The Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which takes place in the 9th month of the Islamic (lunar) calendar, is marked by the first sighting of the new moon or crescent (hilal) and lasts 28 to 30 days for all the phases of the moon. Because the estimated start date for Ramadan 2019 is Sunday, May 5th, Muslims all around the globe will begin to look for the first glimpse of the new moon around May 3rd in order to determine the official start to the holy month of fasting. Some will look to their local imam for the official announcement while others may follow what is declared by the Judicial High Court in Saudi Arabia. Once the official announcement has been made, Muslims will call friends and family members to congratulate them with “Koulu am weh entoum salameeneh,” meaning “Many happy returns” or “Ramadan kareem” (“a great/generous Ramadan”).
During this month-long holiday Muslims worldwide will fast from dawn until sunset each day in order to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by the angel Gabriel — an act that is considered to be the fourth of the five pillars of Islam. (The five bases of the Islamic faith are as follows: shahada [confession/declaration of faith], salat [prayer], zakat [almsgiving/charity], sawm [fasting, especially during the month of Ramadan], and hajj [pilgrimage to Mecca].2
Between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, adults are expected to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual relations. (From sundown until sunrise the next morning they can continue with their normal routine, and fasting is mostly waived for the young and adults with certain issues related to health.)
The emphasis of the holiday is on self-sacrifice, charity, gratitude, and reflection. Ramadan is not only a month of fasting and prayer, but a period of spiritual healing and devotion to Allah (God). It is a time to feed the hungry and the poor, and catch up with family and friends.2
Eid al-Fitr (“festival of the breaking of the fast”) begins with the first sighting of the new moon on the first day of month of Shawwal marking the end of the fast of Ramadan. The festival lasts for three days and is a period of prayer, giving, and forgiveness. During this period Muslims will celebrate by giving gifts to family members and donations to charities, wearing new clothing, and feasting on a variety of savory and sweet dishes.3 Family members, friends and neighbors will wish one another Eid Mubarak meaning “have a blessed festival.”
Ramadan is like the arrival of the most special guest — aziz — someone whom you prepare and wait for all year long from one Ramadan to the next.
— Hanan Rasheed
I met Hanan Rasheed, a Palestinian-American, in February of 2019 while teaching a cooking class at ICE (the Institute of Culinary Education of New York). She was a culinary arts student at the time and came into my class to introduce herself after seeing my cookbook “Too Good To Passover: Sephardic & Judeo-Arabic Seder Menus and Memories from Africa, Asia and Europe” on display outside the classroom kitchen. Two days later we were sitting down together in a café discussing our equal love for Middle Eastern food and culture, and figuring out ways to bring people together through it.
Hanan is the creator of “Healing Table” where she prepares Middle Eastern themed pop-up dinners in order to bring individuals from all faiths and backgrounds together. A big part of what motivates her to organize these dinners is conflict resolution between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims, through their shared history of food and culture.
On Friday, May 3, 2019, Hanan came to my Upper West Side apartment to talk about her memories of Ramadan as a child while growing up in the West Bank village of Dibwan, and to show me how to prepare Qataiyif (a stuffed and baked pancake with walnuts and cinnamon that is dipped in rose water syrup). The recipe reminded me of the Syrian version in my cookbook A Fistful of Lentils pronounced Atayif, which is fried then dipped in the syrup.
The following is a photo journal with the recipe that she showed me.
Hanan Rasheed’s Qatayif ma’eh Juz
(Walnut-Stuffed Pancakes with Cinnamon, Cardamom,
and Lemon-Orange Blossom Water Syrup)
Yield: Makes about 3½ dozen four-inch pastries
For Pancake Batter:
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
5 cups warm water (¼ cup for yeast mixture + 4¾ cups for main batter)
2 cups semolina
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons warm milk
For Walnut Filling:
1½ cups raw walnut halves
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons sweet/unsalted butter, melted
For Rose Water Syrup (Ater):
2 cups sugar
2 cups cold water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
For Frying, Baking and Serving the Pancakes:
4 to 5 tablespoons vegetable oil,
for greasing the skillet and brushing the pastries before baking
2 half sheets or large baking trays lined with parchment paper
3 tablespoons sweet/unsalted butter, melted,
for brushing the outsides of the stuffed pancakes
1 pastry brush
2 tablespoons finely ground pistachios, for sprinkling on top of pastries before serving
Prepare the Pancake Batter:
- Combine 1 tablespoon of sugar, yeast, and 1/4 cup of warm water in a small bowl. Place in a warm location and let sit for 10 minutes or until bubbles form on the top (the sugar and warm temperature helps to activate the yeast).
- In a medium sized mixing bowl combine the semolina, flour and salt.
- Pour the yeast mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix well.
- Add the 3 tablespoons of warm milk and the remaining 4¾ cup of warm water and whisk together into a smooth batter. Pour mixture into a large blender and pulse until very smooth (if necessary blend in batches). Pour mixture back into your bowl, cover, and let sit for 20 minutes at room temperature. Meanwhile prepare the walnut filling and syrup.
Prepare the Walnut Filling:
- Place the walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom into a food processor and pulse just until walnuts are coarsely ground, 15 to 30 seconds.
- Pour mixture into a small bowl and combine with the melted butter.
Set aside and prepare the syrup.
Prepare the Syrup:
- Combine the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a slow boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a medium-low heat and simmer for 15 minutes until sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture has turned into a light syrup.
- Remove the syrup from the heat and mix in the rose water. Set aside to cool and start to cook the pancakes.
Cook the Pancakes:
- Lightly grease a medium sized non-stick skillet with oil and warm over a
medium heat for 1 minute.
- Mix or whisk the pancake batter. Using a ¼-inch measuring cup, scoop out ¼ cup of the batter and pour into the hot skillet. Cook until the bottom is golden brown and the top is soft but feels dry to the touch, about 2 minutes. (Note: You will only be cooking the bottom side; you want the pancake to be cooked enough so that it has a nice golden color on the bottom but remains pliable enough to fold and stuff in Step #12. If the pancake is overcooked and dries out it will break when folded and will not seal shut along the edges.)
- Remove the pancake and place onto a piece of parchment paper with the cooked/golden side down. Cook a second pancake in the same fashion then stack it on top of the first pancake on the baking sheet. (Note: When you stack the second pancake on top of the first it should be flipped over so that the golden side is up facing you, and the white side with the bubbles is on the bottom. This helps to keep the pancakes soft until you are ready to stuff and fold them.) Continue to cook and stack the pancakes, 1 to 3 at a time, until all the batter has been used up.
Stuff the Pancakes:
- Place one pancake on the countertop or a clean cutting board so that the white/bubble side is facing up. Put 2 tablespoons of the ground walnut mixture in the middle of the pancake and spread it out into a horizontal line from left to right. (Note: Be careful to keep the nuts away from the edges of the pancake or you will have trouble sealing it closed in the next step!)
- Fold the pancake up from the bottom to create a semi-circle shape, and pinch the edges together so that the pancake is sealed shut. (The topside of the pancake should be a little softer and slightly sticky enough to hold the pancake together.) Place the stuffed pancake onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper and continue in this manner until all the pancakes have been filled.
Bake and Serve the Pancakes:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. As oven heats up, brush the top of each stuffed pancake with the melted butter.
- Place the baking trays on the bottom and lower-middle racks of the oven and
bake until slightly crispy on top, about 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and immediately dip each pastry into the cooled syrup to fully coat. Cool for 10 minutes on the parchment paper. Serve warm or at room temperature arranged on a platter or plate sprinkled with the ground pistachios as decoration.