tThis year, the Australian National Imams Council announced that, with the appearance of the new moon, Sunday will be the last day of Ramadan for most Australian Muslims, and Eid al-Fitr will be Monday, May 2. The three-day celebration includes food, family visits, gifts for children and, of course, sweets and cakes.
Leading up to the festivities, two passionate home cooks share their recipes and the stories behind them.
Mama Ghanouj’s Namoura recipe
Despite coming from a Lebanese background, where most daughters make their way into the kitchen relatively early, I didn’t grow up cooking from an early age. My mother loved the kitchen, it was her sanctuary. So much so that I was not allowed to set foot in it or help her!
It wasn’t until my late teens that I was even allowed to peel a potato. Mama is very special in the way she cooks. I would stand in the doorway of the kitchen and watch her create and invent her dishes using the simplest ingredients. It’s only now that I have my own family that I realize I inherited this from her.
My mother was a single parent and I grew up with a sibling in a small apartment in South Sydney. We didn’t have extravagant meals or large toppings, but I watched my mother use every ingredient she had on hand to make special meals, even from leftovers.
A dish that is close to my heart is “namoura”, a semolina cake soaked in sugar syrup. Mom always saved the crunchy bits that stuck to the edges of the pan for me because she knew I loved them.
I remember sitting down with her one afternoon when I was about 15 years old and asking for the recipe so that “when I get married, I can make it for my family”. She gave it to me quickly, from the top of her head with rough measurements. I wrote it on a scrap of scrap paper and hid it in the drawer of my nightstand.
It sat there for years, until I was about to get married. I packed my things to move to my new house, I found it. Since then I cherish this recipe and this memory as a special gift from my mother. My kids love it now, as do I – and I save the crunchy bits for them too.
For the cake
3 cups coarse semolina
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup desiccated coconut
1 1/2 cups yogurt
tahini, to grease the tray
For the syrup
2 cups caster sugar
2 cups of water
2 caps of rose water
Make the syrup first so that it has time to cool. Bring all ingredients except the rose water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in rose water. Set aside to cool.
For the namoura, mix all ingredients except the tahini and the toppings and knead well.
Rest 20 minutes. Brush the bottom of your baking tray with tahini paste. Only a small amount is needed to keep the cake from sticking. Spread the cake mix in the baking dish and cut in straight lines to make squares, diamonds or oblong pieces to the desired size. It is useful to dip your knife in oil for this. The lines must keep their shape.
Place the blanched almonds on top (my kids love to help with this) and bake at 170C until golden brown. Run a knife over the cuts halfway through cooking.
When you take the Namoura out of the oven, immediately pour the cool syrup over the hot cake. It looks like a lot of syrup and you have to wait a while for the cake to soak in before pouring more. Go over the cuts again to make sure the syrup is absorbed well. Let the cake rest for a few hours before serving. Decorate as desired with ground pistachio, desiccated coconut, dried rosebuds, or other toppings.
Kenyan Kalimati. from Zohra Aly
When you are part of a family that has migrated for a few generations, food and language become connecting threads with the place. My grandparents migrated from Gujurat on the west coast of India to Kenya in the 1930s. My mother and her siblings were all born in Nairobi, where my grandfather worked on the railways. I was born in the 1970s in a small coastal town called Mombasa, which all makes me a second generation East African Indian.
I only knew a few words of Swahili, but my fondest childhood memories are rooted in the East African Indian cuisine I was exposed to. My grandmother combined the recipes and cooking techniques of her upbringing in Hyderabadi, her married life in Gujurat and the ingredients and flavors of East African cuisine. She would use coconut milk to thicken curries, and starchy tubers like cassava as carbohydrate sources.
I was just a little girl when in 1972 Idi Amin ordered the Asians in neighboring Uganda to leave within 90 days. The Indian diaspora in Kenya and Tanzania feared a similar fate, so many re-migrated and fled to the West and the Middle East. My parents were divorced at the time, so my mother and I traveled by ship to Karachi in Pakistan for five days. In another two years we moved to Dubai, where my mother’s brothers had settled.
I met my husband, Abbas, in Dubai. He lived in Australia and was visiting his cousins there. During five years as a pharmacy student in London, I had eagerly watched Neighbors along with the rest of Britain, but I never thought I would marry an Aussie! Abbas’s family had migrated from Tanzania to the Illawarra in the mid-1970s, and he had grown up playing cricket and believing in a fair chance.
His mother was also the best cook of samosas and biriani in town, and friends who stopped by after school or work were well fed. Indian groceries were hard to come by at the time, let alone East African ingredients, so they drove to Bondi to stock up on them for months at a time. She was innovative, finding substitutes for hard-to-find ingredients and shortcuts to cooking methods, and she kept all these recipes in her head.
For fifty years my own mother has kept a book in which she writes down her favorite recipes and also pastes clippings from newspapers. Later I started something similar with my mother’s recipes, which were sent in blue airmail letters when I moved to Australia, and my mother-in-law’s recipes, which I learned by cooking alongside her. It’s falling apart now, but I love flipping through all those different handwritings.
My recipe for kalimati comes from my mother-in-law. This fried sweet is the quintessential East African treat to go hand in hand with your first cup of tea during iftar time. The batter uses yogurt to give it a flavor. Once the batter has risen, small balls are dripped into hot oil and fried, then covered with sticky syrup to sweeten them. The first crunch of kalimati launches you straight into a cushiony, chewy interior.
Our iftar starts with the usual date, then a cup of tea and a kalimati – or two (it’s almost impossible to stop at one!). Over the years I have made kalimati so many times during Ramadan that I no longer need the recipe. I think that’s a real sign that a dish is becoming a fixture on the family table.
For the batter
1 cup white flour
2 heaping tablespoons of rice flour
2 heaping tablespoons of yogurtpreferably sour yogurt
3/4 tsp yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
Vegetable oil† to fry
For the syrup
1 cup sugar
¾ cup water
pinch of saffron
Pinch of cardamom seeds
To make the kalimati batter, put all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, add the yogurt and a cup of water. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with your fingers, then slowly add more water as needed, keeping your fingers together and whisking into the batter. You may not need the full cup and a half of water to get the required consistency, which is stretchy, looser than cake batter, but not runny. The batter will come together quickly as you mix it. When it’s the right consistency, cover the batter with cling film and let it rise in a warm place for a few hours.
Meanwhile, make the syrup by heating the water and sugar in a saucepan until it starts to boil. Crush the saffron threads between your fingers and crush the cardamon seeds with the back of a wooden spoon before adding them both to the syrup. Stir the syrup a few times and remove from heat if it becomes sticky. To test the consistency, make sure the syrup is cool enough to touch, take out a teaspoon of the syrup and gently dip your index finger in it. If you quickly press your finger against your thumb, the syrup should be sticky enough to form one strand. Alternatively, the syrup should be sticky enough to coat the back of a teaspoon.
The batter is ready when it has become bubbly and laced.
To fry the kalimati, heat oil in a wok over medium heat. The temperature is right when a dollop of batter that has fallen into the oil immediately rises to the surface. Use a lightly oiled round teaspoon or ladle to drop seven or eight balls of the batter into the oil, taking care not to overcrowd the wok.
Reduce the heat to low and stir the balls with a slotted spoon so that they color evenly. When golden brown, remove from oil, strain well and drop into cooled syrup, stirring to coat. Remove and place on a serving platter and continue baking the rest of the batter. When all the kalimati are fried, serve them on a platter and pour over the remaining syrup.
If possible, leave them in the syrup for some time to let the flavor infuse.
Make a cup of tea and enjoy two, or maybe three.
Tagrid Ahmad is best known as ‘Mama Ghanouj’. Her popular food blog shows how traditional dishes can be made faster and cheaper. You can follow her on Instagram at @mamaghanouj_kitchen† You can av . lookideo version of her polenta cake recipe here†
Zohra Aly was born in Kenya in the 1970s. She is a trustee and directs Saturday School at the Imam Hasan Center in Annangrove, Sydney’s North West. She is a writer and former pharmacist and is currently working on a novel. She is married with four children and two Burmese cats.
You can find this recipe and over 60 other Australian-Islamic recipes and stories from 21 different countries on the Recipes for Ramadan website; and follow the project Instagram† facebook and YouTube†