Friday, September 22, 2006

A Christian's Memorys of Ramadan

This year Ramadan starts on September 24th. Some people think of it as being similar to Lent. Not so! It's a time of joy and celebration for Muslims. Except for Saudi Arabia I've never once heard a Muslim ever say or behave as though it were an onerous and reluctantly undertaken duty. Whereas I - like any Catholic child I suppose, thought that Lent was a pain and coudn't wait for it to be over. Lent in Lebanon was terrible all those sweets I couldn't eat, and all those pesky Muslim friends who (very nicely but very firmly) helped me keep my lenten vow. I especially didn't like it that the old gentleman who stood outside the school selling sweets used to wave me away whenever I approached. I was the only Christian in that school so playbreaks during lent really taught me the meaning of the word "temptation."

There's a huge range of dishes that are traditionally eaten during Ramadan. Sweets traditionally eaten during RamadanThe photograph to the left shows some sweets. My childhood memorys of Ramadan are very happy ones. Children before the age of puberty are of course exempt from fasting. And in any case as a foreigner, and a Christian, living in Lebanon I was even more exempt. But it was considered polite not to stuff your face in public during the fast. In the evening I got lots of chances to eat my self silly and did. I don't think there was ever a Ramadan evening that we ate at home. We lived in a mostly Muslim area, we were the only Christians in two blocks. All our neighbours used to invite us to come and share their evening meal with us after the first year they worked out a rota of who would invite us on which evening so that nobody felt left out. The Lebanese are very hospitable anyway but we were made to feel even more welcome than usual. For me the main meal would usually end with me being brought from one house to another so that I could sample the various desserts. I quickly learnt that it was a good idea to fast a bit during the day anyway or else my stomach would run out of space long before I'd had a chance to try everything.

The procedings usually ended with either dad or the one of the men of the family we'd being eating with having to carry to me home. Often it was a question of me waking up at home the next morning and ..... "Oh,I must have gone to sleep." Very luxurious :-)

"Ramadan Chicken"

Here's a main meal that "maman" used to cook for Dad and myself often at Ramadan. It will serve four adults.

The Ingredients

  • 12 chicken thighs
  • 2 lemons,
  • 4 table spoons of dark brown sugar
  • 4 table spoons white vinegar - Note to readers in the UK "white vinegar" does NOT mean that disgusting malt vinegar stuff. Save that for stripping paint.
  • 4 table spoons of water
  • 500 grams grammes of dried figs (that is a little more than a 8 0unces)
  • A little salt.
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley
  • A little oil. I like to use grapeseed oil. "Maman" regards grapeseed oil as an abomination and uses Lebanese olive oil.

The Recipe

  1. Soak the figs overnight so that they become plump.
  2. Discard the soaking water pat the figs dry.
  3. Brush the chicken thighs with the oil.
  4. Heat an oven to 200° centigrade (400° Fahrenheit)
  5. Put the chicken thighs into a medium size roasting dish and put them in the oven to start them cooking.
  6. Take a small mixing bowl.
  7. Cut one of the lemons in half and squeeze it completely dry into the bowl.
  8. Add the sugar vinegar and water and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  9. Slice the other lemon very very thinly.
  10. After 15 minutes take the chicken out of the oven and put the thighs on a plate.
  11. Put the figs and the sliced lemom into the roasting dish and mix them up. Then pat them down so that they cover the base of the dish evenly.
  12. Put the thighs on top.
  13. Pour the lemon/vinegar/sugar mix over the chicken thighs and figs.
  14. Sprinkle the dried parsley over the thighs.
  15. Put the roasting dish back into the oven.
  16. Baste frequently
  17. Turn the dish around after 25 minutes.
  18. After about 40 minutes check the dish - if the figs are starting to go brown turn them over.
  19. The dish is usually ready after 50 minutes but that depends on your particular oven.
  20. When the thighs are cooked remove them and the figs from the dish using a slotted spoon and put them onto a warmed plate.
  21. Skim the fat from juices in the roasting dish and pour it over the the thighs.
  22. Serve with the chopped parsley sprinkled over it.

Rice cooked however you like it is a good accompanyment to this. How I like it is with cold rice that has raisins and almond flakes added and that is how I am going to serve it to Mrs. Dubhaltach and our guests tomorrow evening. I've also had chicken cooked this way with dried apricots which are sometimes easier to get than dried figs depending on where you live.

I won't be online on Sunday so I will take this chance to say "Ramadan Kareem" to all our Muslim readers.


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