minutes.
- Taste for seasoning and serve with pasta of choice and a grating of fresh parmesan.
I invited my childhood friend, Aileen Olmedo of TheStyleBoro, over for breakfast this past weekend. Her blog is a fun destination for the unequivocally stylish and youthful city dweller. Youthfulness is a state of mind folks, not a number. Rather than prepare traditional brunch items she could enjoy at a number of NYC spots (e.g. eggs benedict, waffles, french toast) I thought I’d make her a spread reminiscent of my beloved babymoon in Istanbul.BTW, Zeynep if you are reading this please don’t hate me if I butchered an authentic Turkish dish. I know you’re supposed to use Turkish peppers, not jalapeno or Chinese peppers. I know you’re supposed to use onion not scallion. And any other changes I made, I only made to make this wonderful breakfast dish a bit more accessible to the average American home cook!I love how the colors pop in a Turkish breakfast spread. White cheese, green cucumbers, red tomatoes, rich Soujuk (Turkish sausage), black olives, fresh squeezed orange juice. Makes for a dramatic presentation. If you can find apple tea and borek (cheese or meat pastry), those are also wonderful additions. Even if you aren’t looking for an all out breakfast extravaganza, you can enjoy the recipe below for Menemen – eggs scrambled with peppers, tomato and onion until they are just barely set. A wonderful change up from your usual eggs and toast breakfast.
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1 long green pepper (I used the Basque Fryer, but feel free to use a deseeded jalapeno), thinly sliced
- 1 Roma tomato, diced
- dash of cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 6 eggs
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley
- Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet or wok over medium high heat. Add scallions, tomato, pepper and cook 4-5 minutes, until soft. Add cayenne, paprika and salt and cook for until tomatoes break down and onions get super soft, another 2-3 minutes.
- While the veggies cook, crack eggs into a bowl. Season with a pinch each of salt and pepper and whisk with a fork. Whisk well – until the eggs look like a uniform yellow mixture. Pour into skillet and lower the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggs just start to set. Turn off the heat and add the parsley. Give it a final stir and serve with warm bread.
I was going to write about how comfort food for me is not cream laden, starch based dish. About how I would be disappointed during weekend lunches when my mom would bring out a pot of fish curry yet when I moved out to my dorm it was those memories that comforted me during cold, dark and lonely weekday nights. And one of the few things that connected me to my childhood as a married woman cooking for her own family. But I realized I’ve written all of that before. And as touching as it is, I can’t dwell on it. Not with all that’s going on. I am sick of the vitriol being spewed from my screen. From fellow commuters. From people I’ve shared a hometown with for years. But I’m emboldened by the acts of good among all the recent backlash against my community. The little Texan boy that donated his savings to a mosque in his neighborhood that was vandalized. Brandon of HONY, who appeared on Fareed Zakaria, pleading the case of the Syrian refugees. Justin Trudeau and the choir that welcomed refugees with a rendition of Tala Al Badru Alayna – the song that the people of Medina sang to receive the Prophet Muhammad and his followers when they left Mecca due to persecution.Scapegoating, racism, xenophobia – these are nothing new to mankind. But social media is. So I ask you, during these historic times, will we find ourselves as complacent as the citizens of the world during WWII? Will we let the negative news saturate our feeds? Or will we use the platforms we’ve been given to help our neighbors, speak the truth and contribute to the forces of good?
- 2 tilapia filets (about 3/4 pound total), cut widthwise into 1/2 in to 3/4 in pieces*
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp light olive oil
- pinch anise seeds (optional)**
- 1/2 large onion (or 1 medium one), sliced
- 1 Roma tomato, sliced into half inch slices
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeno, tip cut off and sliced down the middle
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp salt
- dash cayenne pepper
- 1/2 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined, with the tail on
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Season tilapia with turmeric and salt – rub to coat the fish with the spices.
- Heat oil over medium high heat in a large wok or fry pan with high sides. Lightly fry the fish about 2 minutes on each side to get a nice golden brown crust on them. I like to use tongs for this. Do this in two batches. Set aside browned fish on a plate or bowl.
- In the same oil, add the anise seeds and onion and cook until onions are translucent – about 4 minutes. Next add tomato, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook for 1-2 minutes, then add cumin, coriander, salt and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine then add 1/2 cup of water to allow the spices to cook down. When the water is almost fully evaporated, add shrimp and stir with the vegetable and spice mixture. Allow to cook for 1 minutes. Then add 1/2 cup more water, the tilapia and bring to a boil. When it reaches a boil, put the lid on and the heat low and allow to simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.***
- Meanwhile chop cilantro. When the shrimp and tilapia are cooked through and the broth looks like a broth (homogenous in appearance, not like water with bits floating in it), then turn off the heat. Add the cilantro and taste for seasoning.
*Cook’s note: you can substitute about 2-2 1/2 pounds of bone-in, gutted and de-scaled fish that have been cut into thirds (e.g. porgy, whiting, buffalo). You can skip the shrimp in that case. We’re looking for flavor here (bones of the fish or tails of the shrimp).
**You ever notice that the French use Pernod (anise liqueur) to bouillabaisse (fish stew) and Italians add fennel to cioppino (fish stew). There’s just something about the combination of anise flavor with fish that just works!
***I know most recipes warn of overcooking shrimp but my personal taste is – I like it with a bit of a bite to it!
My first born starting school has opened up a world of culinary challenges: what can I make and pack for her that a) she’ll eat b) is nutritious (most of the time) and c) not too messy? The top two contenders so far as been a chicken “salad” sandwich made from leftover chicken curry, mayo and provolone cheese. First choice though, banana nutella sandwich. That’s my cop out sandwich. Something I’m sure Park Slope moms would be aghast at finding out was given to a child. You’ve heard about that, right? The parents who wanted to ban the ice cream truck coming ’round the block so they wouldn’t have to deal with their kids ice cream wanting tantrums. While I empathize with the tantrum dealing – I wonder how many parents in my generation reflect on the food they grew up versus the food they feed their kids. Sometimes I get so hung up on, “Are my kids eating enough greens?” “Are they getting enough fiber?” “Is it too late in the evening for chocolate?”. While it’s definitely good to be thinking of these things, some of us go off the deep end when it comes to this stuff. A certain parent comes to mind who flipped out when her daughter was given a rice biscuit or whatever too close to her dinner time. Do you know what my after-school snacks consisted of? Double chocolate chip muffins laden with all kinds of artificial flavorings and preservatives with a can of pepsi. Or entenmann’s chocolate cake. Or chips ahoy cookies with milk. My gourmet touch was microwaving the chips ahoy cookies to give ’em that just baked quality. Right.So, over the years, I’ve given myself a break. Not all their fruits and veggies are organic anymore. Sometimes they have nutella toast for dinner. And lollipops or ice cream in the evening? One heck of a reward for cleaning up their toys! Not to say I’ve thrown all caution to the wind. I snuck some baby kale leaves into my daughter’s wrap this morning. Usually I make her sandwiches with soft whole wheat bread. Pictured below is Malaysian style paratha which, if you were with me during my semester in Rome, you know it is crazy good. It’s a flaky flatbread that makes anything taste good (not that this chicken needs any help!!). My favorite part of this chicken is the wonderful caramelization from cooking it in the butter. Why didn’t we eat more butter growing up? It is so glorious when treated well. Buttered toast in our household usually meant Country Crock vegetable spread on lightly toasted Wonder Bread.So enjoy these chicken cutlets all throughout the week:
- Sliced across the grain and over salad
- Diced and mixed with a mayo dressing for chicken salad sandwiches
- Sliced and inside wraps with lettuce and tomato
- Diced and tossed with buttered pasta and peas
- Or as is, with a side of quinoa and leafy greens!
- 2 large chicken breasts, each sliced in half widthwise to make 4 cutlets
- 1/4 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp salt
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1 tbsp butter, divided
- Combine spices in a small bowl and sprinkle all or most of it evenly over both sides of each chicken cutlet.
- In a large fry pan over medium high heat, heat 1 tbsp oil and 1/2 tbsp butter. When the bubbling of the butter dies down, add two pieces of the chicken cutlets. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. You’ll know when to flip when the bottom side is golden brown and the white (cooked) part of the chicken creeps up to the middle. Flip and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
- When the first two are done, remove from heat and let them rest on a plate (not a cutting board as the juices will run). Clean the pan with a rubber spatula to get the overly brown bits and oil off and into a ramekin or bowl. Add the remaining tablespoon oil and half tablespoon butter. Cook the remaining two cutlets the same way. Remove to plate and let rest 5 minutes before slicing.
Ramadan, the Islamic month during which Muslims around the world fast from sun up to sun down, is winding down. The last ten days is a time of great spiritual importance. Extra prayers, remembrance and mindfulness of acts of worship are highly stressed. My interpretation is that it’s a way to encourage keeping up the momentum, since Ramadan is 30 days long, and many start off the month with a lot of vigor, but find themselves struggling to keep up with the extra prayers and fasts as the days go by. Another important part of Ramadan for me is the communal iftar (evening, break-fast meal). One of the things that drew me to Islam as a child and again as a college student, is the community. When I attended my first ICNA convention as an almost 10 year old, I wore the headscarf for the weekend, per etiquette. And I recall descending on the escalator to the main convention hall and being amazed at seeing so many Muslims in the same room. For the first time I felt like I was part of something larger. Growing up in Queens, my childhood was characterized by my otherness. I was always one of two Bengali Muslim kids (no black, white, arab, SE asian or any other muslim kids in my neighborhood). We were all a rag tag team of immigrant kids – the only cohesive element being our physical classroom or schoolyard. So when I first felt that sense of community, it was exhilarating. I kept the headscarf on (with its ups and downs) since then. This was reinforced as a student at Barnard. The iftars hosted by Columbia Muslim Students Association was another reinforcement. A group to whom I didn’t have to explain my evening ritual of breaking the fast. A group that actually shared the values I was brought up with. I know we live in a society that in name celebrates individuality and uniqueness. But growing up in a society that is so different from your native one, is exhausting. How many times have I had to answer the question
- Can your husband or father see your hair?
- Do you sleep with the scarf of your head?
- Do you shower with it? (admittedly this was a much rarer question, asked by the not-so-high scorers in my junior high class)
- You can’t even have water while fasting?
So while I celebrate multiculturalism and pluralism as much as the next person, and in fact I think I’m the better for my experiences, it is really fortifying to be with members of one’s own group. That’s why I love hosting iftar. Why I love ending a long day of fasting with people I love. With food I love. In remembrance of our common purpose of pleasing our Creator. On to the food! This was actually the first time I’ve made rack of lamb. I took a risk by making something for the first time for a group and not even sticking to a recipe, but using a spice rub recipe by Deb Perelman and a cooking technique by Ina Garten. The spice rub recipe is from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. She uses it to encrust individual lamb chops and after an initial sear on the stove top, then finishes it in the oven (I’ve made it before here). As for Ina’s rack of lamb recipe, she does a traditional rosemary/garlic combo, then roasts the whole thing in the oven at 450 degrees F for 20-25 min. I smeared the spice rub on and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour before sticking it in the hot oven to allow the flavors of the spices to get into the lamb. I then roasted it covered for 15 minutes. After 15 min, I removed the foil, drizzled some olive oil and allowed to cook for 15 minutes longer. This got it to medium rare. If you’d like it done further, insert a meat thermometer into a good meaty portion of the meat and cook until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F for medium or 170 for well done. The lamb was from Honest Chops over in East Village. Perfect flavor every single time. I made Kabuli palau for the first time – and Afghani chicken and rice pilaf with carrots, raisins and nuts. Homemade naan. Roasted tomato and burrata Caprese salad (why aren’t there good tomatoes in the farmers markets yet?? Perhaps because it hasn’t been hot enough). Mashed potatoes. Watermelon/mint salad because Ramadan and watermelon go together like two peas in a pod. Pioneer Woman’s Kale Citrus Salad and Strawberry Lemonade. My only edit to the lemonade was that I made a Meyer lemon infused simple syrup with two cups of the sugar, 2 cups water, and the peel of 1 large Meyer lemon. Divine. My mom made cumber raita (yogurt, grated cucumber, smoked salt) and savory pancakes. My good friend Nargis made delicious boulani, a potato stuffed turnover. And because iftar is an evening meal, this was the best lighting I could capture for my photos. Wishing a blessed last few days of Ramadan to those observing!
- 1/2 cup shelled pistachios
- 3 tsps chaat masala
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp paprika
- 4-5 dashes of cayenne pepper (stick to 2 dashes if you can’t handle heat!)
- 5-6 pounds rack of lamb
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- Add first 5 ingredients to the food processor and process until pistachios are ground and spices are well blended.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum. Take lamb out of fridge and remove any impurities from the surface, rinsing under running water if necessary. Place on baking sheet, fat side up, and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle salt and pepper all over the meat. Rub spice mixture onto the fat side and let sit for 1 hour.
- After 45 minutes, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Once the oven is hot, drizzle lamb with olive oil and cover meat with foil and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Cook longer, if desired, with a meat thermometer inserted into the meat reads 160 for medium or 170 for well done.
- Take out of oven and let rest for 15 minutes. Slice and serve with yogurt dipping sauce.