Israel Celebrates Ramadan Too

There are about one and a quarter million Muslims in Israel, and most of them will observe the holy month of Ramadan, which this year begins on the evening of the 29th of July (Islam follows a lunar calendar, in which the months gradually move around the months of the Gregorian calendar). The fasting begins at sun up and lasts until sundown, when the evening’s feast begins. Israeli and Palestinian Muslim cuisine are similar to the cuisines of neighboring Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and to a lesser extent, Egypt, although it has its own distinctive dishes and variations on regional delicacies. For example, the hummous tends to have a stronger lemon flavor instead of the heavy tehina flavor that you find in Egyptian hummous.

Traditionally, the fast is broken by eating a couple of dates, for a quick burst of energy, followed by a cold drink, such as tamarind, which is soaked in water the night before, then strained, sweetened and mixed with rose water and some lemon juice; or Qamar El-Deen, which is made by soaking apricot leather in hot water, mixing it in a food processor or blender, and chilling it before serving.

Soups are served after the long day of fasting, and these help provide the necessary liquids to rehydrate the body. The most popular soups are those made with lentils, vegetables, or freekeh, which is cracked green wheat. Various salads, such as baba ganoush, Arab salad, and hummous are also served at the beginning of the meal.

During Ramadan, unlike the other months of the year, meat is consumed in relatively large quantities. Festive Palestinian chicken dishes such as Musakhan and Makloubeh are served as a main course. Date, walnut and pistachio-filled biscuits, such as Makroud and Mamoul, are served to close the meal and washed down with sweet mint tea.

Partly because I live next to three of the largest Arab towns in Israel, and partly because I lived and studied with Arabs from various countries and like their cuisine, I decided to borrow some of the culinary experience of Ramadan and make a couple of typical dishes at home.

For a starter, I made an Iraqi lentil and meatball soup, which is almost a meal in itself, especially when Ramadan falls in midsummer.

Iraqi Lentil and Meatball Soup

Iraqi Lentil Soup With Meatballs

Serving Size: 6 to 8

2 medium onions, minced

500g (1 pound) ground beef or lamb or both

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

1 cup soft bread crumbs

1 teaspoon salt plus salt to taste

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon allspice

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 cups homemade chicken broth

1 pound brown or yellow lentils

55g (about 2 ounces) angel hair pasta

2 carrots, finely diced

Juice of half a lemon

Preheat an oven to 200C (400F), and line a baking pan with parchment paper. Place half of the onions and the ground meat, parsley, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and allspice in a medium-sized bowl. Mix the meat mixture thoroughly, and form into balls the size of walnuts. Place on the baking pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the meatballs from the pan and drain on a paper towel. Set aside.

Meanwhile, pick any stones from the lentils, place in bowl, cover with cold water, and drain.

In a large pot, sauté the remaining onions in olive oil over medium heat until golden. Add the chicken broth and bring to boil. Add the lentils and the carrots to the soup and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are almost tender.

Break the angel hair pasta into the soup and add the meatballs. Simmer slowly for another 5-10 minutes or until the lentils and noodles are cooked, adding more chicken broth or water as needed. Just before serving, squeeze some lemon juice into soup.

Mr BT and I wish all of our Muslim friends: Ramadan Kareem!

For more Ramadan recipe ideas, see:



Makroud (Date and Sesame Biscuits)




Makroud – Date and Sesame Biscuits

Makroud and Qamar el Deen

I wanted to make a traditional Ramadan dessert this month, a recipe that called for mahleb, which is an aromatic spice made from the seeds of the St Lucie Cherry (Prunus mahaleb). The stones are cracked to extract the seed kernel, which is ground to a powder before it is used. It adds a lovely flavor of bitter almond and cherry to breads, cakes and biscuits.

I found a perfect date and sesame biscuit recipe called Makroud that is made by Israeli Muslims and Palestinians. There are several variations of Makroud that are also made in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, but this version is not as sweet.

Mr BT and I would like to wish all of our Muslim friends Ramadan Kareem.


Makroud – Date and Sesame Biscuits

Yield: 70 to 80 biscuits

(Date and Sesame Biscuits)

Adapted recipe from the Safadi Family of Nazareth in The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey by Janna Gur

For the dough:

500g (3-1/2 cups) whole wheat flour

15g (1/2 oz) fresh yeast

240ml (1 cup) corn oil

120ml (1/2 cup) olive oil

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1/2 tablespoon mahleb, freshly ground in a mortar

220ml (1 cup) lukewarm water

For the filling:

500g (1lb 2oz) pressed pitted dates

60ml (1/4 cup) corn oil

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch ground cloves

For the coating:

450g (1lb) sesame seeds

For the dough:

Place the flour, crumbled yeast and spices in a large bowl. Add the corn and olive oils and stir until well combined. Gradually add the water and knead the dough for 2-3 minutes into a soft smooth dough. Set aside.

For the filling:

Mix the pressed dates with the oil and spices until it becomes a soft, malleable paste.

To assemble:

Divide the dough into balls the size of a fist and divide the date paste into the same number of balls. Both the dough and the date balls may be dripping with oil: this is normal.

Preheat the oven to 220C (425F).

On a large work surface, sprinkle a generous amount of sesame seeds. Flatten a ball of dough into a round the size of a pita. Flatten out a date ball and place it on top of the dough. Sprinkle some sesame seeds on top and turn the dough over and roll out to the size of a dinner plate. The sesame seeds will prevent the dates from sticking to the work surface. Turn the dough over again, date side up and roll the dough to form a log shape. Repeat with the remainder.

Cut the logs into 5cm-wide (2-inch) biscuits and place on baking sheets. You do not have to place them too far apart because they do not spread. Bake for 10 minutes until they are golden brown. Serve slightly cooled or store up to a month in a sealed container.

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