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Qatari Ramadan



In the four corners of the world, the spirit of Ramadan is universal; Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. Yet from country to country, the types of food eaten during Ramadan vary. With decadent chocolate sushi in Dubai, tantalising sticky rice and mango in Malaysia and succulent roast lamb in London, Ramadan food is a magnificent hotpot of culinary types and flavours. 

During Ramadan, traditional Qatari dishes take centre stage for many Qatari households with international favourites such as pasta becoming more popular. Qatari food is an exotic blend of flavours from around the world including Arab, Levantine, Indian and North African. A hearty, filling and nourishing cuisine with mouth-watering stews brimming with meats such as lamb, mutton or chicken and flavoured with earthy spices such as cardamom, cinnamon and saffron and generally served alongside grains such as cracked wheat and rice. For sweet treats, mehalabia is a silky and creamy custard flavoured with Middle Eastern rose water and nuts whilst luqaimat dumplings are deep-fried and sweetened with honey or sugar syrup. Just as throughout the Muslim world, dates feature heavily as the main choice for breaking the fast at sunset. 

Togetherness

Jaleel's iftar spread: fatayers, honeycomb bread and erachi pathil, a pastry similar to samosa

Ramadan takes on a more quiet, reflective and intimate feeling for many Qatari households compared to the glitzy and lavish hotel iftars, food promotions and restaurant deliveries. If food is the language of love, the Holy Month of Ramadan provides an opportunity for family and friends to eat and pray together, for neighbours to send gifts of homemade food to each other and for doors to open to those less fortunate. Simplicity, spiritual recharging, charity and generosity are the cornerstone for families during this important time. 

Born and raised in Qatar, Khansa Abdul Jaleel, a lifestyle and food blogger, sees Ramadan as a time for spiritual and physical cleansing with food as a means of nourishment for prayer times. “Ramadan for me is a month of fasting and I like to fast more than feast.” After Asr prayer in the afternoon, Jaleel’s family starts preparing the meal for iftar. Kitchen duties are divided amongst the family with each member given a specific task such as filling samosas or preparing a smoothie or fruit juice. Breaking the daily fast (iftar) is usually with something light such as dates, Zam Zam water, laban, yoghurt, boiled eggs, fresh juices and smoothies. 

The main meal after iftar is heavier with carbohydrate and protein rich foods such as rice and pasta. Her Qatari neighbours often send Qatari classics like thareed and harees, a family favourite. Dishes from Jaleel’s Indian heritage—curry and biriyani—also make regular appearances. Iftar with Jaleel’s family is enjoyed seated on the floor in a communal group. For suhoor, the family eats energising and slow digesting food with two to three glasses of water such as boiled eggs with bread or dates with either tea or coffee. For Jaleel, Ramadan food is “more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and giving nourishment for prayer. We shouldn’t eat too much to make us lethargic—just enough to make us feel energised.”

A vegan Ramadan

Al Thani's vegan machbous

Every Friday during Ramadan, Aldana Al Thani’s grandmother sends thareed, a delicious spiced stew of chicken or lamb with carrots, potatoes and onions and pieces of bread to soak up the flavourful juices. Recipes for Qatari favourites such as machbous, harees, thareed and balaleet are handed down through the generations and serve as a way of keeping local culture alive creating a bond between family, friends and the community. As Al Thani explains, “People [in Qatar] still crave the taste of their childhood.” However, Al Thani follows a vegan diet—she does not eat any animal products including meat, dairy, eggs and honey—which makes her Ramadan a bit different than the traditional Qatari Ramadan.

“I do eat the same traditional Qatari dishes that I used to eat before, but [now] it is a healthier version,” Al Thani says. “For example, I eat machboos or thareed for iftar as these are the most common traditional dishes in Qatar. I make a healthier version of anything I desire to eat. [At home] we like to eat a lot of homemade desserts, but there is a variety of amazing vegan dishes that anyone can find on the Internet. Nothing has changed, but everything [has] changed for me.” 

A cultural experience

For Noor*, a mum of three, Ramadan is a quiet time and a chance to keep family recipes and traditions alive to pass onto her children. “My children attend an international school so they are influenced by their friends. They have knowledge about different cuisines because we also travel a lot,” Noor says. “Ramadan is a way for my children to experience our culture and to eat food that my grandmother used to make. We eat a lot of the traditional foods associated with Ramadan such as dates, nuts, soups and machboos. Now, as my children are getting older they are asking for homemade lasagna and pizza.”

Qatari Ramadan classics

Threed

A tomato-based spiced stew made with chicken or lamb and vegetables such as carrots, potatoes and onions. At the bottom of the dish are layers of bread that soak up the stew. 

Machboos

A signature Qatari dish similar to Indian biriyani. Rice is cooked with meat or seafood, spices and topped with pine nuts and raisins. Typically served family style in a large communal dish. 

Machboos Dijaj (One-Pot Chicken with Rice)

Serves: 4

Ingredients

1 kg whole chicken
1 cup basmati rice, washed and soaked in water for 30 minutes
3 tbsp oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced
1 whole green chili
2 tsp mixed spices or curry powder
1 dried lime (loomi)
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
2 tsp salt or to taste [could be replaced with Maggi cube]
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped [or 1 tbsp tomato paste]

Directions

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot on medium high heat. Fry the onions until they start to brown. Add garlic and ginger.
  2. Add the whole chicken along with the green chili, the spices and the salt.
  3. When the chicken starts to brown add the tomato. Reduce heat to medium.
  4. Cook for about 15 minutes then add about three to four cups of hot water. Cover and cook for about 45 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked.
  5. Add the drained rice to the pot and check the water level. The water should be about 2.5 cm (1 in) higher than the rice. Adjust as needed.
  6. About six minutes after adding the rice, reduce heat to low, cover and continue cooking about 20 minutes, until the water is fully absorbed. To prevent the rice at the bottom from burning, you can finish off cooking the rice in your oven, heated to about 200 C (400 F).

Recipe adapted from Fanar Islamic Centre.

Harees

Harees from Jaleel's neighbor

Common in the Middle East, harees is coarsely ground cracked wheat slowly cooked with meat. Simmered into a porridge-like consistency with ghee. One of the most popular dishes during Ramadan. 

Harees

Serves 8

Ingredients

1 kg whole chicken
5 cups cracked wheat, washed and soaked for one hour
2 tbsps salt
Ghee (clarified butter)

Equipment

Harees pot (large pot with wide bottom and narrow top)
Harees beater (large wooden bat)

Directions

Add chicken to the pot. Cover with water. Boil for one hour.
2. Remove chicken from pot. Remove all the bones, but keep the skin. Return boneless chicken to the pot.
3. Add the soaked cracked wheat to the pot. Cook on low heat.
4. After one hour, add the salt. If the mixture looks dry, add some boiling water, but do not mix.
5. Turn on your oven to l80 C (350 F). Cover the pot and put in the oven. Cook for two hours.
6. Check frequently to make sure that the mixture has not gotten too dry. Add boiled water, if needed and cook for another two hours.
7. Remove pot from oven. Use the harees beater (or a large wooden spoon) to beat the mixture into a porridge consistency. Ideally you want to share this task with another person to keep your arms from getting too tired. Alternatively, you can use a food processor, but the dish wouldn't be as authentic.
8. Scoop the harees onto the serving dish. Cover the surface with ghee and serve.

Note: Do not mix this dish while it is cooking. Instead, gently fold the ingredients. 

Recipe adapted from Fanar Islamic Centre.

Mathrooba

A special iftar treat similar to harees and used to break the fast. It is like a soupy polenta with meat and mashed beans. 

Mehalabia

A light and silky custard-like dessert made from ground rice and milk and infused with rose water or orange blossom water.

Balaleet

Usually eaten at breakfast, these sweet vermicelli noodles are cooked with cinnamon, saffron and cardamom and topped with omelette. 

Balaleet

Serves 4

Ingredients

250 grams vermicelli pasta
½ cup sugar
½ tsp saffron
1 ½ tsp ground cardamom
50 grams butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 eggs
Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 C (400 F).
  2. Fill a medium-sized pot with water. When water boils, add the vermicelli pasta.
  3. Cook for about one minute and drain in a colander. The noodles will be very soft.
  4. With the vermicelli in the colander, add sugar, saffron and cardamom. Set aside.
  5. Return the empty pot to the stove. Melt some butter and fry the onions on medium heat. When the onions start to change color, add about three beaten eggs. Continue stirring until the egg is cooked.
  6. Top the egg-onion mixture with vermicelli pasta. Mix through. Top with the rest of the butter. Cover and put into the oven.
  7. Cook for about 20 minutes. During this time, use the remaining eggs to make two plain omelettes with some salt and black pepper to taste.
  8. Lay the pasta on the serving dish and top with the omelettes. Serve.

Recipe adapted from Fanar Islamic Centre.

Luqaimat

Popular throughout the Arab world, these deep fried dumplings are sweetened with honey or sugar syrup and served with tea. 

*name has been changed for privacy

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