This 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 the day of Eid Al-Fitr will be Monday 2 May. The three day celebration involves food, family visits, gifts for kids, and, of course, sweets and pastries.
In the lead 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 find their way into the kitchen relatively early, I did not grow up cooking from a young age. My mother loved the kitchen, it was her sanctuary. So much so that I wasn’t allowed to step foot in it or help her!
It was not until my late teens that I was even allowed to peel a potato. Mum is very particular in the way she cooks. I would stand in the kitchen doorway and watch her create and invent her dishes from the simplest of ingredients. It’s only now that I have my own family that I realise I inherited this from her.
Mum was a single parent, and I grew up with one sibling in a tiny apartment in South Sydney. We didn’t have extravagant meals or big spreads, but I watched my mum utilise every single ingredient she had on hand to create special meals, even from leftovers.
One dish that is close to my heart is “namoura”, a semolina cake soaked in sugar syrup. Mum used to save the crunchy bits which stuck to the edges of the baking tin 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, off the top of her head with rough measurements. I wrote it down on a piece of scrap-paper and hid it in the drawer of my bedside table.
It sat there for years, until I was about to be married. Packing my things to move into my new home, I found it. I have cherished this recipe and this memory as a special gift from my mum ever since. My kids now love it, just as I do – 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 plain yoghurt
Tahini, to grease the tray
Peeled almondsto decorate
Crushed pistachioto decorate
Desiccated coconutto decorate
For the syrup
2 cups caster sugar
2 cups water
Squeeze of lemon
2 capfuls rosewater
First prepare the syrup, so it has time to cool down. Bring all ingredients except the rose water to a boil then reduce to a medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the rosewater. Set aside to cool.
For the namoura, combine all ingredients except the tahini and toppings, and knead well.
Rest for 20 minutes. Coat the bottom of your baking tray with tahini paste. Only a small amount is needed to ensure the cake doesn’t stick. Spread the cake mix into the baking dish and cut in straight lines to create squares, diamonds or oblongs to your desired size. It is helpful to dip your knife in oil to do this. The lines should hold their shape.
Place the blanched almonds on top (my kids love helping with this) and bake at 170C until golden. Halfway through cooking, go over the cuts with a knife.
When you take the Namora out of the oven, immediately pour the cool syrup over the hot cake. It looks like a lot of syrup, and you will need to wait a little so that the cake soaks it in before pouring more. Go over the cuts again to ensure the syrup soaks in well. Rest the cake for a few hours before serving. Decorate with crushed pistachio, desiccated coconut, dried rose buds, or other toppings as desired.
Zohra Aly’s Kenyan Kalimati
When you’re part of a family which has spent a few generations migrating, food and language become connecting threads to place. My grandparents migrated in the 1930s from Gujurat on the west coast of India, to Kenya. My mother and her siblings were all born in Nairobi, where my grandfather worked on the railways. I was born in a little coastal town called Mombasa in the 1970s, all of which makes me a second generation east African Indian.
I knew only 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 Hyderabadi upbringing, her married life in Gujurat, and the ingredients and flavors of east African cooking. She’d use coconut milk to thicken curries, and starchy tubes like cassava as carbohydrate sources.
I was just a little girl when Idi Amin ordered Asians in neighbored Uganda to leave within 90 days, in 1972. The Indian diaspora in Kenya and Tanzania feared a similar fate, so many migrated yet again, fleeing to the West and Middle East. My parents had separated by then, so mum and I traveled by ship on a five-day journey to Karachi in Pakistan. In another two years we moved on to Dubai, where my mum’s brothers had settled.
I met my husband, Abbas, in Dubai. He lived in Australia and was there visiting his cousins. During five years as a pharmacy student in London, I had watched neighbors avidly with the rest of Britain, but I never imagined I would end up marrying 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 go.
His mum was also the best cook of samosas and biriani in town, and friends who dropped in after school or work were well fed. Indian groceries were hard to come by back then, let alone east African ingredients, so they would drive up to Bondi to stock up on months’ worth at a time. She was innovative, finding substitutes for hard-to-source ingredients and shortcuts to cooking methods, and she kept all these recipes in her head.
For fifty years, my own mum has kept a book where she writes down her favorite recipes, and sticks clippings from newspapers too. I later started something similar with mum’s recipes, 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 flicking through all the different handwriting.
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 at iftar time. The batter uses yoghurt to give it tang. Once the batter rises, little balls of it are dropped into hot oil and fried, then coated in sticky syrup to make them sweet. The first crunch of kalimati launches you straight into a pillowy, chewy interior.
Our iftar starts with the customary date, then a cup of tea and a kalimati – or two (it’s almost impossible to stop at one!). Over the years, I’ve made kalimati so often during Ramadan that I don’t need the recipe any more. I think that’s a true sign of a dish becoming a fixture on the family table.
For the batter
1 cup white flour
2 heaped tbsp rice flour
2 heaped tbsp plain yoghurtpreferably sour yoghurt
3/4 tsp yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
vegetable oil, for deep frying
For the syrup
1 cup sugar
¾ cup water
Pinch of saffron
Pinch of cardamom seeds
To make the kalimati batter, place all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, add the yoghurt and one cup of water. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with your fingers, then add more water slowly as needed, holding your fingers together and beating the batter with them. You may not need the full one and a half cups of water to get the consistency required, which is elastic, looser than cake batter, but not runny. The batter comes together quickly as you mix it. Once it is the right consistency, cover the batter with cling wrap and leave in a warm place to rise for a few hours.
Meanwhile, make the syrup by heating the water and sugar in a pot until it begins to boil. Crush the saffron strands between your fingers and bruise the cardamon seeds with the back of a wooden spoon before adding both to the syrup. Stir the syrup a few times and take it off the heat when it becomes sticky. To test the consistency, make sure the syrup is cool enough to touch, take out a teaspoon of syrup, and carefully dip your index finger into it. When you press your finger quickly against your thumb, the syrup should be sticky enough to form one strand. Alternately, the syrup should be sticky enough to coat the back of a teaspoon.
The batter is ready when it has become bubbly and lacy.
To fry the kalimati, heat oil in a wok on a medium flame. The temperature is right when a blob of batter dropped into the oil rises to the surface immediately. Use a lightly oiled round teaspoon or soup spoon to drop seven or eight balls of the batter into the oil, taking care not to overcrowd the wok.
Reduce the flame to low and stir the balls with a slotted spoon to ensure they take on color evenly. When golden brown, remove from the oil, strain well and drop into the cooled syrup, stirring them around to coat. Remove and place on a serving plate and continue frying the rest of the batter. When all the kalimati are fried, serve on a platter and pour the remaining syrup over them.
Allow them to sit in the syrup for some time – if possible – to let the flavor soak in.
Make a cup of tea and enjoy two, or perhaps three.
Tagrid Ahmad is best-known as ‘Mama Ghanouj’. Her popular food blog navigates how traditional dishes can be made more quickly and affordably. You can follow her on Instagram at @mamaghanouj_kitchen. You can watch a video version of her polenta cake recipe here.
Zohra Aly was born in Kenya in the 1970s. She is a trustee and runs the Saturday School at the Imam Hasan Center in Annangrove, in north-west Sydney. A writer and former pharmacist, she is currently working on a novel, and is married with four children and two Burmese cats.
You can find these recipe and more than 60 other Australian-Muslim recipes and stories from 21 different countries on the Recipes for Ramadan website; and follow the project on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.