From the outside, fasting holidays seem like a hardship to be endured, yet for those who observe, they can be times of great joy. While neither of us observes Ramadan, the month-long daytime fast of Islam, our friends who do emphasize how much they enjoy it, not how much they suffer. While abstaining from not only food but also water for a month of days between sunrise and sunset is surely fairly harrowing, our observant friends are more happy during Ramadan than depleted. It’s truly a special month, as friends and family gather for festive meals after sunset, sometimes even moving in with each other during the month to facilitate cooking and sharing of the iftar or nighttime meal. In many ways, food becomes the focus of the Ramadan as deprivation heightens the appetite, but it also puts food on the back burner as prayers and reflection replace meals during the day.
Eid al Fitr is a beautiful celebration of the month’s completion, and fittingly, is often filled with sweet dishes. While the Islamic world encompasses an enormous range of countries and culinary traditions, from Bangladeshi shemai–a sweet custard resembling rice pudding that replaces rice with vermicelli–to Yemeni Bint al Sahn, a flakey, honey-drenched cake whose name means “beauty of the table,” a common thread of the Eid meal is sweetness, and especially dates, one of the nature’s great sweeteners. This made it a perfect time to try out the date shakes we’ve had our eye on for some time now. They are traditional not in the Muslim world but the far more secular Palm Springs, CA, one of our favorite places, where date palms dot the landscape. But we’ve made our own twist on them for Eid by adding a bit of Middle Eastern flavor. Make sure you save some room for them while enjoying our kofta in tahini sauce and chicken tagine, which also uses the sweetness of dates, but this time in a savory dish.
There are many types of Middle Eastern kofta and spellings, including kofta, kefta and kafta, depending on what region you are in. This version is more Lebanese than Morrocan, but takes cues from both cuisines. Kofta are wonderful on the grill and make for an easy weekday meal served with grilled pita and a simple salad. But they are equally good browned in a frying pan. Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi (as we so often are), we like our kofta served with plenty of tahini sauce.
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, finely chopped or grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp toasted pine nuts, coarsley chopped
½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp paprika
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup tahini paste
4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt to taste
Toasted pine nuts
Chopped flat leaf parsley
Place all of the kofta ingredients in a large bowl and mix together well with your hands. Shape the mixture into oblong cylinders or patties, roughly the width of your palm. Arrange on a tray or plate until you are ready to cook them. These can be made up to one day ahead of time.
If grilling, cook the kofta on a hot grill until they are cooked through or to desired temperature.
If preparing indoors, heat some oil in a large frying pan over high heat and brown the kofta on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch. At this point they will be medium rare. If you would like them to be cooked through, transfer to a baking sheet and cook in a 425 degree oven for around 5 minutes more.
To prepare the sauce, whisk together all of the ingredients, adding more water if the sauce is too thick. It should be pourable.
Serve the kofta with the sauce and garnish with chopped parsley and some toasted pine nuts.
Chicken Tagine with Dates and Chickpeas
Tagines are a traditional celebratory dish for Eid in Morocco, more often made with lamb for this occasion. Those who can afford it will slaughter a sheep and share it with family and friends and less fortunate neighbors. There are so many different types of tagines but all are fairly easy to make, may be prepared ahead of time and can feed a crowd. They are also incredibly forgiving, allowing for endless variations, depending on what you have in your pantry. We always assumed you needed a traditional earthenware tagine to make this authentic dish, but recently discovered that most Moroccan home cooks prepare their tagines in a heavy cast iron pot, as we did here. If you would like a prettier presentation, simply transfer the cooked tagine to a more impressive serving dish. You may double the recipe if you’re serving a crowd. Serve with couscous on the side.
For spice rub:
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 chicken cut up into 8 pieces, with the breasts quartered
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup pitted dates, chopped
½ cup green olives, pitted preferably
1 cup chickpeas (canned is fine)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt & pepper to taste
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
Mix ingredients for spice rub together and rub into chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
Heat oil in a heave skillet or cast iron pan. Add chicken and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Remove chicken from pan and set aside. In same pan, add the onions and cook over medium low heat until softened. Add garlic, spices, salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes. Return the chicken to the pan and add the olives, dates, chickpeas, chicken stock and lemon juice.
Cover tagine and cook over low heat for around 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with couscous.
Cardamom and Date Milkshakes
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
½ cup boiling water
½ cup pitted dates (about 60g), preferably medjool, roughly chopped
½ tsp ground cardamom
⅓ cup milk
1 cup vanilla ice cream
Pour boiling water over dates directly into your blender, cover with lid and let steep for at least 10 to 15 minutes or longer. Blend until sit becomes a thickish puree, then place blender in fridge to cool. If you are pressed for time, you can transfer the mixture to a bowl and chill in the freezer.
Add cardamom, milk and ice cream and blend until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve.
Makes two shakes