The Sweet Rewards of Ramadan's End
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
After preparing breakfast in predawn darkness every day for a month, the Muslim cooks who observe Ramadan must be happy when the first morning of Eid al-Fitr comes around.
The three-day holiday, pronounced "EED al-fit," marks the end of Ramadan's daily fasting, done by young and old alike to promote self-restraint and repentance. Eid begins upon sight of the new lunar cycle, which is predicted for Oct. 1 or 2.
Ramadan's first meal of the day is built with certain rib-sticking characteristics: It is fiber-rific and savory, often with beans, cheeses and nuts. Caffeinated coffees and teas are eschewed because of their diuretic properties, and sweets are usually excluded to ward off spikes in blood-sugar levels.
An Eid breakfast, on the other hand, can be leisurely and luxurious. Morning prayers start well after sunrise, with a brunchlike meal eaten afterward. The sweet rewards of dessert usually grace the table, as do seasonal fruits and that missing cup of something hot to drink.
We asked food historian Amy Riolo, author of "Arabian Delights: Recipes and Princely Entertaining Ideas From the Arabian Peninsula" (Capital Books, 2007), to share the Eid menu she makes each year.
"Whew! It's a well-deserved break," she says. "I like to do a mix of traditional and new," with favorites that bring back memories, such as the cookies and chai she had during an Eid spent in Egypt and her own fruit salad concoction of pomegranate seeds, orange, lemon, mint and yogurt.
Riolo, a Germantown resident, is cooking just for herself and her husband on this Eid, but her plan remains the same as when they have holiday guests: the chai, enlivened with crushed green cardamom pods, cinnamon and ginger; the fruit salad; a sweet vermicelli dish with dates; and Moroccan pancakes that are cooked only on one side, creating a honeycomb effect that allows applications of butter and honey to sink in with maximum efficiency.
All four recipes are fairly simple and can be made even faster with an overnight head start. Place the chai's dry ingredients in a teapot, then add boiling water the next morning to brew, Riolo says. The fruit can be arranged on a platter, with its dressing and pomegranate seed-yogurt topping made and refrigerated in separate containers until just before serving. The vermicelli with dates can be made a day in advance, then reheated on the stove top over medium heat and topped with warm milk.
The yeasty pancake batter can be whisked together and refrigerated overnight. The dish, like the rest of her menu, is delicious enough to warrant a place on any breakfast table; Riolo worries that some cooks might be not be able to resist flipping what starts out like a "normal pancake." She describes the cooking as "going three minutes longer than you would if you were going to turn the pancake over." (If you'd like to see the technique firsthand, you can watch Riolo demonstrate it for a program at the National Museum of African Art on Jan. 11.)
Her Eid breakfast is all about a fresh start, made sweet and easy.