Most religious practices incorporate fasts of one kind or another, but surely the most demanding must be Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Observant Muslims abstain from food and water every day until sunset for 30 days, to commemorate the revelation of the first book of the Quran to the Prophet Mohammed in 610 CE.
Initially, we weren’t sure whether a month of fasting was an appropriate time to post recipes, but after some research and discussion, we realized it’s a month with two poles: the fasting and privation of daytime, with its overtones of asceticism and devotion, and the dinners, or iftars, that occur each night. Food is central to Ramadan, and observers frequently comment about the value meals gain when one is limited to one meal per day.
Ramadan is all about community, like the best holidays are. We found wonderful, heartfelt stories about people breaking their Ramadan fast with friends and family all over the world, even with non-Islamic neighbors and friends. Some iftars are simple, while others may be extremely elaborate, with multiple courses. Many also choose to cook large quantities at once, to avoid having to prepare food while fasting and to enhance their focus on the spiritual aspects of fasting rather than its logistics.
We were immediately drawn to this recipe for syrup-soaked semolina cake, which is a staple of both Middle Eastern and Greek cooking. If you’ve never tried a semolina cake, you will be struck by its unique texture: toothsome and slightly gritty, it absorbs the citrus-scented syrup without becoming cloying. This makes a perfect Ramadan sweet: it will serve a crowd and, like all syrupy confections, it actually gets better over time. A simple strawberry compote, roasted while the cake is cooling in its syrup bath, is the perfect accompaniment, along with a dollop of tangy yogurt. Even if you’re not observing a Ramadan fast yourself, this cake will connect you with the many millions across the globe who are. Share it with the people you love!
Semolina Cake with Roasted Strawberries
Adapted from The New York Times
For the syrup:
2 cups/400 grams granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup/170 grams unsalted butter (1½ sticks), melted, plus more for coating the pan
3 cups/490 grams semolina flour
¾ cup/150 grams granulated sugar
Finely grated zest of one orange
1 cup/227 grams plain whole-milk yogurt
2 ½ teaspoons baking soda
¼ cup/29 grams slivered almonds
1 lb strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 tbsp vanilla sugar, or 1 tbsp sugar plus ½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
Greek yogurt for serving
Preheat oven to 400℉. Make syrup: combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add vanilla extract and orange juice, then simmer for a few minutes until thickened into a light syrup. Set aside.
Mix yogurt and baking soda in a bowl and set aside for about 10 minutes: mixture will almost double. Butter a 9” x 13” baking pan. Combine semolina flour, sugar, orange zest and melted butter in a large bowl and stir well to mix thoroughly.
When yogurt mixture has risen, pour over semolina mixture and stir to combine. Dump into pan and smooth down with a rubber spatula or offset spatula. Using a sharp knife, score diagonally into 2” diamonds. Top each diamond with a slivered almond.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Place on a rack and pour cooled syrup over hot cake. Cool completely, then re-score along diamond lines.
While cake is cooling, preheat oven to 400℉. Toss strawberries, sugar, vanilla (if using) and orange juice in a baking dish. Spread evenly and roast uncovered for 25 minutes, stirring once. Serve cooled cake with strawberries and yogurt.