The iftar table: harira, jallab, qamar el-din and tamar Hind
For the first of a four-part weekly series of dishes that make an appearance during Ramadan, we sample harira, jallab, qamar el-din and tamar Hind, and explain where they originate from and their cultural significance.
Soothing, hydrating and gentle on the digestive system: there’s a reason why iftar meals all over the world begin with a restorative bowl of soup. And while there is always space on the table for shorbat adas (lentil soup) and chicken broths flecked with freekeh, it is harira that is perhaps most adored.
Originating from north-west Africa, harira is made from a rich, intensely flavoured stock that shimmers with hunks of slow-cooked lamb, vegetables, herbs and chickpeas or lentils. Although it is enjoyed in Morocco throughout the year, this silky soup takes on a special significance in the UAE during Ramadan, when it makes almost a daily appearance on iftar tables.
“It wouldn’t feel like iftar without a bowl of harira,” says Amira Zioui, who grew up in Casablanca. “Throughout the day, the smell of harira gradually fills the house – it makes my mouth water just thinking about it.”
Harira is traditionally presented in pretty, colourful bowls and eaten with a special, ladle-like wooden spoon. A platter of chebakia (sticky-sweet, flower-shaped fried cookies dusted with sesame seeds) is often served on the side, making the dish feel extra-special.
Harira recipes do, of course vary, and not just from region to region, but from household to household. Some versions feature a riot of chopped fresh tomatoes; others are abundant with ginger and cinnamon or might see the lamb replaced with beef. And while the inhabitants of each kitchen stand resolute that their stove yields the finest harira in the land, there is a unanimous agreement that this dish speaks of comfort, family and sharing.
Visit a Moroccan restaurant in the UAE and you’re likely to spot harira on the menu. With two locations in Dubai (Mall of the Emirates and The Beach, JBR) and one in the capital (The Galleria), Almaz by Momo serves consistently good harira – gently spiced with a velvety texture and hearty flavour. It is both a delicious introduction to the dish for the uninitiated and a welcome taste of nostalgia for those who grew up loving it.
Jallab, qamar el-din and tamar Hind
It goes without saying that after a long day of fasting, hearty food plays a hugely important role in making an iftar meal memorable. Yet, it would be remiss not to pause for a moment or two to consider the array of thirst-quenching drinks that will be enjoyed at iftar in homes and restaurants across the region.
In the UAE, the colourful trio of jallab, qamar el-din and tamar hindi are all much loved, particularly during the holy month.
Thanks to its distinctive floral aroma, deep burgundy colour and crowning garnish of buttery pine nuts and plump golden raisins, there’s something altogether majestic about jallab. The key ingredient in this beverage is jallab syrup or molasses (made from dates, grapes or a blend of both), which has its origins in the ancient Levant, where it was used as a sweetener before sugar became widely available.
The drink itself is easy enough to assemble at home, by diluting the syrup with water, adding a dash of rose water (this is essential for the distinctive perfumed note) and finishing with an all-important sprinkling of nuts and dried fruit.
With its distinctive sunshine-yellow hue and thick, pulpy texture, qamar el-din is another popular choice for both breaking the fast and sipping slowly in the hours between iftar and suhoor. The origins of this drink can be traced back to Syria, while the name itself translates to either “moon of the faithful” or “moon of religion”.
It is prepared by soaking apricot leather (fresh apricots that are dried and formed into thick sheets, resembling leather) in water for several hours, before straining them and mixing with water, sugar and often a drop or two of orange blossom. Not only does qamar el-din provide a welcome dose of sugar, but it is also filling and nutritious.
The clue is in the name when it comes to the bright and tangy tamar Hind. The English phrase for the brown-black tamarind seedpod is derived from the Arabic name, tamar Hind, which translates to “date of India”.
Made from soaked and strained tamarind pulp mixed with water, sugar and lemon juice, and often served over ice, tamar Hind has a deep red colour and a tart flavour. Not only does the sweet and sour combination offer a revitalising pick-me-up, tamarind is also believed to aid digestion and even reduce body temperature, making it an excellent option in the desert heat.
Updated: May 31, 2017 04:00 AM