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Ramadan Kareem

It is the holy month of Ramadan and Muslims all over the world are fasting during daylight hours. I have family in Sweden who, I know, are finding this particularly difficult. Still, it's rewarding in it's way. Like the Christian Lent, it is a chance to develop one's relationship with God and think of others in more difficult situations. Basically count your blessings and help where you can.

Interestingly, tithing and charity goes up in frequency during Ramadan. All over the UAE (I know from growing up there) tents will sprout up where you can donate your old clothes, toys, dvds, household items... anything you would normally give to a charity shop. Even though the Gregorian date of Ramadan changes every year, many Muslims use this month as an opportunity for a Spring Clean. The idea is, if you don't use it, there might be someone near or far who can.

There are LOTS of culinary traditions during Ramadan - ironically. The fast is broken with a date or two (the fruit, not stepping out), then a bowl of soup is served - usually lentil - then the main shabang. Salty food is generally steered clear of in Ramadan. Very little seafood is eaten, on the other hand there's plenty of rice, chicken and beef. Lamb being greasy is saved for Eid. Salty and greasy food makes you thirsty, and fasting the next day is not particularly fun after a salty or greasy meal.

Families come together a lot during Ramadan and Iftar parties among family, distant relations and friends are very common. I remember my mum made lasagne for the first time I hosted Iftar for my friends. It was the first time she'd ever made lasagne for me and to this day I don't know why. It was marvellous. One of the other things my mum likes to cook is stuffed potatoes - or potato mahshi. It is a typical Palestinian dish, they stuff a lot of vegetables. It's quite easy to make and with shorter working days in Ramadan (in Muslim countries anyway), there's lots of time to prepare more elaborate food. This dish seems elaborate to the diner and bystander but is surprisingly stress free.

Mahshi Batata

  • 8 large potatoes, peeled

  • 250g lean beef or lamb mince - both work well or you can use a mixture of the two

  • Juice of 3 large lemons

  • 2 finely chopped onions

  • 2 tsp ground cumin

  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

  • vegetable or sunflower oil for frying

  • salt and pepper

You do need a corer for this recipe or a really good substitute.

Use the corer to cut into the potatoes and scoop out a good section of the middle. Don't worry if you go all the way through the bottom because you can always stuff it with potato bits. Anyway, take out the middle of the potatoes and scrape around a bit to widen the gap to get as much of the meat filling in as possible. Basically you want more hole than potato. Deep fry the potatoes and the scraped out bits until golden brown and drain on kitchen paper.

In a frying pan, add a teaspoon of olive oil and fry off the onion until soft then a

dd the garlic. When it's just about to go brown, add the mince, spices and seasoning and fry off until the mince is well cooked.

Preheat an oven to 180 degrees C. Fill the potatoes with the mince mixture and plug the ends of the potatoes with the little bits you scooped out and fried. Lay the rest of the little bits in an oven dish (don't worry if there aren't too many but don't waste them). Place the potatoes on top and sprinkle with salt. Add the lemon juice to the dish and add water so that the level of liquid goes halfway up the potatoes.

Cover the oven dish with foil and put in the oven for 40 minutes. Take the foil off and cook for a further 20 minutes uncovered.

Serve with rice and salad or roasted vegetables.


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