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2 Muslim chefs tell us about the tasty recipes they're using this Ramadan

A Muslim person prepares meals for breaking fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. (Devi Rahman/AFP via Getty Images)
A Muslim person prepares meals for breaking fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. (Devi Rahman/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week kicked off the beginning of Ramadan for millions of Muslims across the world. During this sacred month, Muslims reflect on their relationship with God, give charity, study the Quran and perform extra prayers exclusive to this month, all while fasting from dawn to sunset.

Additionally, there’s a communal aspect to the celebration of Ramadan. Throughout this holy month, Muslims are encouraged to break fast with one another through community dinners full of traditional foods special to Ramadan.

Chef Ifrah Ahmed. (Courtesy of Ifrah Ahmed)

Ifrah F. Ahmed is a Somali-born writer and chef. She is the founder of MILK & MYRRH, a traveling Somali culinary pop-up and a New York Times Cooking contributor.

Another chef, Nafy Flatley is a Senegalese chef in San Francisco and the founder of Teranga, a restaurant that sells organic West-African food as part of a marketplace called La Cocina, which features immigrant-run restaurants.

Here & Now associate producer Hafsa Quraishi celebrates Ramadan by putting up decorations, giving charity and breaking fast with family and friends. On her menu tonight is dates, ganji — which is a sort of rice and beef porridge, spring rolls and dahi vada — lentil fritters in a yogurt sauce.

“It’s so fun to look forward to the end of the day and to know that there are millions of other people across the globe doing the same thing that you’re doing right now,” Quraishi says.

4 questions with chefs Nafy Flatley and Ifrah F. Ahmed

What does Ramadan mean to you?

Nafy Flatley: “Ramadan is this time of the year where all Muslims start thinking about their relationship with God and also their relationship with their community. And you try to reduce the amount of expenses and food that you spend and then pass that along to those who are in need. That’s one of the things that you do when you fast.

“And then the other thing is just your relationship with God. Your relationship with the people who are in your life. And then also your relationship with your own body as well, because it’s just a way to purify yourself deep within by eating less and then also focusing and concentrating [on] your relationship with God.”

What is food’s role in Ramadan?

Chef Nafy Flatley. (Eric Woolfinger)

Ifrah F. Ahmed: “Ramadan is seen as this real time of abstaining from food between sunrise and sunset. But, for me, it’s centered around food in many ways, because you’re in community with other people.

“It’s a time of real gathering with family members, loved ones, other Muslims within your community. And while you’re not eating during that specific time period, you are really celebrating around food. You’re sharing with your loved ones. You’re abstaining, but at the same time, you’re also honoring your community and yourself by really sharing.”

How do iftars, the meals that break the fast, commence? 

Flatley: “Iftar begins with eating first a date, the best date that you can find. During Ramadan, you see people running around to find the best date. You start with eating a date, one or two, and then after that, you drink coffee or tea or hot chocolates for the kids.”

Ahmed: “Within my own tradition, we actually eat three dates specifically, because that was a tradition of Prophet Muhammad (SAWS). You would have three dates and then you would have water. And then after that, normally you’re praying the Maghrib prayer once you break your fast. And then once you complete your prayers is when you start eating the actual iftar meal.

“Usually you start with sambuus or appetizer-type things while you wait for the main meal to be brought to the table. And then after that, you take a break because you’ve been fasting all day and at that point, three dates and a few little appetizers, you’re a bit full already, sadly.”

What are your favorite Ramadan recipes?

Ahmed: “Sambuus are really such a beloved part of fasting for Somali families in particular. Sambuus are these fried beef dumplings. Every culture obviously has some variation, whether it’s samosas or empanadas, etc. But sambuus are triangular dumplings that are fried, and it traditionally is filled with ground beef. I love salmon in it, because for my Somali community in the Pacific Northwest, that’s what’s really in abundance. People do chicken, they do tuna, different variations. And it’s usually served with basbaas, which is a Somali hot sauce.”

Flatley: “Maafè is a really delicious, very filling dish that I love making and growing up, I made it all the time. It’s a peanut butter dish with tomatoes, onions, baobab, and for my version, I add different African superfoods. I also make this special hot sauce that I call the Teranga hot sauce. It has a tamarind base, habanero, kiwi and all that mixed together. You can eat it over couscous, over jasmine rice, or you can eat it over fonio, or even a bed of delicious mixed greens.”

Hafsa Quraishi produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt and Peter O’Dowd. Quraishi also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.