Ramadan in Morocco

Today’s post is about Ramadan and how it’s observed and “celebrated” in Morocco.

I’d like to propose a better understanding of what Ramadan is about but most importantly, Islam being one Religion, people live it differently, according to their own cultural background, which is an important point to remember when we watch the mainstream media who tries to put all Muslim in one mold…

I’m going to write about the holy month of Ramadan from a cultural (including culinary) point of view.
In my description of the Moroccan way of eating during Ramadan, I’ll try to give a glimpse of the main habits, old and Modern bearing in mind that they can vary from a family to another. Also bear in mind things can be very different between major city dwellers and other parts of the country.
Moroccan savoury bites during Ramadan
Each month of Ramadan, the usual eating habits are very different as compared to non-fasting days. If Harira (the National soup) remains the essential dish in Ramadan’s table for many families, each home has some other preferred specialties.
Last meal before sunrise is called S’hour or souhour (an Ealy breakfast) and the meal at sunset is called Iftar (f’tour in Morocco).

 

We love shneiks, Moroccan krachel and danish during Iftar or just after it, along with coffee..
This a stereotype about Harira soup being served in EVERY Moroccan home during Ramadan. Actually, this is not the case. There is a repertoire of other soups which are served (like the one here and the other there). More on that subject, I am one of those who can’t digest it due to amount of tomatoes in it and I never ask for it.
Many Moroccans, aware of how harira can be heavy on their stomach (but their pocket too since the price of tomatoes during Ramadan goes sky-high), they literally avoid any bowl of soup to leave space for other goodies. Harira is a meal in itself.
Harira

The Moroccan ouarka sheets (not to confuse with phylo dough) is highly needed to make sweet and savoury triangles (samosa’s cousins), rolls or sbiaats (with almond here or savoury there), mini-bastillas. You may be surprised on the number of mini-bites served on a Moroccan table for Iftar.

Making mini-bastillas ahead of time, they’ll be frozen, uncooked, then baked when needed.

Moroccan women are very creative in the kitchen and cooking is most of the time a second nature which reach its peak in this holy month. They also get organized and make many recipes ahead of Ramadan..Usually, the two weeks before Ramadan are quite busy in our Moroccan homes with all the preparations related to food.

Msemmen, baghrir, mlaoui and other baked or pan-fried Moroccan pancake specialties are also served during Iftar or sohour, either stuffed on the savoury side (for Msemmen and mlaoui) or just drizzled with warm honey and butter.
Plenty of Moroccan pancakes 
As far as the drinks are concerned, Coffee, tea, a myriad of homemade juices are a must on the Iftar table or just after that. It actually depends on the family members. Here is the scenario in our house: While I like having my cold orange for Iftar, my brother would rather have milk and dates in the mosque then join us for the meal.. My brother-in-law can’t function without a first coffee with a croissant. Some just settle for water as a start..Then comes the food.
The so-traditional chebbakia
The Moroccan F’tour
So, is there a rule as to what people eat and how/when? Not really..But like I said, let’s just give some common “formulas” for a Moroccan F’tour.
1- Soup is vital: Some won’t call it ramadan’s Iftar if they don’t see a soup on their table (Harira is one of them). This comes with dates and chebbakia. Then a pause, then tea, coffee, sellou and Moroccan pancakes  of different kind are served just before everybody dashes for Isha prayer, after which a light tagine or grills will be served for dinner. This is a very traditional and widely spread in the deep part of the country and in families with limited budget.
2- Fish, fish and fish :In some coastal cities such as Casablanca and El Jadida, some families can literally have fish for Iftar every single day.”If there is no fish, there is no f’tour”. These also fall under the persons who chose to eat a meal and not break the fast with the soup & small bites formula. Some will have a small bowl of soup, pray while somebody is in charge of finalizing the fish dish.
Mini-harchas
3- Start slowly: People following Sunna (Prophet’s way of living) break the fast with dates and milk , pray, then have the soup with the mini-bites as mentioned previously. The dinner time will be only after the last prayer of the night called (Isha’a)…Anyone following Sunna will wake up for Souhour even for a date or a yoghurt. They usually get the most of the Ramadan’s diet.
4- All in one go: Some, like me, prefer to eat in one go during Iftar which we combine with dinner: A juice and one or two of the usual small bites on the table that day (small Moroccan krachel or danish, an almond briouats or sbiaat, a couple of stuffed mini-batbout, seafood rolls, mini-harcha…). I then eat my dinner right after, that could be grilled meat or fish, tagine of vegetables. I’m done until souhour where I keep it light but wisely chosen: bread, egg, yoghurt, cheese or a sort of porridge.
Classic Ramadan sweets
The Moroccan S’hour
This is again something following everyone’s taste. In Fez where my family comes from, it’s either a homemade yoghurt called Raib or/and mini-batbout drenched in warm honey and butter which would be flavoured with a bit of orange blossom water. Jben (Moroccan white cheese) is also part of the souhour table. Some go for heavier option such as egg and khlii omelet or eat leftover dinner or leftover pastry..
I prefer to keep it simple and wise, it’s either an egg sandwich or cheese sandwich for me. Sometimes, I’ll just settle for yoghurt or a hot porridge to keep me going for a few hours. I avoid too much sweets at all cost during souhour. You need to play it smart or you won’t last until next Iftar :).
Some decide to skip the whole thing, which is not advisable neither by the religion nor by the fact that ramadan is now falling in longer days of the years (for some time)..
Mid-Ramadan
There is nothing special in term of food in mid-ramadan unless you are running out of chebbakia and not wanting to buy it from the market. In this case, you have a long task which consist on replenishing your stock..
The sweet thing in that day is that most of the children who are not eligible to fast yet give it a go (even for half a day) and try to look “grown-up”..The child (ren) is then rewarded by his favourite culinary requests, maybe some money too but most of all, he/she feels so special especially if they manage to finish the day..There is practically nothing to expect from chidren below 9 or 10 especially when It’s about fasting a long day. It’s fun when they try to fast half a day then come and ask mummy “can you sew all the hours I’ve been fasting (understand not nibbling) to make up for a day? I don’t know any mother who didn’t have the magic needle..
Moroccan Jben, a fresh white cheese
Lailat El Qadr (Night of Power, Night of destiny)
The most important night in Ramadan on a spiritual level (Although it hasn’t been precised as of which of the last 10 unpair nights it is, many people tend to believe it’s the 27th). Some families serve trays dried nuts and fruits, draw henna patterns on the hands and feet of little girls (not eligible for fasting yet) who decided to fast that day (and also grown ups). In some areas of Morocco, the main dish for that day is a special couscous.
Eid ul Fitr: Feast of Breaking the Fast
In Morocco, this Eid is also called Eid S’ghir (small) as opposed to Eid El K’bir (the feast of the sheep). People perform the zakat El fitr which is an obligatory form of charity from those who can afford it.
This Eid is basically the day after the last fasting day when men wake up before sunset to get ready with their best traditional attire and head to Moussalla to offer Eid prayer.
In the meantime, women are busy making an important breakfast: plain Moroccan pancakes in all forms and shapes, tea and coffee. Sweets’ trays are prepared to be placed in the guests’ area because the day is for receiving families and loved ones and counting the blessings.
Some traditional Moroccan sweets for eid.

 

Notes about the meaning of Ramadan 
Ramadan, besides being a month to go for a good body detox (and potentially lose weight and drop bad habits), it is primarily meant to be a detox for the soul and a time to strengthen our faith and our community bonds.
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim calendar year. Practicing Muslims are asked to fast for 29 to 30 days (the month’s observance is based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon).
Fasting is obligatory for adult Muslims, except those who are seriously ill, traveling, pregnant (special cases and times of pregnancy or breastfeeding), or women with PMS.
While fasting from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking or smoking, no sexual intercourse either. Food and drink is served daily, before dawn (call for Fajr prayer) and at sunset (call for Maghrib prayer) and life goes back to normal between couples (unlike what I have heard from Non-Muslims who thought they knew what Ramadan was about).
Muslims are also called to work on their soul and attitudes by refraining from swearing, gossiping and remembering to be decent at all time. To those who give Jihad another bloody meaning, this is what Jihad is  first and foremost about: the Prophet asked us to educate our soul and self against wrong-doing and elevate it to a pure creation, this is called “Jihad an-nafss” considering the energy once needs to put in this effort.
Unfortunately, what we see in the media, Jihad is usually associated with blood and ignorant people seeking power and coming with the worst misinterpretation this religion has ever had.
If Muslims can’t be an example anymore of the Perfect God’s creature in his/her behaviour, this is the month where he/she is supposed to re-educate themselves and take the right path that God is asking is to chose.
Having lived in many Muslim countries including our homeland, the reality is else: some people lose it easily, burglary and accidents go up, people eat too much and mix up things (as opposed to what the
Prophet’s Sunna has advised) and this result in sickness and waste. There is a lot of laziness and no commitment at work (which is considered wrong and viewed as a form of treachery). Unfortunately, people only remember the stomach-fasting part of it but not the eye (sight), ear (listening), the heart (bad feelings towards others), ..
Now from a culinary point of view, one can’t limit all Muslim under one ritual..
Being Moroccan from a certain region, I’d say we have a common line of conduct among all of us and I’ll even include Algerian and Tunisia in this pattern. Egyptians and Middle-Eastern Arabs (I will only limit my comparison to this ethnic group) have a wayyyyy different set of recipes for this month.
When I lived in Dubai and Doha, I had to re-create my own menu and I was only going out for Iftar to have something “exotic”. That is how different Moroccan F’tour can be from the other fellow Arabs. Not only that, Moroccans do not have Sohour tents with massive entertainment until dawn. Sohour in Morocco refers to the first early meal before fajr prayer (announcing we should refrain from eating) while a Souhour tent in the Middle-East is usually associated with Music, shiisha, food and a good dose of socializing. Moroccans either go to coffee shops or go visit families/friends in their homes and potentially share dinner. They’ll go home to sleep and then wake up for the Sohour bite..1 Ramadan, 2 different practices.

The best pita bread, because it’s BBQ time!

During my bread demo given to some of my friends, I have made these pita pockets and they were gone before the dips were finished and before I finished the presentation. I was asked to share the recipe so here we go!
Today we’ll talk about keeping bread dough in the fridge for more than 12 hours (in previous recipes,
I’ve used ½ of the dough that was kept in the fridge to make a new bread dough), which comes down to the pre-ferment method and its benefits especially on the final taste and texture of the bread.
As a bonus, I’ll share with you a good recipe for Pita bread or as we call in Morocco (Matloue/Batbout). They’re soft and aromatic due to the way the dough has been handled.

When making bread, I usually follow the pre-ferment method but I’ve never done it for pita/batbout bread.  
The fridge allows a slow fermentation which allows the flour to release some sort of sweet and cream note. You also don’t get hit by the taste of yeast which is a good thing (compare this versus the industry-made breads).
So the benefits of keeping the dough in the fridge:

  • Rich taste you won’t get in a fast proofing condition.
  • Having freshly made pitas everyday: yes! Just shape, wait 20 min or so and cook.
  • Soft and airy texture.

Today I give you the best pita bread I’ve ever made! On the other hand, the pictures look poor because I made these at night..not much of a light there in my kitchen!
I’m submitting this to Susan’s yeastspotting.
 
Ingredients
Makes about 15 medium size pita pockets
Prep: 50 min – Proofing: 12 hours minimun -Cooking: 2 min/pita, roughly

  • 850g + 50 g of strong flour or normal bread flour (labels are different from a country to another)
  • 2 tsp of instant dry yeast (double if using fresh yeast) 
  • 4 tsp of salt
  • 60g of olive oil 
  • About 600ml water depending on the flour’s absorption

Preparation
In a large bowl, combine flour (keep about 4 tablespoons on the side) with salt, then add the yeast. Make a well, pour the olive oil and water and start mixing from the centre with the hand or with a wooden spoon, gathering flour towards the centre to form a dough as you go.  
Transfer to a floured work surface and start kneading and folding for about 5 or 6 minutes until it forms a soft ball. You may add the flour left on the side if you really have to.
Cover the dough with the bowl and let it “rest” for about 20 min which will soften and relax the gluten and it will be easier to work.

Knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes or until it becomes soft and smooth and barely sticky to the touch.

Note: If you want the pita to to inflate, the dough should stay hydrated and slithly tacky but not sticky which is why you shouldn’t be tempted to add too much flour while you are kneading the dough. Use a dough scraper as an alternative.

 
Transfer the dough in a large lightly oiled bowl and brush the surface of the dough with a little oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let proof for 12 hours in the refrigerator but ideally 24 hours. 

MAKE SURE TO DEFLATE it at least twice during the first three hours simply by pushing it gently with the palm of the hand. This will prevent the gluten network from breaking due to those big bubbles that will be formed. 

The dough can be kept up to 2 days in the fridge before being flattened. So you can use only one portion and keep the rest to make fresh pitas the following days .


Shaping and cooking 
Transfer the dough on a lightly floured surface. Divide into 13 to 15 pieces of the same weight (80-100g). Shape each piece of dough into a ball while keeping others covered with a clean kitchen cloth.

Gently flatten the dough ball with the palm of your hand and then with a rolling pin to form a rather oval disc, about 4 to 6 mm thick as a maximum. 
To make sure the dough doesn’t stick (which won’t give you pockets while cooking),  return each pita 2 or 3 times during the rolling process: Also, to shape it properly, you need to give 1/4 turn to the dough while you are flattening it with the pin.

Place each rolled pita on a slightly floured kitchen towel and repeat the process. Keep the pitas covered for 15 min to rest but not “rise”.
Preheat a cast iron skillet or a griddle over medium high heat and grease it lightly with oil. 
Brush any excess of flour on the pita and cook for a few seconds until you see appearing a few bubbles. Immediately flip the pita.  
The pita will inflate like a balloon. Flip again and cook for a few seconds until you start seeing some brown spots. You shouldn’t not exceed 2 minutes per pita.

Pile the pitas in a stack and keep them covered at all times.

Note: I use the same dough to make pizzas. It’s worth trying..



Spiced carrot and curry dip

A few weeks back, I have given a bread making demo to some of my friends here in Neustadt. I also had to bring the bread (s) while my friends had to bring the dips so we could enjoy the evening with things to nibble on.

Among the spread of dips, there was this spiced curry dip which didn’t last for long. It was such a daring mix of flavours but they all came out together in a shocking way! Have you ever thought about mixing a curry paste with oranges? Well! I tried! I think it’s just the perfect new recipe for this summer. I even served it with a hot and spicy biryani instead of the usual Raita.

My friend reckons she’s got this recipe from ” SAUCES” by Christine France.

Ingredients
Makes about 400 gr (I would say)
Prep 10 min- cooking: 10 min

  • 1 onion, medium size
  • 3 carrots, medium size
  • Grated zest and juice from 2 oranges
  • 1 tbsp of hot curry paste
  • A small handful fresh basil leaves
  • 2/3 cup plain yogurt (Sour cream instead of yogurt will give you a creamier dip)
  • 1 -2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice( to taste)
  • Tabasco sauce (to taste, but I would say 1 tbsp at least)
  • Salt and ground black pepper

Preparation
Finely chop the onion. Peel and grate the carrots.

Place the onions, carrots, orange zest, juice and curry paste in a small saucepan, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Put the mixture in a blender and blend until smooth. Leave to cool.

Stir in the yogurt, lemon juice, Tabasco, finely cut basil and seasoning. 

Serve within a few hours.  


A good guacamole recipe

Since I just posted tortilla recipe as well as corn chips recipe, I’m thinking why not share a few dips as well. Guacamole comes in first because it’s just healthy, tasty, and I don’t know anybody yet who does not like it.

I’ve read a lot about avocado lately and it’s seems to have many benefits (see here, here and here). Since then, I’m trying to have it at least twice a week..

The recipe I’m sharing today is adapted from here (there are nice recipes as well, beside this one), although you will find the same combination pretty much the same everywhere.

Ingredients
Makes a decent bowl for to 2 to 4 persons
Prep: 10 min –  no cooking

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • ½ a spring onion, minced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 fresh chilli (to taste), stems and seeds removed, minced
  • 2 tbsp of coriander (leaves and tender stems), finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp of fresh lime or lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ ripe tomato, medium size, seeds and pulp removed, chopped finely
  • I chopped in 1/2 red pepper, it’s not conventional I suppose but it added a nice sweet crunch! 
Preparation
Cut avocados in half. Remove the pits but save one for later. Scoop out avocado from the peel, put in a mixing bowl. 
Roughly mash the fruit with a fork. You need to keep it slightly chunky and not totally mashed up.
Add the other ingredients (if you are planning to chill the guacamole for hours , leave the tomato until last minute before serving and then add it) and mash it a couple of times more. Put back one pit (*) in the mix and cover with a cling-film. Chill.

Note:

(*) I have a friend who lived in Mexico and he advised me to add the pit back in the mix because it’s supposed to prevent the guacamole from changing to a darker colour (The citrus does the same thing but it’s supposed to help).