TThis year, the Australian National Imams Council announced that the Sunday with the appearance of the new moon 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 includes food, family visits, gifts for children, and of course sweets and pastries.
Ahead of the celebrations, two passionate home cooks share their recipes and the stories behind them.
Namoura recipe from Mama Ghanouj
Although I’m from Lebanon, where most daughters find their way into the kitchen relatively early, I didn’t 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 or help her!
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I was even allowed to peel a potato. Mom is very stubborn about the way she cooks. I would stand in the kitchen door and watch her create and invent her dishes from the simplest of ingredients. Only now that I have my own family do I realize that I inherited that from them.
My mother was a single parent and I grew up with a sibling in a tiny apartment in South Sydney. We didn’t have extravagant meals or big spreads, but I watched my mom use every single ingredient she had on hand to create special meals, even from leftovers.
One dish that is very close to my heart is “namoura”, a semolina cake soaked in sugar syrup. Mom used to save the crunchy bits that stuck to the edge of the pan for me because she knew I loved them.
I remember sitting down with her one afternoon when I was about 15 and asking her for the recipe so “I can make it for my family when I get married”. She gave it to me quickly, roughly sized from her head. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and hid it in my bedside drawer.
It sat there for years until I was about to get married. As I was packing my things to move into my new home, I found it. Since then I have guarded this recipe and this memory as a special gift from my mother. My kids now love it as much as I do – and I save the crunchy bits for them too.
For the cake
3 cups of coarse semolina
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup coconut flakes
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
tahini, to grease the bowl
For the syrup
2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups of water
Splash of lemon
2 capsules of rose water
First prepare the syrup to give it time to cool. Bring all ingredients to a boil except for the rosewater, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the rosewater. Set aside to cool.
For the Namoura, knead all the ingredients well except for the tahini and toppings.
Rest for 20 minutes. Coat the bottom of your baking sheet with tahini paste. Only a small amount is needed to keep the cake from sticking. Divide the cake mix into the baking pan and cut in straight lines to make desired size squares, diamonds or rectangles. To do this, it is helpful to dip the knife in oil. The lines should hold their shape.
Place the blanched almonds on top (my kids love to help) and bake at 170°C until golden brown. Halfway through cooking, run a knife over the cuts.
When you remove the namoura from the oven, immediately pour the cool syrup over the hot cake. It looks like a lot of syrup, and you’ll have to wait a little for the cake to soak it up before pouring more. Go over the cuts again to make sure the syrup is well absorbed. Let the cake rest for a few hours before serving. Decorate with crushed pistachios, grated coconut, dried rosebuds, or other toppings of your choice.
Zohra Alys Kenyan Kalimati
When you are part of a family that has spent a few generations migrating, food and language become connecting threads to place. My grandparents immigrated to Kenya from Gujarat on the west coast of India in the 1930s. My mother and her siblings were all born in Nairobi where my grandfather worked on the railroad. I was born in a small coastal town called Mombasa in the 1970’s which makes me a second generation East African Indian.
I only knew 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 upbringing in Hyderabadi, her married life in Gujarat, and the ingredients and flavors of East African cuisine. She would use coconut milk to thicken curries and starchy tubers like cassava as carbohydrate sources.
I was just a little girl when, in 1972, Idi Amin ordered the Asians in neighboring Uganda to leave her within 90 days. The Indian diaspora in Kenya and Tanzania feared a similar fate, so many migrated again, fleeing to the West and Middle East. My parents had since separated, so my mother and I traveled by boat on a five-day trip to Karachi, Pakistan. In another two years we moved on to Dubai where my mother’s brothers had settled.
I met my husband Abbas in Dubai. He lived in Australia and visited his cousins there. During my five years as a pharmacy student in London I had been avidly watching Neighbors with the rest of Britain but never thought I would end up marrying an Australian! Abbas’ family had immigrated to the Illawarra from Tanzania in the mid-1970s and he had grown up watching cricket and believing in fair play.
His mother was also the best samosas and biriani cook in town, and friends who stopped by after school or work were well fed. Indian foods were hard to come by back then, let alone East African ingredients, so they headed to Bondi to stock up for months. She was innovative, finding substitutes for hard-to-obtain ingredients and shortcuts for cooking methods, and keeping all of those recipes in her head.
My own mother has kept a book in which she writes down her favorite recipes for fifty years and also pastes newspaper clippings. I later started something similar with my mother’s recipes, which I sent in blue airmail letters when I moved to Australia, and my mother-in-law’s recipes, which I learned while cooking alongside her. It’s falling apart now, but I love flipping through all the different handwriting.
My recipe for Kalimati comes from my mother-in-law. This fried sweet is the quintessential East African treat that goes hand-in-hand with your first cup of tea at Iftar time. The dough uses yogurt to add flavor. Once the dough rises, small balls of it are dipped in hot oil and fried, then coated in sticky syrup to make them sweet. The first crunch of Kalimati transports you straight into a pillowy, chewy interior.
Our iftar begins with the usual date, then a cup of tea and a kalimati – or two (almost impossible to stop at one!). Over the years I’ve made kalimati so many times during Ramadan that I no longer need the recipe. I think that’s a real sign that a dish is becoming a staple on the family table.
For the dough
1 cup white flour
2 heaped tbsp rice flour
2 heaped tablespoons natural yoghurtpreferably sour yoghurt
3/4 tsp yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
vegetable oil, for frying
For the syrup
1 cup sugar
¾ cup of water
Pinch of saffron
Pinch of cardamom seeds
For the Kalimati dough, place all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, add the yogurt and a cup of water. Use your fingers to mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, then slowly add more water as needed, holding your fingers together and beating the batter. You may not need the full cup and a half of water to get the required consistency, which is springy, lighter than pie batter, but not runny. The dough will come together quickly as you mix it. Once it has the right consistency, cover the dough with cling film and let it rise in a warm place for a few hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the syrup by heating the water and sugar in a saucepan until it begins to boil. Crush the saffron threads between your fingers and crush the cardamom seeds with the back of a wooden spoon before adding both to the syrup. Stir the syrup a few times and remove from the heat when it becomes sticky. To test the consistency, make sure the syrup is cool enough to handle, scoop out a teaspoon of the syrup and gently dip your index finger into it. If you quickly press your finger against your thumb, the syrup should be sticky enough to form a strand. Alternatively, the syrup should be sticky enough to cover the back of a teaspoon.
The dough is ready when it has become bubbly and delicate.
To fry the kalimati, heat oil in a wok over medium-high heat. The temperature is right when a dollop of batter falling into the oil immediately rises to the surface. Use a lightly oiled round teaspoon or soup spoon to drop 7 or 8 balls of dough into the oil, being careful not to overfill the wok.
Reduce the flame to low and stir the balls with a slotted spoon so they color evenly. When golden brown, remove from the oil, strain well and add to the cooled syrup, stirring to coat. Remove and place on a serving platter and continue frying the remaining batter. When all the kalimati are fried, serve on a platter and pour the remaining syrup over them.
If possible, leave them in the syrup for a while so that the flavor can absorb.
Make a cup of tea and enjoy two or maybe three.
Tagrid Ahmad is best known as “Mama Ghanouj”. Her popular food blog shows how traditional dishes can be prepared faster and more cheaply. 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, north-west Sydney. The writer and former pharmacist is currently working on a novel, is married with four children and has two Burmese cats.
You can find this recipe and over 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.