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!
Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Ina Garten.
- 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.