It's that time of year again! Waking up before sunrise, going the full day without food or drink, contemplating ways to better myself spiritually and personally, opening fast at sunset with family and friends...I have so many dear memories attached to this tradition, and I'm devoting this post to sharing my thoughts on this holiday.
Ramadan is a month of fasting for Muslims worldwide. What I really like about the purpose of this month is its duality: not only is it a time for self-reflection and improving one's self, it is also a time to look beyond one's horizons and consider what can be done for those who are in need. Fasting every day for a month is a remarkable way to learn self-discipline, empathy, and humility. It tests both the body and soul.
I haven't known all this my entire life. When I started fasting at age 7, I thought of the entire ordeal as something we were supposed to do because God told us to do it. Little seven-year-old Sanaa was not as prone to thinking deep thoughts. Ramadan at that time was when we couldn't eat all day because it wasn't allowed. I equated the month with not eating because the hunger was my greatest struggle and therefore first and foremost in my mind. It's funny how at that age the world is so simple.
With each Ramadan I've grown, changed, and learned what it really means to fast in this month. There is no notion of being forced to do something against one's will. Ramadan is all about pure intention. The fast truly means something when one seeks to better him/herself rather than blindly going hungry for the day. My greatest struggle during Ramadan is no longer the hunger itself but the journey of becoming a more grateful, empathetic, and considerate individual. There is always opportunity for improvement, whether it is spiritual or personal, and I know that will the future Ramadans to come, I will be that much closer to being the person I want to be.
Switching gears a bit, I want to describe what exactly happens at Iftar, or the breaking of the fast. The exact moment of sunset varies by about a minute each day and is earlier as the month progresses. At the strike of the exact minute, we recite a short verse praising God for the food we are about to eat and then we dig in! At my house we prepare delicious snack-like goodies to break the fast. Like samosas! Mmm, that first bite after a long day of fasting is one of the best feelings in the world!
Following prayer, we eat dinner. In my house meals can get pretty diverse what with the Pakistani and American influences. One day we may have a traditional curry with naan, the next day pasta, and on a night like tonight, a fusion of both cultures: pizza topped with curried chicken. I cannot even describe how amazing it tastes. Too. good.
Sharing is caring, so tonight I want to share a special recipe of mine for a dish that I'll be making for the family at an upcoming Iftar/dinner. It falls into the category of American, but like all the other home-cooked dishes at my house, it's got a few Pakistani kicks and it's fantastic! Try it for yourself!
- 2 cups ground chicken (you can also use ground beef or skip the meat and go vegetarian!)
- Optional: 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 cup frozen peas and carrots
- Optional (recommended for veggie Shepherd's Pie): 1 cup cooked/canned lentils, 3/4 cup frozen corn kernels, 1/2-1 cup chopped green beans)
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1-1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (I just mix 1 cup boiled water and a Maggi chicken bouillon cube)
- 1/2 cup 2% milk
- 2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- For the adventurous: red chili powder/For the mundane: Paprika (both to taste)
- 1 Pillsbury Deep Dish Pie Crust or 2 Pillsbury Regular Pie Crusts
- 2 cups mashed potatoes (I use Instant Garlic Mashed Potatoes)
- In a medium skillet cook the ground chicken. For best taste cook with optional garlic and ginger.
- In a large skillet saute onion and celery in 1 tablespoon butter until soft/tender. Add vegetables and remaining butter. Cook about 2-3 minutes longer.
- Stir in flour and curry powder til blended. Gradually add broth and milk. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 1 minute or until thickened. Add chicken, parsley, salt and pepper. Be sure to taste the mixture at this point and add more curry powder/parsley/salt/pepper/red chili powder or paprika to taste.
- Transfer mixture to pie plate(s). Top with mashed potatoes so that mixture is covered. Sprinkle top with red chili powder or paprika. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until heated through.
Everyone I've cooked Shepherd's Pie for has absolutely loved it! Enjoy and Happy Ramadan!